Top Picks: Editor’s Pick, 10 Highlights from Americana Fest 2018


Highlights from Americana Fest 2018. (if you see bolded words, click on them)

Americana music by definition is quality music which often crosses boundaries as it creates new hybrid styles. So it’s a highlight when there’s innovation afoot, when expectations are defied, and when true epiphanies take place.   With the caveat that I missed many great acts because there simply aren’t enough hours in a day and these highlights are based on one person’s inevitably incomplete experience, I’ll say that, the glass is also half full:  I did see many great acts, and I am compelled to share the highlights, for the sake of their notable qualities.

Will Hoge photo by Melissa Clarke 2

1) Will Hoge — Where has this artist been all my life?  I think you’ll probably empathize when I say that my greatest hope was to find that one musician, that one experience of an artist that I had heard of, but hadn’t seen live before — have been meaning to, but hadn’t — and have that artist blow my mind.  And Will Hoge provided what I was hoping for:  that rare combination of superb songwriting — lyrics that’ll make your jaw drop with their concise complexity — and powerful guitar (and keys) playing that kept the entire room staring at the stage, riveted, soaking in every nuance for the entire set.  [This one was at 12th and Porter.]

Jim White

2) Jim White — Circumspect and humble, musician and multi-media artist Jim White barely mentioned the fact that the entire wall behind him and the other acts at the all day Campfire Propaganda Day party (hosted by Tim Easton) was full of large, wonderful sculptures he had made.  And somehow gotten to Nashville from Georgia?  Even as White was returning from a European tour?  His songs are eclectic and outside all boxes, both lyrically and rhythmically.  His latest album came out last spring and can be found here:

Tom Freund photo by Melissa Clarke3

3) Tom Freund — In keeping with the emphasis on innovation and boundary pushing, it was clear that Tom Freund achieved true “Americana” status during his performance.  Winding, twisting rhythms, multiple pedals with acoustic guitar, standout players (Michael Jerome on percussion!) and off-beat songs from his upcoming album rendered this a real stand-out show.


4)  Sarah Borges — with Eric Ambel. And the Bottle Rockets‘ rhythm guys?  Yes please.  Ambel’s guitar playing is unparalleled and the songs from Borges’ new album provide the rare blending of struggling characters and rock and roll bravado. And bravada.  We are accustomed to having our sad characters compartmentalized into twangy mournful musical arrangements.  But Borges defies ordinary expectations, with a rootsy rock energy that puts a mask over the pain and flaunts it.  This kind of astonishing genre-bending is the heart of Americana.


5) The War and Treaty – How on earth did this duo take the stage late at night, after the Buddy Miller, Kinky Friedman, Ann and Regina McCrary, Jim Lauderdale extravaganza and keep that audience going like mad?  Powerhouse motivation is the only plausible answer.  Their songwriting blends serious subject matter with showmanship and music to celebrate with.  And I call that an Americana highlight.

Lucero photo by Melissa Clarke 1

6) Lucero  – It might have felt odd to have to follow the Americana Music Association’s Awards Ceremony at the Ryman Theatre but Lucero did it to a packed house across town at the Cannery Ballroom.  They delivered songs from their new album and you couldn’t get anywhere near the stage if you’d hesitated even for a second on your way in.  And did I mention their southern rock, alt-country sound with Nichols’ low growl is always pure music magnetism?  Their new album is here:


7) Jaimee Harris — Mark my words, this musician with a debut album on the horizon is the one to watch.  A depth of songwriting, strong guitar skills and an instinct for vocals and harmonies made Harris a standout.  She played in multiple settings, and with Mary Gauthier, BettySoo, Bonnie Whitmore, and more.  I’m in line to check out her recent release and you should be too.

Mary Gauthier

8) Mary Gauthier – This artist is a seat of power and connection.  Her recent songs were written with soldiers.  Gauthier has an aura around both her persona and her songs that commands the attention of everyone in the room, even on a 101 degree day.  And you’d keep finding her in inclusive settings, in the round with other musicians and on the Americana Fest board of directors too.


9) Tim Easton – He threw the Campfire Propaganda Day Party and regaled the crowd with songs that told serendipitous, honest tales. Yes, I camped out at the campfire for a long time and yes I found several highlights right there. The party was from 11 to 7 on Saturday.  Easton not only creates haunting songs and plays exquisite guitar,  he created a party that drew in a huge array of artists ranging from typically electric guitar-heavy stars like Aaron Lee Tasjan, to rising stars like Jaimee Harris, noted above.  Not to mention you could register to vote there. Easton has his own label and music here:

Alejandro Escovedo photo by Melissa Clarke 4

10) Alejandro Escovedo — The symmetry in this photograph (look at their fingers) is a symbol of the polished act of Escovedo and his band.  The roots rock style and the power of the songs — many from his recent album, which is one of the best of the year — made this show a highlight.  This is one tight band.  His performance at Americana Fest was stand-out superb from the showmanship, to the top level professionalism, to the commanding new songs as Escovedo calls out: “hey come on, I need you more than ever; they’re closing in, they’re closing in.”

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