Songbird Ashley Monroe will be making an appearance at this fall’s upcoming Americana Music Fest, adding her star power to the growing lineup. Other artists slated to attend are The Lone Bellow, Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell and Lisa Marie Presley. The event kicks off on September 18 with an Honors and Awards show, featuring such artists and performers as Stephen Stills, Ken Burns, Emmylou Harris and Crowell, and lasts through Sept. 23 in Nashville.
Hosted by the American Bar Association’s Symposium on Entertainment, the conference will highlight the RIAA chairman Cary Sherman (as keynote speaker) and David Lowery (Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker), as well as interviews with such icons as Dr. John, Delbert McClinton and Cash.
Jed Hilly, Executive Director for the Americana Music Association, praises this year’s event, “Americana is contemporary music that honors and/or derives from American roots traditions.”
Since becoming director, Hilly has seen the event’s attendance grow exponentially from 5,000 in 2006 to 18,000 goers last year. He adds, “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.”
“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 says, “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.”
Despite the impressive growth of attendance, he is content with a more intimate feel. “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.”
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