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Nashville's AmericanaFest Is a Far-Reaching Feast For the Senses in 2023

by Rich and Laura Lynch

AMERICANAFEST 2023 ran from September 19th through the 23rd. This popular annual music conference was spread out over numerous legendary venues in Nashville, Tennessee. Each day was packed with industry panels, live music and networking. For many the Americana Honors & Awards at the historic Ryman Auditorium is the high point of this multi-day festival. From dive bars to upscale wineries AMERICANAFEST has something for everyone who is passionate about music.

Old Crow Medicine Show got the party started on the BMI Rooftop.

With so much to hear and see each person's AMERICANAFEST experience was unique. Some focused on the conferences gaining valuable information and insight. Others filled their days with music that started as early as noon and ended late at night and likely included stops at a variety of venues. Another group enjoyed a combination of panels and live performances. By the end of AMERICANAFEST everyone had their one-of-a-kind personal stories to share. Here is the account from our slice of AMERICANAFEST this year.

Visit our 2023 Photo Archive to see more scenes from AMERICANAFEST!

Day one of AMERICANAFEST featured a number of music themed events to choose from such as "Sounds From Australia", "A Celebration of Springsteen's Nebraska" or industry celebrations which is what we chose to do. The BMI Kick-Off Party took place on their rooftop offering attendees a fine view of the city. Complimentary food (Texas Roadhouse) and drinks were provided along with live performances from JD Clayton and Old Crow Medicine Show.

Emmylou Harris made a special appearance at Musicians Corner.

AMERICANAFEST attracts folks from near and far. At BMI, we met people from Safety Harbor Art and Music Center in Florida who were in search of new music. Our conversation left us wanting to check out this Sunshine State venue. Their mission is to promote education and knowledge of the arts which includes live performances. We also chatted with locals along with a couple from Canada who we met at last year's BMI shindig. Also, in the crowd was Norman Greenbaum of "Spirit in the Sky" fame who resides in California.

Tommy Prine debuted his tremendous backing band at the City Winery.

It is said that Clayton's songs have a directness and clarity that are the hallmarks of a genuine craftsman, someone who's studied and practiced and chased a few different paths to end up where he is now. At BMI, JD with his band presented a winning set that included an innovative take on Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason".

The Watson Twins perform at the vintage venue they recently renovated.

Next up was Old Crow Medicine Show, an Americana string band based in Nashville, that has been recording since 1998. Their music is a blend of blues, country, old time folk, and rock. Their upbeat show on the rooftop reflected a wide range of influences. People thoroughly enjoyed their medleys along with a cover of Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville" and of course their signature song "Wagon Wheel".

Rodney Crowell played for a large and appreciative crowd in midtown.

The next four days of AMERICANAFEST were packed with conferences and music. Since there is so much to take in, it helps to have a strategy. Some attendees look at the long list of artists performing and plan their days around who they most want to see or perhaps focus on a concert that features music from a particular region such as the Five Spot's spotlight on Australia that took place on Saturday. Record labels also sponsor events throughout AMERICANAFEST.

Lilly Winwood put her musical DNA on display at the Basement East.

Our approach was to spend time at a number of venues over the course of AMERICANAFEST and enjoy the performers that we discovered along the way. Our one planned artist during the FEST was Tommy Prine who played at the City Winery on Thursday. Tommy Prine's debut album This Far South was released in June of 2023. It is his story of loss and love along with the growth that comes from both. Co-produced by Ruston Kelly, and beloved Nashville engineer and producer, Gena Johnson, the album is rich and dynamic from cathartic jams to nostalgic storytelling.

Tommy with a full band presented music from the new record and it was well received by the crowd who perhaps were at this upscale venue to see what the son of John Prine was about. Similar to his famous father, Tommy pens powerful prose and will be on tour to share his words in the coming months.

The great Buddy Miller was joined by several special guests on Friday.

As far as locations there were a few that intrigued us. The Estelle is a historic log cabin surrounded by a Victorian home dating back to the early 1800's. With the addition of modern amenities, The Estelle has become a unique event space. That description enticed a trip there on Thursday to hear Lydia Loveless an alternative country artist and the southern influenced Watson Twins. Both presented quality sets of music.

Still in the mode of checking out interesting sites our next stop was The Bobby in downtown Nashville. It is a boutique hotel with an inviting rooftop. Food and drinks could be purchased and there was some seating to enjoy the Lone Star Shindig. This event featured artists from Texas. We enjoyed the eclectic sounds of SaulPaul, the engaging Summer Dean, John Muq who melded his African heritage into his songcraft and the intriguing Robert Ellis. They and others did a great job of representing the Lone Star State.

Leah Blevins put her Kentucky heritage on display just off of 8th Ave.

One observation we made over AMERICANAFEST was that in some cases, states were using the event to promote tourism. On Friday, Hear Fort Worth focused on music from that region with an invite to visit. Plus, the southern hospitality provided by Tennessee Brew Works added to our positive impression of Fort Worth. We enjoyed free flavorful appetizers and two beers compliments of Tennessee Brew Works that made us want to return to the brewery which is local for us.

We also relished fine music by Keegan McInroe, Jacob Furr and Cameron Smith. The Tennessee Brew Works was founded with a mission to create high quality craft beer that pays homage to the land, traditions and culture of Tennessee using natural ingredients that are locally sourced whenever possible.

Robert Ellis was exceptional on both guitar and piano at The Bobby.

On Saturday, at The Basement, the state of Kentucky had a big sign that listed some of their major cities with venues and festivals. They were giving away swag and while supplies lasted KFC. We really dug the grooves of the Boa Boys who we dubbed the "Kentucky Cream" as they were a power trio that melded psychedelic, rock and soul in songs that were catchy yet compelling. Leah Blevins also did her state proud with a set of mesmerizing music that creatively blended classic country, gospel and more.

Nashville is already called Music City and AMERICANAFEST is one of a number of big tourism draws for the region. So, it made perfect sense that the well-respected Musicians Corner would be part of the party. Since 2010, Musicians Corner has provided free public access to live music. Located in beautiful Centennial Park, the series generally takes place in May / June and September each year.

Sahara Moon on this rise in the East.

On Friday, there were food trucks, activities for the kids and performances by Rodney Crowell, Emily Nenni, the legendary Buddy Miller with the McCrary Sisters that included a guest appearance from Emmylou Harris, the fun and funky North Mississippi Allstars and more.

Also, in our travels we stopped at InDo for Canada House and experienced music from Basset, The North Sound and the unique Field Guide. The North Sound shared compelling stories of overcoming addiction and we really liked that husband-and-wife duo's tune called "Better Days".

JD Clayton was the real deal at AMERICANAFEST.

On Saturday, the Kill Rock Stars label hosted an event at the AB in the Belcourt neighborhood. The AB was a comfortable, intimate place to enjoy acoustic music by Joey Beesley, Roger Harvey, War Violet and more. East Nashville is another neighborhood well known for talent. The Basement East hosted an afternoon tribute to Lucinda Williams. The album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was played in its entirety by a long list of special guest vocalists and musicians and as a bonus Lucinda herself was in house.

The McCrary Sisters brought a Gospel feel to the proceedings.

This year's 70+ conference panels covered a wide range of topics such as artist interviews, an inside look at the music industry, embracing inclusion & striving for systemic change, crafting a musical career and informative peer-to-peer meetings. 2023's keynote speakers included Rosanne Cash & John Leventhal, Bettye LaVette & Steve Jordan, Lyle Lovett, Marty Stuart, Rufus Wainwright & Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams.

The Kentucky showcase had an authentic feel complete with bourbon and fried chicken.

AMERICANAFEST is spearheaded by The Americana Music Association who works closely with artists, labels, radio stations, retailers, print media, festivals, agents, publishers, etc. to help organize and build the infrastructure necessary for the genre to achieve success both creatively and financially. In addition to hosting AMERICANAFEST they publish a weekly Americana Airplay Chart, conduct research, participate in other industry events, produce a newsletter and more.

Things took a Cosmic turn at Estelle in East Nashville.

AMERICANAFEST is a special annual event that appeals to industry pros, music lovers, Nashvillians and tourists so start planning for AMERICANAFEST 2024 and you too can be a part of this educational, entertaining and unique gathering that has plenty of repeat fans year after year.

Visit our 2023 Photo Archive to see more scenes from AMERICANAFEST!

Related Links: For more information on AMERICANAFEST and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - AMERICANAFEST | MCN - 2023 AMERICANAFEST Photo Archive | Old Crow Medicine Show | JD CLAYTON | S.H.A.M. Music Venue | AMERICANAFEST 2022 Wrap-Up | Searching For the Meaning of Americana in Music City


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