Americana / Features / Interviews

FEATURE: The Americana Music Festival & Conference 2014 – Nashville, TN


Each year in September the Americana Music Festival & Conference is held in Nashville TN with dozens of music showcases from labels, genres and collected offerings from specific countries. Australia has a good profile at the event with shows like Tamworth Presents: Australiana @ AmericanaSounds Australia Presents: The Aussie BBQ and other smaller shows organised by the acts that make the long flight over there. This year Australia was represented by The Falls, The Audreys, Daniel Champagne, Oxford & Co., Chad Mason, Brooke Russell & the Mean Reds, The Mae Trio, Immigrant Union, The Weeping Willows, Katie Brianna, Melody Pool, Lachlan Bryan, Dan Waters, Kirsty Akers, Chris Altmann, Sal Kimber, Jemma Nicole and many more.

We threw a few questions the way of musicians Laura Coates from The Weeping Willows and Katie Brianna to find out about their experiences at the festival, the value it holds for musicians and some of the other highlights from their USA trip.

Was this your first time at Americana Fest and was it what you expected? If not, how did it compare to previous years?

Laura Coates

Laura Coates

Laura Coates – This was our second trip to Americana Fest with Sounds Australia. Last year was our first visit to the States as The Weeping Willows and we were just trying to take it all in and find our feet. This year we were able to relax a little more and take the time to see more shows, meet new people, get touristy at The Grand Ole Opry (*ahem*, again) and meander around trendy Belmont and East Nashville in search of the best coffee (it’s at Frothy Monkey, btw).

Katie Brianna – This was my second time at Americana Fest, and my third time in Nashville. So I knew what I was in for. This year I also attended the conference and went to a few sessions. Being a registrant does give you access to some other cool things like Q&A’s, and extra, special shows. That’s worth the money to me, rather than the more educational sessions. The line-up this year was probably better than last year, there were a few more acts that I was really keen to see.

What was your reason for going to the event?

LC – Sounds Australia at Americana provides performance and networking opportunities that would be almost impossible to secure as emerging artists. Last year we performed at The Bluebird Café and this year at The 5 Spot in East Nashville. Coming back for a second year, we were able to build on last year’s experiences and foster the relationships that we developed in 2013.

KB – For the last three years I seem to have found myself on a bit of a pilgrimage to the USA. There is so much to see, and it’s such a big country, but I still keep going back to Nashville. Nashville is very comfortable to me, a place I can see myself living. I would go anytime but the festival is a great chance to see so many artists I love all in the one place.

Who did you get to see perform and what were the live performance highlights?

LC – There were so many performances happening at so many venues around Nashville it was a little overwhelming!  The highlight for both of us was definitely the Americana Music Awards and seeing Jason Isbell perform ‘Cover Me Up’ live at the Ryman Auditorium.  He had us both in tears. Other standouts that night were Sturgill Simpson, Loretta Lynn and The Milk Carton Kids.

Other highlights of the festival included seeing Suzie Bogguss play at 3rd & Lindsley late one night with her trio, all in three-part harmony. Andy also went out hoping to see Holly Williams play at the Nashville City Winery but she was heavily pregnant and cancelled so Joe Purdy stepped up instead and blew everyone away.

Katie Brianna

Katie Brianna

KB – During the Americana week there is simply too much to see, and not enough time to get to it all. I saw Grant-Lee Phillips, Robyn Hitchcock, Joe Henry and Colin Linden (from Blackie and the Rodeo Kings). One highlight was seeing Joe Henry do a live interview and a few songs for a radio show. It was held in a recording studio so it was intimate and very cool. Lucinda Williams kept popping up to sing with a bunch of different people, and her show at the Nashville City Winery was a treat. Jackson Browne brought a tear to my eye at the awards, but my absolute favourite gig of the festival was a band I hadn’t seen play before – MARAH. It was at The Basement, and a great example of a band that really knows how to put on a great show, with brilliant songs as well! That’s the gig everyone will tell you they were at, but weren’t.

Where did you perform and how was your show(s)?

LC – We had a couple of shows organised by Sounds Australia; one at The 5 Spot in East Nashville and one at The Blue Bar and Rack Room on Broadway. These were both well attended, if mainly by Aussies! We also organised our own show (with the beautiful Katie Brianna) at Mad Donna’s in East Nashville where we were excited to see some friends we made in Texas last year! We were also lucky enough to play on WSM (Opry radio!) with Kevin Bennett (The Flood) and Dobe Newton of Sounds Australia/The Bushwackers.

KB – I played at the Sister City Jam, which was held at a new venue for the festival, The Blue Bar. It was cool hanging out with all the other Aussies, as I hadn’t had much of a chance to do that throughout the week. I also got to open for my lovely friends The Weeping Willows at one of their own shows.

How is Australian Americana music viewed by the American scene?

LC – As the motherland of our ‘sound’ there’s almost an innate understanding of the style.  The Nashville Scene magazine liked to draw comparisons between the Aussie artists and well-known American artists, likening us (The Weeping Willows) to The Civil Wars, Brooke Russell to Caitlin Rose and Chad Mason and Chris Altmann to the ‘Muscle Shoals’ sound.  One thing that seemed to puzzle the Southerners was why we sing with American accents!

KB – I don’t know. There seems to be a lot of us playing that kind of music, it appears to be quite trendy now. Maybe they think we’re invading their territory? I didn’t really get that feeling though.

Is there a sense of camaraderie with the other Australian musicians who traveled over there?

Awards & Honors show @ Ryman Auditorium

Awards & Honors show @ Ryman Auditorium

LC – There was definitely a sense of camaraderie with all of the Australian musicians who travelled to the festival as most artists tried to get to each others’ shows, play for each others’ sets (Andy played with Dan Waters) and catch up for drinks afterwards etc.  However, with so much to see and do in Nashville, it was common for people to go their own way during the day.

KB – Definitely! I think everyone is pretty supportive of each other. I didn’t travel with a guitar and it was no problem for me to borrow one when I needed it! I would have liked to have got to more of the Aussie showcases and felt kind of guilty for not attending all of them, but there are a lot of people to see that you don’t get to see play back home…

Did the experience affect the way you’ll approach either your music or the industry in the future?

LC – Nashville used to be deemed a five year town but now it is more like ten. You can’t expect to make any headway in a week.  Seeing how long and hard some of the musos have worked there just inspires us to keep working hard, doing and believing in what we’re do and being patient. We’re in no hurry. We’re in for the long haul.

KB – I think stepping away from reality, and then back into it is always going to give you a little jolt. Luckily for me the push was in the right direction and I’m feeling pretty motivated. Nothing much has changed about the way I approach music, that is just a natural thing for me, to let it come the way it wants. The industry is a funny thing though, it doesn’t necessarily work the way you think it should. That’s the case both in Australia and the rest of the world. There’s a bit of game-playing going on, but the main thing that I’ve learnt from it is that you just have to work hard.

Do you seen a benefit in returning to the event again in 2015?

LC – For us, personally, I think we will take a year off from the Americana Fest as we want to record our second album in 2015. I’d say we’ll be back in 2016 with something new to offer…

KB – There is ALWAYS a benefit in seeing great live music, seeing how other musicians do it, learning from them and realising how high the bar is set. I’m not sure if I will go back in 2015 though, it depends on the exchange rate and what else is going on.

Which other Australian artists do you think should get over to the event in 2015?

LC – There are so many amazing Australian Americana acts who should definitely get over in 2015 including Sweet Jean, Matt Walker, Bill Jackson (and Pete Fidler), Gretta Ziller, Jep and Dep, De’May and James Thomson, Dear Orphans, Les Thomas, Andy and Marta, M. E. Baird, Burnt Letters, Ben Bunting, Nigel Wearne, Mark Lucas, Jed Rowe, AP D’Antonio, The Sideshow Brides, Raised By Eagles…

KB – I don’t know. I’m pretty sure all the people I can think of were either there, or have been in the last few years. I would recommend it though, just try to make the most of the opportunity.

Did you get to travel elsewhere in the US and did you have any special musical experiences as a result?

The Weeping Willows @ WDVX Blue Plate Special, KNoxville

The Weeping Willows @ WDVX Blue Plate Special, KNoxville

LC – Once again, we did a mini (very-mini!) tour of the Southern States of America with 2 shows in Knoxville and one show each in Asheville, NC, Atlanta, GA and Birmingham, AL.  All of these shows were memorable in their own way but it was particularly special to return to two of the shows we did in 2013, The WDVX Blue Plate Special live to air radio show with studio audience in Knoxville and the gorgeous Moonlight on the Mountain listening room in Birmingham, AL.

KB – I think I need a page just to answer this question. It’s a long way to go, and too big of a country just to go to one place, if you can help it.

In LA I went to see the house where Jackson Browne grew up, Abbey San Encino. As far as I know it’s currently owned by Jackson’s brother. It appears in a bit of a state of disrepair, but is supposedly being fixed up.

I took a trip to the site of Woodstock and museum at Bethel, in Upstate New York. It was a little mind-blowing to see pictures of the festival, and then see it now and try to imagine all that crazy stuff that went down. In Woodstock itself, I went to visit the grave-sites of Levon Helm and Rick Danko, and also a drive to Big Pink (The Basement Tapes were recorded there).

My husband is a massive fan of Bruce Springsteen, so we went to New Jersey to see some Springsteen landmarks. This may or may not have included including visits to his previous and current residences (Stalker alert).

lPhil Lesh and the Terrapin Family band at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael was a lot of fun. The evening started off with a band-led drum circle which I captured on video and will cherish forever.

We stayed near Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, so of course there were many other Grateful Dead sights to see, such as the ‘Grateful Dead House’.

Back up in San Rafael I visited a bar called Pier 15, where I ordered a G&T. There is a story to it that involves The Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan you can read about HERE

Hmm lets see what else..

I saw Steve Nieve plays Elvis Costello at City Winery Napa.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass was on in Golden Gate Park while we were in San Francisco. The festival itself is a bit of a nightmare (too many people, not enough clean toilets etc), but the side shows are awesome. My favourite shows of the festival were John Prine, The Dave Rawlings Machine, and Tweedy.

Chuck Prophet at The Makeout Room for 2 nights in a row was a definite highlight. I saw John Murry sing a couple of songs at that same venue, with Chuck one night and on another night at a Rolling Stones tribute. That was something else. Chuck and John are two super-talented guys.

I went to the Dark Star Orchestra at The Regency Ballroom, lets just say it was a little hard to breathe up front.

My last night in the USA was spent watching another Lucinda Williams show. She played to a packed room and at a club called Slim’s and was a really nice way to wrap up my trip!

Watch Americana Honors & Awards on CMC via Foxtel on November 23rd


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