The Americana Music Association Festival and Conference was a steady-state affair for industry insiders during its first decade, but in recent years the convention has grown and changed like the Nashville skyline. The 17th edition of the event launches at the Sheraton Downtown Hotel on Tuesday morning and spreads its musical tendrils across more than a dozen venues until Sunday night. The Association reports that in 2006, Americana showcased just over 50 bands for an audience of about 400 registered attendees. This week, more than 300 artists will perform for an anticipated 20,000 conferees and fans. Meanwhile, the musical format - which broadly encompass folk, traditional country, blues, bluegrass, soul, gospel and R&B - has seen robust growth itself with breakouts and breakthroughs by artists such as Chris Stapleton, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Kacey Musgraves, Nathaniel Rateliff, The Lumineers and Lake Street Dive.
SPOTLIGHT EVENTS AND ARTISTS:
There are more artists and events than one person could see and far too many for a comprehensive guide here, so we turned to our Roots Radio music mavens for their recommendations. They pointed to the following shows as the ones they’d hate to miss.
The Lumineers at Ascend Amphitheater – 7 p.m.
This Denver-based trio is one of the bigger names in the Americana Format (remember “Ho Hey”?). Their wild energy and songs from their new, top-selling album “Cleopatra” will grace Nashville’s biggest downtown outdoor venue on Tuesday night, with a repeat performance Thursday. Opening are Rayland Baxter and Borns.
Billy Strings at The Basement – 9 p.m.
This outrageously gifted acoustic guitarist is finding his own way to update old bluegrass tradition, much as he blends tattoos with old-school sartorial style. The Lansing, MI native came up touring as a duo with mandolinist Don Julian.
Colvin & Earle at City Winery – 10 p.m.
Folk singing icons Shawn Colvin (an Americana Lifetime Achievement Award winner this year) and Steve Earle became friends and mutual fans decades ago. Now they’re finally recording and touring together -- a musical partnering that fans won’t want to miss.
Dwight Yoakam interviewed at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum - 2 p.m.
With decades of experience and a brand new album to drop soon, this beloved Country legend surely has a lot to say. Open to the public with museum attendance. Seating is limited.
Americana Honors & Awards Watch Party at the Family Wash - 6:30 p.m.
If you got sold out of the awards at the Ryman, then gather for the next best thing - a live stream on the screen at the Family Wash in East Nashville. The epic annual event features appearances this year by George Strait, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Weir and Alison Krauss.
Cedric Burnside Project at the Highwatt - 10 p.m.
Inheritor of the Mississippi Hill Country Blues tradition, Burnside comes from the origin point of a sound that inspired those famous, monochromatically named duos the Black Keys and the White Stripes. Burnside is a drummer and singer of the highest and deepest order.
James McMurtry at City Winery - 11 p.m.
The son of Texas novelist Larry McMurtry, this artist is hailed as one of the best and most courageous songwriters to ever come from that blessed songwriting state. He’s on a roll with attention to his latest album Complicated Game.
Del McCoury Band plays Woody Guthrie at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum - 12 p.m.
Listen as the lyrics of America’s greatest folk poet and agitator are reconstructed by the greatest living legend of bluegrass and his family band. Del and the boys play later at Music City Roots as well. Open to the public with museum admission.
Billy Bragg and Joe Henry at Union Station Hotel - 6 p.m.
Bragg, a veteran electrified folk singer and political activist, is a 2016 AMA Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Henry is a stellar artist and producer who’s contributed to Americana since before it had that name. This potent collaboration focuses on train songs, and they’ll perform in Nashville’s historic train station. Open to the public.
Music City Roots at The Factory - 7 p.m.
WMOT’s flagship Americana variety show is an official AMA showcase, this year featuring Willie Watson (Old Crow Medicine Show), Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek), Timothy B. Schmit (The Eagles, Poco) and the Del McCoury Band. There’s a free shuttle from downtown Nashville.
Dori Freeman at The Cannery - 9:30 p.m.
This daughter of Appalachian Virginia has a clearwater mountain voice and powerful songs that distinguish her as one of the year’s breakout new traditionalists. She’s artistically indebted to Rufus Wainwright and Doc Watson.
Sarah Potenza at The 5 Spot - 11 p.m.
She came to Nashville as a bar-room country torch singer. She found her path by becoming a beloved fixture in East Nashville and pursuing a passionate neo-soul sound as a writer and powerhouse vocalist. The judges on The Voice validated her. Her new album Monster delivers.
Book Talk with NPR’s Bob Boilen and artist John Paul White at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum - 12:30 p.m.
The host of All Songs Considered talks about his book Your Song Changed My Life: From Jimmy Page to St. Vincent, Smokey Robinson to Hozier, Thirty-Five Beloved Artists on Their Journey and the Music That Inspired It. The title is long, but the topic is deep. He’s joined by erstwhile Civil Wars vocalist and songwriter John Paul White. Open to the public with museum entrance.
Aaron Lee Tasjan at the Cannery Ballroom - 8:30 p.m.
With a bit of Tom Petty and a bit of twang, ALT was was one of the biggest breakout songwriting stories from fertile East Nashville this past year. He came up with help from Drivin’ N’ Cryin’s Kevn Kinney and slayed it in New York City before Music City.
Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley at the Station Inn - 11 p.m.
A veteran icon of the dobro hooked up with one of the finest young traditional country and bluegrass singers from East Tennessee and their two recordings on Compass blaze with Haggard-esque vocals and hot pickin’.
William Bell at 3rd & Lindsley - 11 p.m.
This year’s recipient of the Americana Lifetime Achievement Award for songwriting is a gentlemanly soul singer who was signed to Stax Records for years and who wrote hits for others. His first new album in a decade, produced by John Leventhal, is the magnificent This Is Where I Live.
Songwriting Session with Jim Lauderdale at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum - 11:30 a.m.
He’s this year’s Wagonmaster Award recipient for outstanding service to Americana music and a Grammy winning singer, songwriter and performer performs and talks about his art. Lauderdale is simply one of the greats. AND he’s host of Music City Roots on WMOT!
AMERICANARAMA at Grimey’s - Noon to 5:30 p.m.
Nashville’s best-known independent record store has hosted a day long Saturday AmericanaFest party for years. Drop in and out of The Basement for bands picked by the music mavens at Grimey’s. Don’t forget to shop upstairs!
The River Whyless at 12th & Porter - 9 p.m.
A fascinating Western North Carolina band that does everything just a little bit differently. Their pulses and pump organ and typewriter percussion earned them a slot on NPR.
The Accidentals at 12th & Porter - 10 p.m.
An indie folk power trio from Michigan that’s toured like crazy, refined a sweet-to-hard-rocking sound and earned gobs of adulation. A blow-up band for the future.
Evening showcase wristbands can be purchased for $60 online at mercylounge.com, or in Nashville at Grimey’s New and Preloved Music and The Groove.