Americanafest In Review: Christopher Paul Stelling and The Hackensaw Boys

Another Americanafest is in the books.

Nashville has been flooded by traveling bluegrass, new grass, folk and southern rock bands to celebrate one of America’s longest living musical genres. Although already full of bearded, beer drinking musicians, it seemed that on Thursday night, at Cannery Row, which hosts the venues High Watt, Mercy Lounge and Cannery Ballroom, seemed to amass all of these musicians and music lovers. As a seas of beards, ball caps
and beers entered and exited the venues, there was an overwhelming sense of
community.

Strangers would smile at each other after an especially impressive fiddle solo, or would nod their heads in unison and agreement to exceptionally provocative stories. The venues themselves, enclosed by thick walls of aging brick and with minimalistic lighting and backdrops, created an atmosphere placed importance on the performer, not the environment. It was a space where traditional music was celebrated by contemporary artists and a space where some of the best finger-picking, boot-stomping songs have been played.

Around 8 pm, at the Mercy Lounge, Christopher Paul Stelling was just beginning his set. He stood alone on stage, with a tucked in, dark brown shirt, two guitars, and a stripped down drum kit, consisting of a kick drum and hi-hat. He opened with his latest single, released earlier that day, “Have To Do For Now,” and immediately the audience discussing different guitars and what shows they had already seen, quieted. Stelling’s songs revolved around purpose, creation and intimacy. He spoke of how awe-inspiring it was to see so many people coming together to enjoy music, because of its importance and because of its necessity.

Stelling played songs from his previous records, but informed the audience of his upcoming record, produced by Ben Harper, to be released on Anti-Records. Stelling rotated between his two guitars, keeping rhythm the entirety of his set with his sparse percussion. His music was mimetic of what the traditional Americana genre values- how an audience can relate to an artist, and the introspection a well written story can inspire. Only 15 steps away from the Mercy Lounge where Stelling captivated his audience, across the hall, an entirely different rendition of Americana music was being performed.

The Hackensaw Boys, originally formed in central Virginia in 1999, packed the High Watt for their energetic set with songs about family, work, travel, ignorance and love. With a handmade drum kit titled “The Charismo,” a fiddle, standup bass and one guitar, The Hackensaw Boys, although one of the longest-running Americana bands the festival has probably seen, offered a unique blend of soul, new grass and some of the best fiddle playing to grace the High Watt’s stage. Having toured with acts like The Flaming Lips and De La Sol, and having amassed a discography of 4 full-length records and a brand new EP, A Fireproof House of Sunshine, they had extensive content to draw from for their fast paced set on Thursday night. The Hackensaw Boys’ songs offered wisdom, critique and thoughtful analyses of our country and the working class struggle. They painted pictures of the gross, increasingly industrial age America is moving towards and celebrated the importance of family, love and purpose. While their songs were deeply insightful and critical, their presentation was fun, light-hearted and approachable. They effortlessly strummed, fingerpicked and drummed at lighting speed, and before the audience was aware they had completed their set, they thanked their listeners and ended.

Americanafest isn’t just a festival celebrating music. It has compiled a
community and audience that deeply values the art of storytelling and untapped
talent without the bravado of standard, arena shows consisting of visuals,
fireworks and choreographed routines. The music is authentic and that is why the
genre will never stop producing new performers eager to revive Americana music
or to explore a contemporary take on a traditional style. Artists like Christopher
Paul Sterling and The Hackensaw Boys.

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