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Our Americana Big Tent

On or about September 1, the morning air got cooler and fresher. And we heard, over the horizon, the approaching thundering hooves of the Americana Music Association Festival and Conference. AmericanaFest, our annual rite of Fall and musical family reunion, is set to be the biggest ever with nearly 300 artists performing across about 50 indoor and outdoor venues around Music City, from the funky American Legion Hall in far East Nashville to the Ryman Auditorium to the clubs in the Gulch. And speaking of centrally located, I am delighted to remind you, or to inform you if you didn’t get our recent news blast, that the Music City Roots AmericanaFest edition will not require a drive to Franklin this year.

Working with Yee Haw Brewing Co., WMOT Roots Radio, NPR Music, World Café and VuHaus, we’ll be presenting this week’s Music City Roots on THURSDAY night, Sept. 14 from a pop-up tented venue on Peabody Street between 6th and 7th Ave. South, one block south of the Music City Center. We’ll be in the heart of SoBro with a Dobro. We’ll be living the Americana Big Tent ethos under a big tent. And we’ve got an extra-stacked lineup in our usual cooperation with the Americana Music Association. Here, in reverse show order, is a rundown on the artists we’re getting ready to present under the big top. But be sure to read to the end to learn about our post-show special bonus.

Ray Wylie Hubbard is the dark bard of Texas, a guy who’s put snakes, a fortune teller and a headless, sword bearing self-portrait on the covers of various albums. And yet he’s a paradox as well. My most recent visit to Austin for SXSW, I got in my rental car at the airport and flipped on KUTX (as one does) for the drive in to town. And there was Ray Wylie performing live from the festival. He was funny and warm and seductive – the perfect welcome to the city’s tango of substance and snake oil. He’s flinty and spiritual and wise. Ray Wylie’s newest album Tell The Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can is a minimalist set of droning stomp blues that traffic in and twist up creation myths from Genesis in “God Looked Around” to the story of “Lucifer and the Fallen Angels.” Hubbard seems to know more about the Devil than most folks.

John Paul White gave us chills and thrills with the intimate, emotionally intense duo The Civil Wars, but that project came to an end and when this thoughtful Muscle Shoals based songwriter re-ignited his solo career it was with the lovely 2016 album Beulah. White had a lot to teach us about that tantalizing word. It’s a term from the work of poet William Blake evoking a place of spiritual calm and enlightenment accessible only in a dream or meditative state. And it’s a Southern pet word, one popular in the White household. It rolls off the tongue as easily as White’s songs enter the ears. He’s a bit mystical himself.

The Cactus Blossoms bloom patiently in the heart. At first you’re thinking that these brothers formed an easy-to-replicate Everly Brothers knock-off. But as the debut album You’re Dreaming unfolds, a nuanced sincerity and fascination takes hold. The sound is definitely retro, but the shading and melody are so strong you’re left thinking this was some important leftover of the early 1960s. Page Burkum & Jack Torrey are from Minneapolis and about six years ago they tiptoed into duo singing and writing, playing here and there as the sound emerged. Then the commanding Oklahoma artist J.D. McPherson offered to produce their first album, and You’re Dreaming resulted. Writer Lee Zimmerman said in No Depression that the elegant arrangements and intervals “encourage the listener to lean in, with results that are simply sublime.”

Kentucky hard country songwriter Angaleena Presley has become a good friend of WMOT and MCR with frequent appearances where she’s shared her acerbic yet tender wit and feminist wisdom in both song and spoken word. I’ve heard few artists who set up songs as well with stores ripe with place and character. And then her songs themselves are smart and penetrating and brave. She’s outdone herself with the recent Wrangled, which takes an unsparing look at the idiocy that can go on beneath the glitzy surface of the music industry. And opening our formalities will be Pony Bradshaw, who was being called an artist to watch even at the last AMA by NPR and others. The folks at Rounder Records have kept the anticipation stoked even as we await the debut album. The Georgia native looks up to Townes Van Zandt and Lightnin’ Hopkins and writes songs billed as “music for the common man.” But he clearly has uncommon talent.

So that’s a five-act night but we know you’re not coming out for less music, so we’ve arranged some more music after the formal close of the Roots show. Taking the stage will be Lee Ann Womack and friends, giving one of the most extraordinary country singers of the last 20 years free range to be the roots superstar that she is. She’ll be previewing songs from her hotly anticipated October release (her first for ATO Records) called The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone. Country enough for you? Womack’s AMA sets in the past have been epic events with amazing guest musicians and artists, and we’ll just see what happens along with y’all.

The show is just one part of three full days of showcases and camaraderie under the Yee Haw tent, so check our comprehensive schedule and drop in and out all week. I’ve not been so excited about an AmericanaFest in years, and I’m sure that’s because we have such a great team from WMOT to work and party with. See you in the week ahead.

Craig H.

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