The annual Americana Music Festival and Conference, whose attendance has grown to some 18,000 attendees, is just a few weeks away. With the event's exponential growth, organizers are able to curate a lineup that's as diverse as the genre itself while attracting major talent.
The Lone Bellow, Houndmouth, Lisa Marie Presley, and Ashley Monroe will be making appearances during the event scheduled for Sept. 18-22 in Nashville. The organization’s Honors and Awards show – set for Sept. 18 at the Ryman – will feature performers and presenters such as Stephen Stills, Ken Burns, as well as 2013 nominees Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. The line-up for the conference is equally compelling with RIAA chairman Cary Sherman serving as keynote speaker. The event will also host the American Bar Association’s Symposium on Entertainment. David Lowery (Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker) will also be giving an artist’s perspective on the day's legislative issues. Interviews will be conducted with such iconic figures as Dr. John, Delbert McClinton, and Rosanne Cash.
Jed Hilly, Executive Director for the Americana Music Association, beams with pride when discussing this years’ lineup – which aligns itself with the definition of what Americana is. “Americana is contemporary music that honors and/or derives from American roots traditions,” he says.
Since the Americana format began, Hilly says the genre has evolved immensely. “When it started, it came from a reaction from the alt-country community. I think that may be part of why it has become cloudy over the years. People have an association that it’s Rosanne Cash, Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam, or k.d. Lang, or Wilco. It’s not the mainstream sound,” he stated.
Hilly believes that one thing that sets Americana apart is there’s no classifications when it comes to music, and that’s the way he remembers becoming a music fan in the first place. “In the past two decades, the music industry has done a terrific and terrible job of putting things in boxes. There’s 142 vertical lines that represent formats. I grew up listening to music and might have heard Miles Davis, Bonnie Raitt, Steely Dan, the Preservation Hall, and the Rolling Stones. My musical tastes and appreciation weren’t defined by what I was almost force-fed through radio.”
“I think Americana is a beautiful genre,” Hilly continues, “which instead of having these arbitrary vertical lines is salvation for the music industry. It’s a definition based on the sound of the music, not based on what a radio format manager thinks belongs on his radio station. When I hear Lucinda Williams, I hear her Louisiana Cajun influence, her rock and roll influence, her Hank Williams influence. When I hear Buddy Miller, you can tell he is clearly inspired by Hank Williams, as well as Gospel, and Les Paul and the electric guitar. The boundary goes around American roots traditions. If you can’t taste the dirt through your ears, it’s probably not Americana.”
The event’s attendance has grown exponentially from 5,600 when Hilly began his directorship of the Americana Music Fest in 2006 to 18,000 attendees last year. The confab's popularity has helped Americana grow here and abroad. “In the past few years, our international representation has grown significantly – with Australia leading the charge. Jason Isbell and Justin Townes Earle are touring over there, and some of that is because people are coming from there to experience our event. That is fantastic.
This year, we’re looking at a huge influx from the UK. We have partnered with The Sage Gateshead with a handshake agreement to support each other, which we’ve done for about three years. They have an Americana festival over there, with The Mavericks, Elizabeth Cook, and Patti Griffin. They have embraced American artists overseas with the festivals.”
Though the numbers have grown, Hilly is proud of the fact that the setting of the conference remains intimate – where kismet can still happen. “Two of my fondest memories have been standing on the steps, and Hayes Carll walks by, and looking up and seeing Rosanne Cash signing autographs for a group of people. Then, you look over to the right, and you see a woman named Amy Black – who nobody has ever heard of, talking to Don Was. Six years ago, Grace Potter came up to me and asked if it was ok if she introduced herself to T-Bone Burnett. I said ‘Sure, you don’t need my permission.’ She went up to him, and within two years, she was recording an album with him. I love the community element, and the artists who are willing to talk to you in a different way. I’ve seen it first hand.”