AmericanaFest took over Nashville for a week-long music-filled experience. Artists in the Americana genre got to showcase their talents with live performances in many of Music City’s most iconic venues.
Here’s a look back at some of our favorite moments from the week…
Brent Cobb and Jade Bird lift our “Feet Off The Ground” on Cannery Row
On Wednesday night of Americanafest the place to be was Cannery Ballroom for Brent Cobb & Them. Brent made his debut in 2016 with Shine On, Rainy Day and his 2018 follow up Providence Canyon cemented his reputation as one of modern outlaw country’s best songwriters. His set drew equally from both albums, leaning heavily on his long-time guitarist and Southern Rock guitar virtuoso Mike Harris for the fireworks on instant classics “Ain’t A Road Too Long,” and “Black Crow.”
Late in his set, the south Georgia native shared a story about leaving the U.S. for the first time two years ago to tour the U.K. in support of Shine On, Rainy Day. “Everywhere you go, they’re just folks,” he said with a nod of his shoulder length brown curls. The point of the story became clear when he said that while he was there he wrote a song with “Miss Jade Bird,” inviting the breakout U.K. Americana artist to the stage for a duet of “Feet Off The Ground.” Jade’s voice soared over Brent’s Baritone, the high notes marking the high point of a solid showcase set. With his warm stage presence, sharp wit, and impeccable delivery Brent continues to be one of the most outstanding artists in Americana.
As the hour drew close midnight, the crowd pressed close to the Mercy Lounge stage to hear the answer to the question we’ve all been asking. Is that voice real? Jade Bird has received a tremendous amount of airplay on Nashville’s independent radio, Lightning 100 over the last year, her voice consistently cutting through the static. Dressed in white from head to toe to match her signature white Taylor acoustic guitar, Jade wasted no time, tearing into radio favorite “Uh-huh.” In the same song, Jade whips her voice from the enchanting, soft spoken delivery of Mazzy Star to the cathartic and cutting buzzsaw of Kurt Cobain at full volume. That voice is totally real, and it is awesome. Regular tourmates Linus Fenton on bass and Luke Prosser on guitar delivered a remarkably full sound for such a lean band, adding energy and presence to the stage without taking the focus away from the woman in white. Between songs Jade expressed her own puzzlement over the theme of cheating and infidelity that runs through many of her songs, introducing her next number as “as close to a love song as you’re going to get from me.” After sharing the stage with Sheryl Crow the night before, speaking on a panel, and guesting with Brent Cobb, you might expect a lackluster performance, but there was no slowing down and nothing but a bright future in sight for this gifted artist.
Yola and Darrin Bradbury on their own terms on Thursday at Americanafest
With just a guitar, a stand-up bass, and a voice like a truck full of gravel, songwriter Malcolm Holcombe had the audience at 3rd and Lindsley transfixed on Thursday night. Seated and growling into a microphone, Holcombe gave the impression that he wasn’t so much singing as casting spells. His magic worked on this audience. Wrapping his set with “To Drink The Rain” from his 2011 album of the same name, he sang, “free from worry, free from pain stick with me and I’ll show you how to drink the rain.” The audience rose to their feet, ready to order a glass full.
At Mercy Lounge, Son Little casually stepped on stage and picked up his Martin guitar, launching into his signature brand of singer-songwriter blues. His songs flowed one after the other like a mountain stream, growing deeper and wider as they descend through the shade of deep-rooted and many-ringed trees. There were moments when it didn’t seem to matter whether there was an audience in attendance; his set more like a sacrament than a showcase. When it was all over, he strode off stage in his tan bucket hat and plain red t-shirt, the crowd voicing their gratitude with an echo of applause.
For their showcase, ANTI- records had scattered branded coasters all along the bar with their slogan, “Real artists creating records on their own terms.” There is no one who defines his own terms as clearly as humorist and singer songwriter Darrin Bradbury. His songs are comical, but they also just work as songs. They don’t wear out after you’ve heard the joke; they open to reveal the truth in the sharp observations first obscured by Bradbury’s wry and often dark humor. Nothing proves this more than his the opening song of his set, “True Love,” from his 2016 album, Elmwood Park: A Slightly Melodic Songbook. He’s likely played the song in every one of his sets since moving to Nashville, and yet the crowd that gathered was delighted to sing along to every word. Admitting that sometimes it’s hard to tell when he’s not joking, he took a moment to express his gratitude to ANTI- records for giving him a chance and issuing his forthcoming LP, Talking Dogs & Atom Bombs. After joining the label, he spent the summer in Charlottesville, Virginia moving furniture. To close his set he welcomed his friends Margo Price and her husband, Jeremy Ivey, to the stage to sing “Life is Hard,” and the whole crowd smiled, laughed, and danced together. There are lots of people who can lift furniture. There are not too many who can lift a crowd like Darrin Bradbury.
The house was full at City Winery for Album of The Year nominee Yola. Where many artists would give themselves a few songs to warm up, Yola did a vocal deadlift and ripped straight into “Lonely The Night,” from Americana Album of The Year nominated, “Walk Through Fire.” With a commanding stage presence, magnetic personality, lighthearted stage banter, and a voice from heaven’s gate Yola hid her years of hard work and dedication to her craft behind a voice and songcraft that appear effortless and eternal.
Foy Vance and Lori McKenna at Americanafest
There were so many people trying to cram into Cannery Row’s smallest venue to see Katie Pruitt on Friday night that security instituted a one-in-one-out policy at the door of The High Watt. The Rounder Records artist took the stage with her band to demonstrate why she is one of the most talked about names in Nashville. Her understated stage presence belies the rarity of her vocal gifting. Her clear, pure alto can flip into dizzying runs or searing grit at a moment’s notice, and she lives up to everything suggested by the name of her new single, “Expectations.”
Down in the Cannery Ballroom, the crowd impatiently awaited the appearance of Northern Irish soul singer and balladeer Foy Vance. With four backup singers, pedal steel, keys, drums, and bass, this was one of the larger bands to grace the stage, yet there was not a single unnecessary element. The carefully orchestrated ocean of sound prepared the perfect foundation for his heart rending voice. Deftly alternating between piano and guitar, Foy held the audience in rapt attention. To the disappointment of fans of his thick accent, Vance explained early on that wouldn’t be saying much because he had a lot of songs to get through and not much time. So, it was a surprise when mid-set he appeared to be at a loss for words. “I’ve thought about this moment a lot, and I’m not sure what to say. I didn’t know I needed this man, but now that he’s here I can’t live without him. Please welcome my friend Keith Urban.” Hundreds of smartphones suddenly appeared above the heads of the crowd, hoping for a shot of the country music superstar. Outside, a Rolls Royce was spotted haphazardly parked in an alleyway. If the intensity of the Americanafest audience was any indication, it won’t be long before Vance’s own star equals that of his surprise guest.
While many artists who play Americanafest are playing to new audiences, some are able to draw their own faithful crowds out of the masses. The highly anticipated set from Boston’s Lori McKenna filled The Anchor with a capacity crowd, and left many waiting for admission on the sidewalk outside. Her songs feel like gifts tailor-made for those who receive them, yet roomy enough to fit everyone the same. Across the river at The 5 Spot, Smooth Hound Smith kept a packed crowd on their toes with their signature cocktail of hard-driving roots and rock topped with a garnish of delta blues. It wasn’t hard to find audience members singing every word of classics “Forever Cold” and “Stopgap Woman Blues,” and moving their feet to new releases like, “Dog in a Manger.” If you’ve had your fill of sad songs or you’re bored with ballads, Smooth Hound Smith is an unapologetic and unrelenting pick-me-up full of roots rhythms and memorable melodies.
Hayes Carll, Andrew Combs, Carl Anderson, and Cosmic American Music
Fresh on the heels of his latest record, “You Can Call Me Carl,” Carl Anderson took the 5 Spot stage on Saturday to prove why he holds a reputation like a secret handshake among Nashville’s Americana songwriters. Carl wastes no phrases; uses no filler lines. His songs feel carved from hardwood, and his voice carries all the warmth of a vinyl record. In those moments when your feelings seem inexpressible, and you might burst without a release, you can bet Carl has a song to voice what you’re feeling. On stage he shared that he was married when he moved to Nashville in 2015, but his union was unbound by growth he had yet to reach. When they separated, his former partner offered, “at least you might get a couple songs out of this.” Cold comfort at the time, but he confessed that she was right, as she often was. “She Took Everything” is the devastating demonstration of his talent and personal loss.
At The Anchor, Andrew Combs delivered a stripped-down set to a seated crowd with only guitarist Sean Thomas as accompaniment. While a showcase at and industry festival can be a challenging setting to draw rapt attention from a crowd, Andrew had no problem drawing every ear and every heart into the tapestries of his songs. The whole set felt like a talk with an old friend at dusk on the first cool night of fall, when you’re both on the same wavelength and the conversation turns to deeper things. You can’t help feeling you have found communion in unspoken places, and you don’t want to miss a word.
Hayes Carll is probably exactly what most people picture when they think of Americana music. With shaggy brown hair, a denim button up, and an acoustic guitar, you might take him for a run-of-the-mill “music guy,” but let him sing you a song, and you’ll understand you’re in rarefied air. With nods to folk, country, rock and roll, and talking blues, Hayes Carll captured all sides of the “Cosmic American Music” that the Americana genre is intended to encapsulate, and he did it with ease. His songs come out like word puzzles that always find their answer, his voice has a father’s tenderness, and his wit has an uncle’s wry smile. His friend Corb Lund came out to help him sing, “Bible on The Dash,” a song about trying to get out of roadside legal trouble by carrying the word of God in plain sight of the investigating officer. During the introduction, an audience member hollered, “It doesn’t work, Hayes! I tried it.” The method may not work, but the song sure does. Hayes invited his wife Allison Moorer out to sing with him and the four of them left the crowd feeling like the price of admission to Americanafest may have been worth it all for this moment.