The Americana Music Association’s seventh annual Americana Music Conference finds the organization still busily building additions to its big tent.
Last year, the runaway star of the three-day conference’s centerpiece, the Americana Honors & Awards ceremony, was soul legend Solomon Burke (who repaid the favor with his first country album, the upcoming Nashville). This year’s show finds Charlie Daniels being given the First Amendment Center/Americana Music Association “Spirit of Americana” Free Speech Award—quite a radical change from the loyal lefties (Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson) to whom the trophy has gone in the past. You would ordinarily be forgiven for walking into the conference and wondering if you’d accidentally stumbled into a MoveOn.org meetup, so giving this particular award to a man who regularly bashes “left-wing nut cases,” “libernuts,” “ACLU slugs,” TheNew York Times and so forth at least proves the AMA is an open-minded bunch.
This year’s show, set for Friday night at the Ryman Auditorium and open to the public, will also feature Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, Marty Stuart and many others, but the main attractions just might be reliably lovable returning host Jim Lauderdale and the stellar house band led by Buddy Miller. (Tickets are available at Ticketmaster outlets.) There’s also the music-geek thrill of seeing unheralded greats like Alejandro Escovedo, Kenny Vaughan and Sugar Hill Records founder Barry Poss being handed Lifetime Achievement Awards.
As momentous as country music’s most consistently enjoyable awards show might be, there’s plenty more to the three-day Americana Music Conference than a few hours of trophy transfers. The conference itself goes down at the Nashville Convention Center, featuring more than 50 panels, various lunchtime gatherings, a trade show and lots of other opportunities for alt-country types to prove they can shmooze as well as anyone. About 900 music-industry folks are expected altogether, all discussing and debating the future of Americana (and, of course, arguing over what “Americana” actually is).
Let ’em have their fun. For the rest of us, the conference is really just a great excuse to see killer shows all over town (at Cannery Ballroom, Mercy Lounge, 3rd & Lindsley, Station Inn and The Basement) by the wide-ranging genre’s heavies and hopefuls alike. For the price of a $25 “Showcase Series” wristband (find out where to get ’em at americanamusic.org), you can see Carlene Carter, Mindy Smith, Bruce Robison, Mountain Heart, Charlie Louvin, Dave Alvin, Carrie Rodriguez, Elizabeth Cook and a load of others—and that’s all on the first night. The toughest choice just might be Friday evening’s post-awards-show entertainment: Tony Joe White, the Paul Thorn Band and dazzling Australian newcomer Anne McCue at the Mercy Lounge or Alejandro Escovedo, The Derailers and Lauderdale at the Cannery? That, and many other delicious dilemmas, await.