Laura Coates is one half of the Australian duo The Weeping Willows who visited the USA earlier this month for the Americana Music Festival in Nashville TN. Laura has kindly written a piece for us describing the enviable event from the point of view of a visiting fan and participatory musician.
Andrew Wrigglesworth and I (as folk-country duo The Weeping Willows) were lucky enough to be a part of the ‘Sounds Australia’ contingent on a sojourn to the ‘Americana Music Festival’ in Nashville, TN. Our good friends Lachlan Bryan, Caitlin Harnett and Melody Pool had attended in recent years, returning with stories of inspirational people and places. We couldn’t wait to get amongst it!
The first stop on our Nashville journey was at the Bluebird Café where we were to perform alongside fellow Aussies Emma Swift, Katie Brianna, Breaking Hart Benton, Tracey Bunn, Donna Dean, Melody Feder & Michael Muchow, Sam Hawksley, Paul Kelly, Anne McCue, Cameron Milford, Jen Mize, Kelly Menhennett, Gena Rose Bruce and Tamara Stewart. The Bluebird is a humble venue in downtown Nashville that has finally earned the recognition it deserves after featuring in the hit TV series, ‘Nashville’. Before prime time fame, the cosy listening room had been favoured by artists such as John Prine and LeAnn Rimes for songwriter nights and ‘songs in the round’ sessions. We felt privileged to have the opportunity to perform there!
The next night was the much anticipated ‘Americana Music Honours and Awards’ show at the historic Ryman Auditorium. We were excited to begin our evening by stepping out of our cab at the same time as Emmylou Harris alighted from her limo! We were already star-struck! Inside, the McCrary Sisters sang while the audience found their seats. Delbert McClinton then took the stage to kick off the night with Hank Williams’ ‘Hey, Good Lookin’’. Hank was to be honoured that evening with the ‘Americana Music Association President’s Award’ which was accepted by his strikingly similar-looking granddaughter, Holly Williams. Holly then sang ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ accompanied by the outstanding house band.
Jim Lauderdale was the MC for the event (as he has been for the past 12 years) and introduced the many wonderful performers for the evening which included legends of Americana such as Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, Duane Eddy, Stephen Stills, Old Crow Medicine Show (‘Trailblazer Award’ winners and recent inductees to the ‘Grand Ole Opry’), Dr. John, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Richard Thompson as well as up-and-comers JD McPherson, John Fullbright, Milk Carton Kids and Shovels and Rope, who were all up for the ‘Emerging Artist of the Year’ award. Andrew nearly fell off his chair when guitarist Ry Cooder walked out on stage to present the ‘Jack Emerson Lifetime Achievement Award for Executive’ award to Chris Strachwitz (who has helped define the genre of ‘Americana’).
It’s hard to say who our favourite performer of the evening was (perhaps the Milk Carton Kids?) but we did seek out John Fullbright for his showcase the next night at the Cannery Ballroom. And we weren’t alone. It seemed most of the Australians had the same idea. We ran into most of the artists involved in the ‘Sounds Australia’ showcases as well as a couple of Aussies calling America home, including Kirsty Akers, Kristy Cox and John Scholton. We were also lucky enough to catch up with the lovely Caitlin Harnett who had stopped by the Americana Festival on her way to Canada to record her debut album.
During the day, we had time to explore Nashville itself. Lachlan Bryan had given us a list of places to explore and, importantly, where to find the best coffee! We discovered that East Nashville was hip and grungy like the inner-north of Melbourne (and inner-west of Sydney) and The Gulch was trendy like the inner-south of Melbourne (and Oxford Street Sydney). These were the best places for food and a caffeine fix. We also visited the tourist haunts of the Grand Ole Opry, Johnny Cash Museum and walked the main drag, ‘Broadway’.
One of the highlights of our Nashville stay was meeting Matt Andrews who has engineered all of Gillian Welch’s songs as well as albums by ‘Old Crow Medicine Show’, Alison Krauss, Waylon Jennings and movies ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ and ‘Walk the Line’. We spent hours chatting to him about Gillian and Dave and our favourite albums. We were in Heaven!
The final show of the entire Americana Festival was an 8 hour Aussie BBQ run by ‘Stage Mothers’ and ‘Sounds Australia’. This showcase included The Hillbilly Killers, Anne McCue, Tracey Bunn, Kelly Menhennett, Gena Rose Bruce, Melody Pool, Katie Brianna, Breaking Heart Benton, Cameron Milford, The Borderers, Emma Swift, Michael Muchow & Melody Feder, Mustered Courage, Jen Mize, The Weeping Willows, Emily Barker and the wonderful Bushwackers at ‘The Basement’. The music was free and the food ‘by donation’ with all proceeds going to Nashville’s Aussie Rules football champions, The Nashville Kangaroos! This was the perfect event to top off a fantastic and rewarding festival, bringing the majority of the Sounds Australia performers together in one venue for one last hurrah! We have definitely left the week’s events feeling inspired to keep working hard and hopefully return for all of the festivities again next year!
A big thanks to Dobe Newton and Glenn Dickie of Sounds Australia who made it all possible.