"The earliest Americans were Mexicans, so that song fits right in with an Americana festival," Patty Griffin explained after "Mil Besos," a mariachi tune that arrived during the middle of her sundown set at Saturday's Cross-County Lines festival in Franklin, Tennessee.
She was right. With a lineup that veered between roots-rock veterans and folksy newcomers, the single-day festival showed just how expansive Americana music can be. There were blues licks, gospel harmonies, harmonica solos and a whole lot of acoustic guitars, not to mention a crowd of 3,000 Tennesseans who braved the weather — rain in the early afternoon; humid heat as the day wore on — to catch seven hours of music on a former horse farm south of Nashville.
After short sets by Luther Dickinson and Joe Pugg, Brandy Clark headlined the acoustic stage, strumming her way through smart, succinct country tunes about lovers who leave and drinkers who drink. Originals like "Mama's Broken Heart," which Miranda Lambert took to Number One, and "Better Dig Two," which became a chart-topper for the Band Perry, were thrown into the set, surrounded by tracks from Clark's own debut, last year's 12 Stories. Accompanied by nothing more than a finger-plucked acoustic guitar, the Washington native delivered everything with calm, scaled-back grace, trading the gloss of her country-pop peers for something intimate, earthy and — ultimately — a hell of a lot more believable.
Over on the main stage, Parker Millsap sang about god and girls in a holy-rolling voice that bridged the distance between rock & roll clubs and tent revivals, and Ashley Monroe crooned her way through songs like the Pistol Annies' "Unhappily Married," which she introduced with the disclaimer that she is, in fact, happily married (to Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks).
Patty Griffin took the stage as the sun was going down, backed by three bandmates who steered her songs into territory that was alternately ethereal and swampy. Later that evening, John Hiatt closed the fest by cranking up the noise, delivering a set of heartland rock & roll anthems that included "Long Time Comin'," a track from the upcoming Terms of My Surrender.
The Cross-County Lines festival raises awareness for the nonprofit Americana Music Association, which from September 17th through 21st, will stage its annual Americana Music Festival at venues throughout Nashville.