Has Americana Arrived? 

Full Coverage of the Americana Music Festival

Full Coverage of the Americana Music Festival

What if we told you there was a music festival where local and national acts play the same stage in cozy clubs, where longtime legends and contemporary superstars are clamoring to perform, and some of the biggest names won't even be listed on any program — and it's right here in Nashville?

Let's just say that in the past few years — starting with, say, Levon Helm's spectacular 2008 "Ramble at The Ryman" show, less a last waltz than the first three hours of the liveliest hoedown ever thrown — the Americana Music Festival and Conference has undergone a dramatic transformation. Gone is the handwringing over how to get various mutant strains of American roots music heard in an industry dominated by commercial country. Gone are the debates over what to call this fledgling genre, or even what it is.

Instead, in recent years, the organization has looked to the music to settle those questions. What came back was a loose but apt definition — music that honors and extends American roots music, in all its forms — that embraces all and excludes few. The organization's annual conference will go on as usual this week, with all its panels and speakers. For the public, though, the big attraction will be the live shows starting Wednesday, Sept. 8, in local clubs under the umbrella of the Americana Music Festival — an offering that has marked a shift from clubbiness to widespread celebration.

In his overview on p. 14, Edd Hurt lays out what Americana has to celebrate in a year that's looming as a watershed. One reason is Robert Plant's new album project Band of Joy, made with Nashville treasure Buddy Miller and a passel of the city's sharpest players. On p. 17, Chris Neal tells why a collaboration between a British rock god and Music City's finest is in some ways a defining work of Americana.

But to find out why Americana really matters, check out the festival coverage — which starts on p. 19 with a crash course in some of the genre's defining artists as they play throughout the four days, then continues with a day-to-day schedule and tips about navigating the lineup's hard choices. And watch the Scene's music blog Nashville Cream for updates throughout the week.

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