Themes of Rays and Horses
We are back!!! It’s our first festival together since we were shut down 2-1/2 years ago. It’s also our first time doing Americanafest together (Andee’s first time at Americanafest and my second).
We both arrived to Nashville on Wednesday; Andee got here first and managed to see a handful of performers before I even got to town including one of my personal favorites, Hayes Carll (just a little jealous).
For our Wednesday night, we headed to the Brooklyn Bowl. We got there for the Anthony da Costa FOMO party winding down. We walked in as Caroline Spence was ending. As soon as we were in the door, I found my hometown contingent, John and Kat, holding down the rail. It wasn’t long before we were joined by Jeff and then by DiDi as well. Anthony was a great host and had a great line-up, though surprisingly the two singer songwriters that we saw (Courtney Marie Andrews and Erin Rae) were not on his list of performers. It was fun to see both of them and Erin Rae had a cute dress. The keyboardist and vocalist who was backing up Anthony’s guests was someone that I saw playing with Jenny Lewis at the Santa Barbara Bowl earlier this year.
The evening performance was Dead Horses opening for Lukas Nelson. This was my third time seeing Dead Horses and every time has been a different configuration. This was the first time with a drummer and it really enhanced their sound. We especially loved the triangle! I really love this band; their songs are lovely and make me feel all the feelings. In Rod’s words, ‘I believe them’.
Then Lukas Nelson took the stage and boy did he take the stage. He and his band, Promise of the Real, are all that AND a bag of chips. Really! I couldn’t have enjoyed this show more than I did! Well, that’s not true. If the guy behind me hadn’t been singing along loudly to almost EVERY song, I could have enjoyed it more. Note to the audience: no one came to hear you sing the song and certainly not louder than the performer. Also, if you are gonna sing along, you should learn the words! Lukas was really a treat and I really enjoy seeing him away from the SF Bay Area. I find the crowd that attends his Bay Area shows to generally detract from my enjoyment of him and his performance. I can’t explain this but I can say that I have thoroughly enjoyed his shows in Austin and now in Nashville, and I can’t say the same about SF. Every single time he indulged us and himself by coming up to the edge of the stage and wailing on his guitar, we were all in. Lukas has also taken some lessons from Rhett Miller and has a good butt wiggle. Again, we were all in! I, of course, loved the bass player and his dancing and his jumps and his mad skills.
Day 2 started with a trip out to The Wash at the Eastside Bowl for the WMOT Day stage. It was an incredible line-up and when we walked in, we again found our friends John and Kat holding down the rail and saving us some room. It was so good to see Jessie Scott again (Program Director for WMOT) and see what she had cooked up for us this year; I was introduced to WMOT at my first Americanafest in 2018 and became a member to support this fantastic station. We were also lucky enough to walk out with Jessie and got to hear her story about how she managed to score Lyle Lovett for the show and also made the introductions that made him the presenter of Chris Isaak’s award on Wednesday night, and how the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had to cancel, and the finagling to get Amy Ray to be able to replace them. I could have listened to her for hours.
The WMOT show opened with Brennen Leigh backed by Asleep At the Wheel. She just released an album ‘Obsessed With the West’, but I’d argue that she’s obsessed with Asleep At the Wheel as well. She fan-girled about them a bit and performed a handful of songs with some of the members backing her, then Ray Benson joined her for a song and then we were treated to a bit more of the full Asleep at The Wheel band. It was a GOOD time. The fiddle player had a great jacket with ‘Fiddler’ monogrammed on the front. The female keyboard / accordion player brought some diversity to this all white / all male band and she had some chops, was super fun to watch and seemed like she was having a good time!
Side note: I thought I has seen Asleep at The Wheel at Americanafest 2018 and hadn’t really cared for them. Flash forward to Red Wing Roots in 2021 when they were one of the headlining bands. My friend, Susan, was so excited and I was all ‘meh, I don’t really like them.’ She was surprised and convinced me to stay and watch them. As soon as they started, I realized they were not the band I thought they were. After a little research, I discovered that the band I had seen was Drivin and Cryin, not Asleep at the Wheel. Turns out I was the one asleep at the wheel.
The WMOT day show on Thursday was just highlight after highlight for me as next up was Amy Ray (our 3rd Ray of the festival and the winner of our Ray/Rae award!) with her guitarist Jeff Fielder. I was in awe of her; she was so real and she is a badass and I was right on the rail… so close, I felt like I’d be able to touch her. I think the highlight of her set for me was when she played ‘Chuck Will’s Widow’ and Jeff Fielder took the Sarah Jarosz part and, I must say, did an excellent job of it. There’s a clip of this on our I/G.
Amy Ray was followed by Lyle Lovett and that was a true highlight. He was the one and only performer that I ‘insisted’ on seeing. Not that Andee put up a fight, but there were so many good showcases competing with this that it would have been easy to end up a different venue. I have seen Lyle Lovett many times, but I’ve never been so close to him; it felt so intimate and he and his band couldn’t have made me happier with their song choices. He had a request for ‘the pony song’ though I’m sure he would have played it anyway. ‘If I Had a Boat’ is a crowd favorite and also a favorite of mine. Some of my other favorites that he played were ‘Here I Am’ (known among friends of mine as ‘the cheeseburger song’) and ‘Cowboy Man’
After Lyle, I was treated to my first time seeing Sunny Sweeney and wow… she really just tells her truth, coming out on stage to talk about and play songs from her ‘second divorce album’. I would definitely check her out again.
Closing out the WMOT show was Jade Bird. I was delighted to see that she is just as adorably sweet and ‘shouty’ as she has always been. And that laugh of hers; it gets me every time! She brought some friends to the stage to close out her set and the three of them were great together.
So we closed out the WMOT day show, scarfed some food and headed to the Analog Room at the Hutton Hotel. We decided to go there because it was close (VERY close) to our hotel and one of the performers, Mindy Smith, was someone that I recognized as having a song that I liked back in the day. So glad we went because I really enjoyed Mindy and she brought her friend Maia Sharp up for a great song at the end (another clip on our I/G). We also really liked the Analog Room, though it was COLD and it was way too talky over near the bar. There was this fabulous booth that we settled into, but in the end it was too close to the bar and the people at the bar were so loud and clearly not there for the music, so we left during the first song of the final performer (Andrew Duhon). Between Mindy Smith and Andrew Duhon, we also saw Pete Muller & The Kindred Souls and Lilli Lewis.
Neither the cold room or the talky crowd could keep us away though. We bundled ourselves up because Friday at the Analog was where we wanted to be, starting with a Mountain Stage showcase that featured Jessie Baylin, Mya Byrne (from the Bay Area), Janiva Magness, Chastity Brown and William Fussell from Honey Harper. The highlight of that showcase (for me) was when The Watson Twins took the stage as Jessie Baylin’s back-up singers. I had no idea how much I wanted to see them until I returned to our booth with coffee and Andee excitedly pointed at the stage. It’s been 4 years (my last Americanafest) since I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them in any capacity (headliners or back-up singers) and it seems that’s too long. I look forward to seeing them again sooner than the last time!!! Another highlight was the guy in the Korn tee shirt who was clearly there to see Janiva Magness — worlds colliding.
There was a break between the morning showcase and the afternoon performance of Garrison Starr, Sean McConnell and Ashley Ray so we took a lunch break back in our room. Half frozen salads; yum! We headed back over to the Analog Room a little early and boy am I glad that we did. We got a great table (we finally learned our lesson about the booth) near the soundboard and we also got to see the three singer / songwriters doing their soundcheck which was almost as entertaining as their set. The three of them were so funny together and they were also so supportive of and kind to each other (in a completely genuine way). Having never seen any of them before, I was so pleasantly surprised by their rapport and their songwriting / singing. Garrison and Sean have a band together (MyBrother MySister); the result of being paired up at a songwriting retreat. Ashley and Sean have been friends for awhile and I believe she recorded her most recent album at his home. The three of them, performing in this setting, was definitely among my highlights — perhaps my favorite thing.
At this point in the day, I decided that it was time to rectify the fact that I’ve never seen Jim Lauderdale, so we headed over to the Exit / In and I’m really glad that we did because this venue was super cool and I understand that it likely won’t be there next year (one of the many downsides of growth). I’m also glad we did because who knew that Dave Mustaine (co-founder and lead vocalist of MegaDeath) plays in a country band. Perhaps the leather pants should have been a clue, but… I thought Jim was fooling with us when he said it. Later over sushi, we fact checked this and found it to be a true!
After Jim Lauderdale, we were treated to Jaime Wyatt and I mean it when I say treated. She was great and I look forward to seeing her again! Following her were the Michigan Rattlers who were also a new band for us and also great! They hail from the UP and really made my night with their Bob Seger cover (You’ll Accomp’ny Me) and made Andee’s night with their Canadian rock. As an aside, I don’t think enough people cover Bob Seger though I did get to hear another cover when walking along Broadway on Sunday evening.
After the Michigan Rattlers, we headed back to the Analog one more time to catch Caroline Spence. We walked in during Lady Nade’s performance and I’m sure glad we did. I really like her songs and also her politely shaming the crowd for talking during the music. (There’s a clip of her body positivity song on our I/G as well.) Caroline Spence and her band took the stage to close out the night. I’ve seen Caroline Spence several times, but this was the first time with a full band and I really enjoyed it. She closed the night with the song that I wanted to hear and then we headed to our hotel which I feel I need to point out was right next door. Excellent logistics!
Saturday was the last day and we spent all morning and afternoon at the Under the Sun day party on the rooftop of the Westin (L27). The bands played OVER the pool. Jeff scored us a table that was in the shade for most of the day and we saw a fantastic line-up. There was free food (chicken sammies on biscuits, pork sammies and Jeni’s ice cream), free non-alcoholic beverages (iced tea, lemonade and water) and we were all together there. We even found Robby Reeves (a friend I met 4 years ago) and got to hang out with him for most of the afternoon. It was a good time and we got our final two Rays (Taylor Rae and Joshua Ray Walker) of the festival!
We had dinner at The Row where Loring Starr entertained us during our meal and then we headed back to the Brooklyn Bowl where I had started my Americanafest this year, to close it out with Phosphorescent. As Lyle was my ‘1’ request, this was Andee’s. She was supposed to see Phosphorescent for the first time in early 2020 and I think we can all guess how that went. Before Phosphorescent, we were treated to Joy Clark. We didn’t see their entire set and I really hope to see them again soon. After Joy Clark, it was Town Mountain for some serious bluegrass and then we got a little country with Brit Taylor. Phosphorescent started out with songs from his Full Moon project, but then switched to his own songs and gave us ‘C’est La Vie’, ‘New Birth in England’ and ‘Song for Zulu’ before closing it with ‘Down to Go’. He would have played more for us (he was CLEARLY enjoying himself), but the Brooklyn Bowl said no….
UPDATE: It was NOT Andee’s first time seeing Phosphorescent. We realized later that not only had she seen them at Bonnaroo, but we (together) saw them at the Way Home festival in Canadia in 2016.
And that brings us to the end of AmericanaFest. We finished up our trip to Nashville with a visit to Robert’s Western World on Sunday afternoon and then headed home so we can rest up for HSB. See you there?