No Depression Surveys Decade Of Alt-Country

Call it Americana, alt-country, roots music, what-have-you: The musical genre without a bin card has been defined for a decade by No Depression magazine.

Call it Americana, alt-country, roots music, what-have-you: The musical genre without a bin card has been defined for a decade by No Depression magazine.

Founded in 1995 as a quarterly by its editor-publishers Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock, No Depression just underwent a redesign and is now a color bimonthly serving the relatively small, yet ravenous and vocal, Americana music community. The publication is celebrating its 10th anniversary with 10 commemorative shows in six cities. In September, the University of Texas Press will publish an anthology, "The Best of No Depression: Writing About American Music."

"I've been early on cultural trends by accident a lot," Alden says. In '95, a spate of alt-country compilation albums and the rise of several accomplished roots-rock acts led Alden and Blackstock, then both based in Seattle, to put together the first issue of No Depression on a budget of less than $2,000.

"We felt there was the creative talent musically to sustain a publication," says Alden, who adds that the magazine targeted "people who had gone through punk rock who would be drawn to country music by its emotional honesty."

The magazine drew its name from an album by Kentucky alt-country progenitors Uncle Tupelo, who had borrowed the title from the 1930s Carter Family song "No Depression in Heaven." Son Volt, the band fronted by Uncle Tupelo co-leader Jay Farrar, graced the first issue's cover. (Alden notes: "Peter was the Uncle Tupelo fan. ... Peter and I have wildly different tastes, which is good for the magazine.")

In a way, the question of what is fit No Depression subject matter is in the ear of the behearer, since Americana is not truly a genre but rather a collection of related but exclusive subgenres. In the past two years, the magazine has featured acts as diverse as Loretta Lynn, Dave Alvin, Mary Gauthier, Willie Nelson, Vic Chesnutt and Nickel Creek on its cover.

"Everything we cover has some tangential relationship to country or to roots music," Alden says. "[But] we pick the music we're drawn to. It's as simple as that. And that covers a fairly wide sonic range. ... Basically, it's [about] songwriting."

To celebrate the wide-ranging artistic community No Depression covers, Blackstock assembled the forthcoming anniversary shows. "The intent was to show as much variety as we could," Alden says.

The kickoff takes place Sept. 3 with performances at the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle by Tift Merritt, Billy Joe Shaver and Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion. A Sept. 8 showcase in Nashville during the Americana Music Association Conference will feature the Knitters, Solomon Burke, Marty Stuart and Bobby Bare.

A Los Angeles gig at the Mint on Sept. 14 will star Tom Freund, Grey DeLisle and Murry Hammond. The series concludes with four days of shows Sept. 22-25 at Seattle's Sunset Tavern; Chicago, Austin and Chapel Hill, N.C., also will serve as sites for September performances.