AmericanaFest 2023: Day 3
Thursday at AmericanaFest is wide open – no Awards shows, and travel fatigue is long gone, so all that’s left to do is pick your favorite events and artists. Here we go:
Telling Secrets: A Conversation with Lucinda Williams – Again, it comes down to choices. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum was having an event to honor Hank Williams, but since I assumed (pretty safely, I feel) Hank wouldn’t actually be performing at the event, I decided to go hear one of my all-time favorite songwriters talk about her life and her music. Conducted by author Holly George-Warren, the conversation dovetailed nicely with Williams’ 2023 autobiography, Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You. Williams discussed her itinerant childhood and how it prepared her for a life on the road, her civil rights activism in high school, and the moment that her father realized that “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” was about their relationship (a fact that Williams hadn’t quite discovered for herself before her father’s apology). Williams also gave us an update on her recovery from her 2020 stroke – she’s touring again, she’s slowly relearning how to play guitar, and she shared that “A lot of people say my voice is better than before I had the stroke” (as someone who’s seen her a couple of times since then, I can confirm that, whatever else it may have taken from her, the voice is still 100% Lucinda). Most importantly for her, and a bonus for us, she shared that playing again is “The most healing thing I could’ve done.”
Mojo’s Music City Mayhem – The venerable Robert’s Western World is famous for two things: its reverence for old-time country music, and the Recession Special (fried bologna sandwich, chips, Moon Pie and a cold PBR for SIX DAMN DOLLARS) – it’s the best deal in Nashville. Add in SiriusXM’s Mojo Nixon broadcasting a revue-style version of his radio show, including (during my pop-in) Summer Dean, Norman Greenbaum, Jesse Dayton (featuring bluesman Bobby Rush!) and the always-perfect Brennen Leigh is the kind of afternoon that makes Robert’s the ONLY essential honky-tonk on Broadway.
After that, it was time for a cross-town race for showcases. Drayton Farley’s deceptively vulnerable voice filled up The Basement East with songs from this year’s Twenty on High, as well as his brand-new Kudzu Wild EP.
Next was a Lyft-sprint over to Exit/In for one of the rising stars of the week, Jobi Riccio, the winner of the 2023 John Prine Songwriter Fellowship. The Morrison, Colorado native has already graced the Ryman and City Winery stages this week, but her official showcase gave her a chance to show off her songs, her room-filling voice and her guitar chops. Her “For Me It’s You” (off the just-released Whiplash was the night’s tearjerker.
Next up was Kassi Valazza, bringing her cosmic country to the Exit/In stage with a full, six-piece band – their “Watching Planes Go By” is the best jam of the year. Rising star Bella White is apparently also a fan, as she was in the crowd enjoying the show (and giving me three straight nights of Bella White sightings.
Speaking of kick-ass bands and great country albums, it was back to The Basement East for Kaitlin Butts, whose What Else Can She Do was my pick for 2022’s best straight-up country album. True to that sentiment, Butts and her band were equal parts musicianship and showmanship, and if there was to be a boot-scootin’ portion of the evening, this was it – high-energy and fun as hell.
Wrapping up the evening was The Band of Heathens, celebrating both their recent album, Simple Things, and the recently-acquired gold record status of their 2011 single, “Hurricane” (no small feat for an Americana band). The boys from Austin ripped off fierce guitar licks and reminded everyone that, even in Nashville, rock ‘n’ roll ain’t dead yet.
Enjoy our previous coverage here: AmericanaFest 2023: Honors & Awards
Find more information on the festival here: http://www.americanamusic.org