The Concert Hopper Guide to the 2018 Americana Music Festival
The 2018 edition of the Americana Music Festival is being held Sept. 11-16 in Nashville. With over 250 artists announced to perform, it's not only one of the biggest genre-specific festivals around, it's also one of the best values, with festival wristbands going for $75. But with so many artists spread across so many venues throughout music city, it can also be a little daunting for first-timers who are used to self-contained festivals like Bonnaroo or Sloss. As a 10 year Americanafest veteran, I've made most of the mistakes you can make and found a few tips and tricks along the way. So if you're planning to attend Americanafest for the first time, here is a guide to getting the most from your trip.
Download the App
Most festivals have schedule apps these days. Many people who like to disconnect from the world at festivals choose not to download them. Don't make this mistake at Americanafest. Not only will the app keep you updated on all the happenings, which usually run from about Noon to 1 AM most days, it will also send you news of cancellations (rare, but they happen) and surprise performances. You can also click on most of the venues to find out capacity, parking, seated vs. standing, and food options.
Know Your Access
There are two levels of tickets at Americanafest; Conference registrations and festival wristbands. Before you head to an event, check the app to make sure you can get in. Some daytime events are conference only. Also, conference registrants get first priority in line at venues, so if you see a show on the app with more people "going" than the capacity of the venue (such as John Prine at City Winery on Sept. 11), you may want to make alternate plans. Very few shows "sell out" but it is a possibility for bigger shows and smaller venues.
Find a Venue and Stick With It
Self-contained festivals have an advantage in that you can wander from stage to stage and see grabs you. Americanafest is held in clubs across Nashville so switching venues means driving, parking (and paying for it most places), and missing at least one show. The solution is to find an artist or two you really want to see and stick to that venue all night. Not only will you get the full evening of music with only one parking or Uber fee, but you might find a new band you love. The exception: The Cannery Complex, which holds Cannery Ballroom, Mercy Lounge, High Watt, and ONE. It's all one building, so stage hop as many times as you're willing to climb the stairs.
Tribute Shows and “...And Friends” Shows Are a Good Bet
Many festival “jams” or tributes end up as overblown celebrity karaoke. Americanafest tribute shows and “...and friends” billings almost always deliver much more than advertised. Lots of Americana artists live in Nashville and many more come to town for the Awards Show and Conference, so it's not uncommon to see names like Emmylou Harris, Jason Isbell, or Patty Griffin show up to one of these shows, as well as off the wall names like punk rocker Michael Des Barres and Midnight Oil bassist Bones Hillman. Americanafest 2018 is chock full of these shows, including Buddy Miller and Friends, which has already announced Kinky Friedman as a guest, a tribute to Creedence Clearwater Revival curated by Americana Instrumentalist of the Year nominated drummer Jerry Pentecost, a tribute to the music of Muscle Shoals curated by former Screaming Cheetah Wheelies vocalist Mike Farris, and a night-long multi-artist tribute to the music of the year 1968.
The Legends Really Bring It
You won't find any giant headliners at Americanafest like The Rolling Stones or The Who, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few legends of the genre performing. Big Americana names to watch out for include British folk titan Richard Thompson (Sept. 14 at 3rd and Lindsley), Western swing stalwarts Asleep at the Wheel (Sept. 13 at Mercy Lounge), and Muscle Shoals gospel soul hitmaker Candi Staton (Sept. 14 at 12th and Porter). Another low key supergroup recommendation? Daddy on Sept. 15 at City Winery. Members Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack are both 30 year veterans of Nashville's rock and Americana scene and they both have a well earned reputation for great live shows.
But Don't Sleep on the Youngsters
The best thing about Americanafest is finding great young acts before everyone else does. This year's lineup includes some great young risers. Recommendations include Erin Rae (Sept. 13 at Third Man Records), Shemekia Copeland (Sept. 13 at City Winery), Yola Carter (Sept. 13 at Nashville Palace) and River Whyless (Sept 14 at Analog at Hutton Hotel).
Travel the World While Never Leaving Town
With a name like Americana, you'd think the genre would be mostly filled with bands based in the United States, but some of the best Americana music is being produced outside U.S. borners and three countries specifically, Canada, The UK, and Australia pull out all the stops for Americanafest. All three nations have daytime parties on Sept. 15 that allow you to go globe trotting within Music City. Best of all, the parties are free to the public, so even if you don't attend Americanafest, you can get a taste of it here. The Saturday parties are the Aussie BBQ at 5 Spot, which includes performances from Ruby Boots, Tommy Emmanuel, and Catherine Britt, the Canadian Blast at InDo, which includes performances from Rosie & the Riveters, Liam Russell, and Melanie Brulee, and The UK Bootleg BBQ at The Groove, with performances from William the Conqueror, Worry Dolls, and Ida Mae.