The 2022 AmericanaFest in Nashville wrapped up a handful of days ago, delivering a swath of stellar showcases, panels, and parties held at what seemed like dozens of venues and locales across town.
The delightfully dizzying event brought artists, industry folks, and fans in from all over the world to experience the 5-day extravaganza. It was a hell of a lot of fun if not challenging to decide where to go and when.
Here are 12 of the top events and showcases we caught this year.
12. The Old Fashioned String Band Throwdown @ Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge (Presented by WMOT) by Paul Howard
It’s always a good hang at Dee’s just on the outskirts of East Nashville in Madison. Chill, casual, and full of road house charm, the popular haunt held a bluegrass pow wow on opening night of AmericanaFest, which featured the Po’ Ramblin Boys, Willi Carlisle, and several others throwing down on the outdoor stage. The PRB closed out their set with a notable “Eastbound and Down” rendition that got the blood flowing. And you know it’s a happenin’ jamboree when Jim Lauderdale saunters in. It was a killer hootenanny to kick off the week.
11. Joe Purdy @ Musician’s Corner by Jordan Paterson
This September, many Nashvillians have spent their past couple of weekend evenings in Centennial Park enjoying the musicianship that the city has to offer through the free concert series known as Musician’s Corner.
Joe Purdy closed out the Friday night set at the park, and it was a standout performance. He is known for his whimsical musicianship paired with witty lyricism that touches upon his social commentary, as well as his lust for life. Purdy had the entire park laughing at his creative phrasing, and he sweetly engaged with his younger audience that danced below the stage, hand in hand enjoying their innocent summer night.
It was a lovely way to enjoy a Friday evening listening to Purdy serenade an audience of all ages and experiences, all of who truly could appreciate what beautiful music he makes.
10. Commonwealth of Kentucky Party @ The Basement by Paul Howard
This Kentucky-fueled hoedown outside at The Basement offered vats of free Kentucky Fried Chicken served from what looked like middle schoolers (if not late elementary schoolers) and bourbon tastings (not from middle schoolers). With the Colonel’s Secret Recipe in hand and a massive wall of sound emanating from Brother Smith, it was a solid and savory afternoon hang.
Curated by The Burl, the folks behind Railbird, and the Master Musicians Festival, the noontime soiree featured Kentucky acts like Abby Hamilton, Girl Tones, Spooky Fox, Brother Smith and more. We caught a heavy dose of Brother Smith which stood out, as they brought the funk, soul, and electric energy to get the people groovin’.
9. Angel Olsen @ Riverside Revival by Jordan Paterson
The ever-popular St. Louis native decided to embrace an acoustic folk set for her AmericanaFest debut, much to the enjoyment of the crowd. The newly renovated church in East Nashville was most fitting for the intimate solo set, with the large stained glass windows on the wall pouring in light from the street covering the enamored crowd. The only thing on stage beside the singer was a small barstool holding an untouched glass of water.
Olsen’s on-stage presence was comical and confident, slightly awkward and charming, entertaining the late night crowd with her unique personality. The genuinity of the performance was one that could only be experienced in an intimate space such as that of Riverside Revival.
8. Sister Sadie @ Station Inn by Hannah Burton
Sister Sadie would take the stage Saturday night at The Station Inn, and it certainly wasn’t the first time that the legendary bluegrass group performed at the iconic Nashville venue. The original members of Sister Sadie played the hallowed stage for the first time a decade ago, and have been mainstays since.
After 10 years, original members Deanie Richardson (fiddle), and Gena Britt (banjo, harmony vocals) are still playing for the group, while Hasee Ciaccio (bass), Jaelee Roberts (guitar, lead vocals), and Mary Meyer (mandolin, harmony vocals) have joined the now acclaimed group. The five ladies on stage sounded more like a record than a live performance, and had the audience clapping and dancing along to their Appalachian-inspired bluegrass. Precise fiddle and banjo solos rang throughout the night, and they emulated everything the Station Inn represents. Sister Sadie is always a fascinating watch.
7. The McCrary Sisters @ Station Inn by Hannah Burton
The legendary McCrary Sisters are a Nashville-bred gospel-infused soul act who can move mountains and melt hearts with their booming voices. Adorned in matching outfits, the three sisters walked on stage to some groovy entrance music performed by their on-point backing band. Ann, Regina, and Alfreda would be joined by their brother Allen for the second song, which he took the lead on. The more the sisters sang, it seemed like the walls of Station Inn melted away and the walls of a church were being put up.
They dedicated the song “Amazing Grace” to their late sister Deborah, the fourth member of The McCrary Sisters who passed back in June. They also paid tribute to their late sister by performing a song she had written herself, and invited her daughter on stage with them to sing. It was a touching performance that pulled the heartstrings. At the end of the set, the crowd let loose, dancing to the sounds and clapping along with the tambourine. Each band member got to take a solo, each one more exciting than the last.
6. Americana Awards Ceremony @ The Ryman by Paul Howard
As this was our first time attending the Americana Music Association Awards ceremony, it was exciting to see what extravagant surprises they had in store. Thanks to our good friend Rob, we were able to witness the 21st Annual spectacle. It wasn’t so much the awards themselves that induced excitement (at least not to this writer), but more the special guests they had speaking at the podium (i.e. Robert Plant, Al Bell, etc.) and of course the epic performances (Sierra Ferrell, Allison Russell, Brandi Carlile, etc.). Despite some over-glorified fanfare, it was an entertaining night at the Ryman that celebrated diversity in Americana music, and it was a treat to see a host of incredible artists get their due.
Among the winners were Billy Strings for Artist of the Year, Allison Russell being honored with Album of the Year for her solo debut, Outside Child, and Ferrell deservingly winning Emerging Artist of the Year.
5. Oh Boy Records Presents: A German Afternoon @ Emerson Hall by Paul Howard
On the more delightfully peculiar side of things was the Oh Boy soiree at Emerson Hall in East Nashville. With a trio of older German (?) musicians playing accordion, hand bells, and singing, they supplied the unique traditional German polka music, while folks gathered ‘round tables scarfing beers, brats, and soft pretzels with cheese sauce. Cardboard cutouts of John Prine and other Oh Boy artists huddled near the doorway, and balloons and decorations adorned the welcoming room.
There were crates of records for sale that were supplied by Vinyl Cup, a record shop out of Iowa and Nebraska that has teamed up with Oh Boy for their roadshow, a most righteous endeavor that consists of two representatives hitting the road selling records at breweries around the country. We got to talk to one of the two women who take to the open road in the badass Oh Boy van hawkin’ records throughout the country, who couldn’t have been more psyched about her job.
Danke schön for the lovely feel-good German afternoon, Mr. Prine and Oh Boy.
4. Black Opry Revue @ Station Inn by Hannah Burton
Founded by Holly G., this organization features Black artists working in country, Americana, and/or roots music, giving them the platform to have their voices heard.
The Black Opry Revue had three members play three of their songs, telling the stories that inspired the songs. Up first was Jett Holden, whose witty lyrics were inspired by dark moments in the singer’s life.
The revue also featured artists Nicky Diamonds and Nikki Morgan. Morgan closed out The Revue, taking to the stage with a charismatic energy. Her song “I’m Goin’ Home” caused the listeners to get up from their tables and chairs to dance and clap along to the swinging finale. As she sang her final notes, the crowd gave Morgan – along with Holden and Diamonds – a rightful standing ovation.
3. Shine A Light: 50 Years Of Exile On Main Street @ Basement East by Paul Howard
One of the kick-off events of the five-day long festival, this Rolling Stones’ celebration was definitely a favorite. The iconic Exile on Main Street album struck 50-years-old this year, and a killer lineup of artists took to the Basement East stage to throw down on each track. The house band consisted of band leader Brian Wright, who pioneered the run of epic renditions, bringing out a new front man or woman for each track, which included the likes of Nicki Bluhm, Chris Pierce, Johnny Hawthorn, and the lead singer of DeeOhGee who channeled his inner Mick Jagger among others.
I counted 11 bodies on stage at one point, with background singers and horn players among several guitarists and the like. The big full sound rocked the Beast, and the place was shoulder to shoulder with folks basking in an era of music a vast majority weren’t a part of or perhaps were too young to appreciate.
From “Rocks Off” to “Sweet Virginia” to “Lovin’ Cup” and beyond, Wright and company ripped through the 18-track album much to the delight of the rock and roll lovers under the Beast’s roof.
2. 1888 AmericanaFest Day Party @ Arnold’s Country Kitchen by Paul Howard
One of the more unique and under-the-radar events of the whole shebang happened in one of the late great John Prine’s favorite places to eat- Arnold’s Country Kitchen.
This popular meat-and-three establishment offers a cafeteria-like atmosphere with some of the best meatloaf, brisket, country fried steak, and various fixins you can imagine, and on the Thursday of the festival, a killer lineup of artists.
1888 Media and Kevin Daniel put on a 7-hour showcase featuring many up-and-coming artists that had hungry patrons highly entertained. One of the more notable artists was Alisa Amador, who recently won NPR’s Tiny Desk video contest. Her unique folky and melodic sound along with her bi-lingual capabilities further enhance the beautiful music she makes, and is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Other artists like Sam Robbins, South for Winter, Coral Moons, Afton Wolfe, Marina Rocks, and several others took to the Arnold’s stage rocking the place. The atmosphere was truly unique to this particular showcase, and the spirit of Prine within those wells was felt, especially as his music played between artists and his photos hung on the wall.
This will hopefully be the start of regular showcases at Arnold’s, and props to 1888 Media for hosting it there.
1. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band @ The Ryman by Paul Howard
There are few feelings as enjoyable as being gifted a ticket to see an iconic band at an iconic venue. This is what happened on Saturday night, the final night of AmericanaFest, as I was able to wrap up the wild week of pinballing across Nashville with an epic performance by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at the Ryman. (Thank you Maria and Sarah- you know who you are)
Making my way to the balcony, I first heard the chorus of Prine’s “Grandpa Was A Carpenter,” and knew right then I was in for a treat.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has been at it for over 50 years, and this past May the band put out their album, Dirt Does Dylan, which particularly entices this writer. Notable tracks off the album that they would go on to perform included “Country Pie,” “I Shall Be Released,” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” among others. The latter of which head honcho Jeff Hanna flubbed on about halfway through, having to restart. Personally I like the human aspect when things like that happen. As skilled as these seasoned artists are, they make mistakes too. And it’s usually coupled with some funny self-deprecating remarks.
Hanna is as experienced as they come in executing funny stage banter, knowing precisely how to get the crowd laughing and engaged. He’d often make comments regarding his age, saying things like, “Jimmie [Fadden] and I wrote this one back in the 1800s,” and expressing their lengthy decades-long tenure in the business. Aside from lifelong friendships within the band, Hanna’s son Jaime is also among the group, shredding guitar for his old man.
Other fan favorites included classics like “Fishin’ in the Dark,” “Mr. Bojangles,” and “Cadillac Ranch.” The event was filmed, as a long swooping craned camera maneuvered over the upper section of the crowd capturing the performance.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band elicited standing ovations after nearly every song, to which I thought the crowd maybe made the gesture slightly less meaningful, though it’s not like it was undeserved. They are some of the best in the Americana business, and have been since Nixon was president.
Featured photo by Adrienne Pacheco