Concert Hopper Guide to Americanafest 2019: Who to See and What's for Free
With over 300 bands performing across six days, Nashville's Americana Music Festival and Conference can be daunting for a first timer. There's so much to see and, spread out across the entirety of Music City instead of in a self-contained environment like most festivals, it's impossible to not have conflicts. But never fear! The beauty of Americanafest is that, like there is no wrong way to eat a Reese's, there is really no wrong way to do Americanafest. If you're a fan of Americana music, there's something for you at every turn. But if you're looking for some recommendations, these are mine, broken down into three categories; Fan Favorites, Rising Stars, and Group Sings, and rounded out with some show advice for the frugally minded.
Some artists pop up on Americanafest veterans' list of favorites every year, for good reason. These are the proven commodities, the artists who, if you want a guaranteed good time, should be on your watch list.
Yola- Sept. 12 at City Winery from 11:30-12:15
Since I saw her perform a short set in 2016, I've been consistently putting Yola in the “rising stars to watch” column. But now a well-received Dan Auerbach produced album and a few guest spots with groups like The Highwomen has caused the rest of the world to get on the Yola train. With a voice that sounds like Dolly Parton and Roberta Flack had a child and a stage presence well beyond her years, now's the time to see Yola before her star rises out of the club scene. Bonus: 2018 AMA Instrumentalist of the Year Molly Tuttle is playing the same venue on the same night.
Red Dirt Boys- Sept. 14 at 3rd & Lindsley from 10:30-11:15
You might not be familiar with the Red Dirt Boys, but you likely do know their boss, Emmylou Harris. The longtime backing band for the Americana goddess has taken to performing some shows as a standalone group. All are Americana veterans in their own respect, with Phil Madeira putting out one of my favorite albums of 2018 and Will Kimbrough releasing one of my favorite albums of 2019 so far. .
Buddy Miller & Dirk Powell with Stuart Duncan and Maria Muldaur- Sept. 12 at The Basement East from 8:30-9:15
Buddy Miller is, with the possible exception of Jim Lauderdale, arguably the face of the Americana Music Festival. He's there every year, he's the leader of the Americana Awards band, and he's one of the genre's most vocal proponents. For an Americanafest first timer, a Buddy Miller set is worth seeing. But even for festival veterans, this year's offering is a special one, as Miller, along with Grammy award winning multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell and prolific bluegrass collaborator Stuart Duncan, play house band for Americana Lifetime Achievement Award winner Maria Muldaur. Best known for her hit “Midnight at the Oasis”, Muldaur was also a frequent collaborator with The Grateful Dead and an Americana pioneer.
One of the best things about Americanafest is getting to see tomorrow's Americana favorites before they're stars. In past years, attendees have gotten to see pre-stardom performances from folks like Sturgill Simpson, The Lone Bellow, and Humming House. These three artists look to be some of the best breakout artists of 2019.
Che Apalache- Sept. 12 at Crying Wolf Queer Roots Party from 5:00-7:30, Sept. 13 at War Memorial Auditorium WMOT Day Stage from 2:00-2:45
If any band represents the cultural diversity of Americanafest, it's Che Apalache. The band's four members hail from North Carolina, Argentina, and Mexico and their music blends traditional Appalachian sounds with Latin roots music. Their new album, which just came out in August, was produced by banjo legend Bela Fleck. You have two chances to see Che Apalache; at the second annual Queer Roots Party celebrating LGBTQ+ roots artists and at the WMOT Day Stage.
Tami Neilson- Sept. 10 at True Music Lounge at the Cambria from 11:00-11:45, Sept. 12 at War Memorial Auditorium WMOT Day Stage from 2:00-2:45
While Tami Neilson has been winning awards in her adopted home of New Zealand for a decade, and gaining acclaim in her native Canada long before that as part of her family band The Neilsons, Tami Neilson has really only started to make a splash in America in the last year after releasing her acclaimed album Sassafrass! Neilson's blend of rockabilly, traditional country, and enough attitude for any punk rocker is something to behold and her two performances at Americanafest 2019 are sure to greatly increase her profile.
Sawyer Fredericks- Sept 10 at Analog at The Hutton from 11:00-11:45
Reality singing program winners aren't usually the kind of artists who go in for the kind of authenticity-oriented festival that is Americanafest. But not many reality singing program winners are like Sawyer Fredericks. After winning The Voice in 2015, Fredericks recorded one album for a major label before walking away from the contract to focus on his independent work. His 2018 album Hide Your Ghost is a bluesy slow burn of a folk rocker and, while he has plenty of hardcore devotees from his television days, is likely going to surprise some Americanafest attendees.
Because so many artists are gathered in Nashville for Americanafest, or live there already, Americanafest takes advantage of this by organizing a number of “group sings”, one-off shows that may be tributes to a band or time or may just be a rotating group of artists mingling together in the world's most professional guitar pull. Here are three of the best of 2019.
Better Together: The Memphis Groove n Grind- Sept. 10 from 8:00-1:00 at Basement East
Guitartown and Sin City's annual Americanafest kickoff party is once again being hosted by BR-549 frontman Chuck Mead. The lineup of artists set to join him throughout the night include Aaron Lee Tasjan, Will Hoge, Luther Dickinson from North Mississippi Allstars, Mojo Nixon, and Matt Ross-Spang.
To the Moon and Beyond: A Tribute to 1969- Sept. 13 at Basement East from 8:00-12:00
Anyone who has seen the countless tributes to Woodstock this year knows 1969 was an important year for music. But that's just the beginning, as artists like CCR, Led Zeppelin, and Simon & Garfunkel also produced generational hits. This show, divided into four “seasons” will feature artists like Jim Lauderdale, Sarah Potenza, Kelsey Waldon, and Nikki Lane putting their own spin on 1969's classic hits.
We've Only Just Begun: A Tribute to the Carpenters and More- Sept.14 at The 5 Spot from 10:00-1:00
Curated by Emerging Artist nominee Erin Rae, this tribute to the soft rock sounds of the '70s will not only pay tribute to The Carpenters, but also artists like Glen Campbell, Jim Croce, and The Monkees. Artists set to perform include Adia Victoria, Caitlin Rose, and Andrew Combs.
It's a Free for All:
While the $90 Americanafest wristband is one of the best values in the festival world, being run by a non-profit organization means the mission of advancing the brand is equally important to making money. To that end, Americanafest always throws a few parties that are free to the public, even if you don't buy an Americanafest pass. This year's lineup of free shows includes Dori Freeman and Donna the Buffalo at Centennial Park on Sept. 12 and the international showcases held during the day on Sept. 14 like the Aussie BBQ at The 5 Spot and British Underground's Bootleg BBQ at The Groove. Want to dip your toes into the Americana waters without having to buy? Download the festival app to find out which shows are free!
You can join Concert Hopper the week of Americanafest for photos and updates on our Facebook and Instagram pages and check back here the week after the festival for our recap of the best things we saw.