September 22, 2015 by Jay Minkin
There is nothing like a good road trip to a music festival. When the calendar turns to September, it’s time for the annual pilgrimage to Nashville for The Americana Music Association week of festivities. Departing Akron with my partner in crime Dale Elwell, we have weathered the storm seven of the previous eight years lugging home lots of music and memories. This trip included a larger amount of showcases, special events, and happenings making the AMA’s very different depending on whom you talked to. No Depression readers will see several postings that go in several directions covering what portion of the week they encountered. I will address this more in closing ceremonies, but let’s begin with a musical tour which includes lots of local beer and delicious southern food.
After eight hours of driving from Akron, Tuesday evening began with a jolt of java from Frothy Monkey next door to Grimey’s New & Preloved Music before the in-store CD release Daytime Turned To Nighttime from Massillon’s favorite son Patrick Sweany. Bob McAdam, my friend I met through SXM The Loft and travels to many musical destinations, joined us for a Yazoo Dos Perros down in The Basement. I made a dent in my shopping wish list with four new vinyl records using my AMA discount before the band began their set upstairs. Wrapped in an undercover beer hugger resembling a paper bag, Lagunitas Brewing Company was offering up complimentary beverages. From there, we went off the grid toward South 12th Street and the swanky Imogene + Willie clothing store to catch Joseph LeMay, who released the brilliant Seventeen Acres that was one of my favorite releases in 2014. Opening for LeMay was the lovely Erin Rae McKaskle playing a few tracks from her brand new release Soon Enough accompanied by pedal steel player Brett Resnick. Wings were the choice for dinner paired with a Terrapin Pumpkinfest served up in a mason jar at Edley’s Bar-B-Que a quick stroll down the street. Staying off course, we headed over to East Nashville and The 5 Spot for $2 Tuesday with Los Colognes. The house band would be backing several artists including Robyn Hitchcock, Emma Swift, Derek Hoke, Patrick Sweany, JP Harris, Rayland Baxter, Caitlin Rose, Alanna Royal, Allen Thompson, Justin Collins, Tristen Gaspadarek, and Erin Rae MacKaskle with their take on solo material from the John, Paul, George, and Ringo catalog. Jackalope Thunder Ann was quenching our thirst inside the packed house. Six degrees of separation was seeing good friends Scott and Kim Collins of The Smoking Flowers as they were there to support Scott’s brother. We decided to call it a night about 1:45AM Ohio time to end an illustrious first day.
Round two had me up at 7AM Nashville time and we walked over to the historic RCA Studio A to wait in line for “Songs That We Love” hosted by Ann Powers of NPR featuring Patty Griffin, Rhiannon Giddens, and Alejandro Rose-Garcia aka “Shakey Graves”. The long wait outdoors in the blistering sun was finally welcomed be walking inside the famous studio with three story high ceilings, an array of grand pianos, and beautiful acoustics. The program offered some insight into the songwriter’s creative flow and influences growing up. The highlight was hearing Giddens sing the gorgeous “Mi Hombre” in Spanish. Complementary bottled water, bakery pastries and another appearance by the folks from Lagunitas with PILS and IPA were a nice touch. Afterwards, we headed to Star Bagel for lunch and coffee before making the annual trip to McKays searching their massive store of used music and books. Another big night ahead of us meant dinner downtown at Broadway Brewhouse & Mojo for a Texas Melt with local flavor Tennessee Brewhouse Country Porter. Thor Platter, a great singer/songwriter from Cleveland who also made the trip down for the AMA’s, joined us for dinner and continued to connect with us the rest of the week. The Honors and Awards show at The Ryman Auditorium is always a night of stars with Don Henley, Lee Ann Womack, Keb Mo, John Hiatt,The Lone Bellow, The Mavericks, Jim Lauderdale, Lucinda Williams, Los Lobos, Jason Isbell, Shakey Graves, Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch all performing. Highlights included Buddy Miller and Marc Ribot honoring Hank Williams with “Cold, Cold, Heart”. Unfortunately, the show went way over and made it hard to catch the beginning of the evening showcases. I caught just the end of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats at the Mercy Lounge, but heard a nice set from Watkins Family Hour featuring Fiona Apple and Benmont Tench. Had the pleasure of talking with photographer Tacy Judd, one of several folks shooting AMA events, back by the soundboard between sets and seeing some of her artistic work. Shakey Graves and Esme’ Patterson were the surprise closing act doing an acoustic duet performance.
Thursday we visited Noshville for breakfast coffee before heading to Sirius XM studios for “America’s Most Wanted” featuring Warren Haynes, Ashley Monroe, Whitey Morgan, and Donnie Fritts with host Mojo Nixon. The small intimate setting with windows that look out onto Broadway and The Ryman is always one of the most sought after events to attend. From there we headed over to Jack’s BBQ for a little “meat & 3’s” lunch before heading back toward Southern Ground Studio for another great program by Rob Reinhart, host of the syndicated show Acoustic Café. Between the heat and the blasting going on across the street at the construction site, it was pretty tough to wait it out for Warren Haynes. Talking with Chris Sartin, the man behind Soulshine Pizza, helped us endure the wait. Joined by former Cadillac Sky fiddle player Ross Holmes, Haynes played several acoustic selections from his new album Ashes & Dust while talking about his musical career playing with The Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule. One of many happy hours during this year’s festivities took us to the Douglas Corner Café to hear Calico The Band, Anne McCue and Rosie Flores. Dinner was a stroke of luck as we found a place called M.L. Rose Craft Beer & Burgers offering up 2 for 1 drafts on Little Harpeth Prost! Oktoberfest paired with their signature Night Owl burger. First showcase was catching another great songwriter Ryan Culwell who released Flatlands earlier this year. Hersh Cohen, the son of one of my closest friends and concert prank caller, is a recent graduate and multi-instrumentalist from Florida State University who moved to Nashville recently to follow his dream met up with us. After Culwell’s set, we all headed to 3rd & Lindsely for a gospel laced set by Ricky Skaggs, Ry Coder, and The Whites followed by an electric set from Buddy Miller, Marc Robot, and Fats Kaplin to close out our evening.
By Friday, it was time for Fido and some whole grain blueberry pancakes, rich black coffee, and meeting up with my good friend Ashley Claire Heeney who recently moved back to Nashville. After running some errands, it was time for “Sounds of Australia” at Soulshine Pizza with Emma Swift, Anne McCue, Halfway, Oh Pep!, and Raised By Eagles. A very nice spread with several varieties of pizza and salad greens worked well with a Sam Adams Octoberfest served “hot” with a shot of Fireball poured into the pint glass. This was a great social gathering meeting new acquaintances photographer Steven Sandick along with Salley Williamson and Elenore Underhill from the Asheville based band Underhill Rose. The great photographer Amos Perrine was in the house and it’s always good swapping stories on who we’ve seen or what to see next. The afternoon allowed time for more record shopping so it was off to see the good folks at The Groove before heading over to The Family Wash for the “Wild Ponies Happy Hour” featuring Amy Speace, Emily Barker, The Grahams, and Martin Harley. The new space was just incredible and there was enough of the old charm weaved into the décor that it felt like being on Greenwood Avenue. I drank two cups of coffee sandwiched around a nice Black Abbey “Rose” Belgian Blonde and “The Usual” from the breakfast menu. By 8PM, it was time to catch Andrew Leahey & The Homestead around the corner at The Basement East. The long road back to the stage by Leahey and his rock ‘n roll band offered an epic musical moment with the stripped down acoustic ballad “When The Hinges Give”. By this time my wingman was out for the count, and I flew solo to City Winery for Anderson East. After forty minutes and already hearing three cover songs, I decided I had enough of Mr. East. So it was back to The Family Wash for Kevin Gordon and the release of Long Time Gone which seemed to be the right call. The night ended with a lengthy bar conversation at The Patterson House where a Dark & Stormy coupled with listening to Scott Walker had me closing down the bar at 2:45AM.
Saturday is the grand finale, and the boys needed the breakfast of champions at the legendary Hermitage Café to get the ball rolling. Americanarama VIII is the ultimate music storm with several live bands, food truck, and more complimentary Lagunitas beer featuring A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale. Rounded out my vinyl Lp purchases of new and pre-loved records between sets by The Whistles & The Bells, Madisen Ward & The Mama Bear, and My Bubba. Then came another highlight as Steelism hit the stage like gangbusters and blew the crowd away. Finally had a chance to catch up with Erin Scholze from Dreamspider and how cool is it that Hayden Panettiere came out to the little parking lot festival to see Leigh Nash perform. But we still haven’t seen our good friends Declan Culliton and Brendan Cooke at anytime during the AMA’s, so it was off to The Groove for the Bootleg BBQ in search for the Dos Perros dynamic duo. Great timing as we arrive just in time to see Whitey Morgan along with our long lost brothers in arms meant celebrating with a few more Lagunitas draft beers. Somehow, we found our way to Martins BBQ Joint which by far was the closest thing to heaven we tasted this year. For the last evening, we went to The Hi-Watt and Mercy Lounge showcases for Whitney Rose, Josh Rouse, Andrew Combs, and Horse Feathers. Had a chance to catch up with Cary Baker from conqueroo and see a wedding party leave under a bridge of sparklers from the Mercy Lounge windows. A late night snack at Soulshine Pizza closed out the day before the traditional Sunday get-a-way breakfast at Athens Family Restaurant where the Steve Cropper family dines.
The Americana Music Festival is growing and for those who have attended for several years are noticing the change. There are now more overlapping portions scheduled to the point that some traditional events aren’t drawing the crowds like they used to. Too many missed opportunities and almost missed connections with folks we would normally see all week long. But in the end … it was a great week filled with many magical moments that I will cherish until the end of my days.