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Americana Music Fest 2014: 26 Must-See Acts

From legends Buddy Miller and Marty Stuart to next-generation’s Lindi Ortega and Sons of Bill, the ones to see at Americana’s biggest celebration

Buddy Miller

Buddy Miller performs in Austin, Texas

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Wednesday night's Americana Honors & Awards kicks off this year's Americana Music Festival in Nashville, a four-day celebration of roots music. Artists from Holly Williams and Sturgill Simpson to Buddy Miller and Marty Stuart will perform through Saturday at venues throughout Music City. But with so many acts on the lineup, there are inevitably decisions to be made. That's where this list comes in. Herewith, the 26 artists, bands and/or collectives you just can't miss during AmericanaFest 2014.

Robert Ellis

Robert Ellis performs in Spain

Jordi Vidal/Redferns

Robert Ellis

Lone Star State singer turned Nashville transplant Robert Ellis is a rising star in the Americana world. Given the singer's fresh-face-betraying butter-voiced drawl, literate lyrics and prodigious finger-picking chops on acoustic guitar, it's no wonder his latest, The Lights From the Chemical Plant, has inspired rightful comparisons to legends like Roger Miller and Tom T. Hall, and contemporaries like Hayes Carll and Justin Townes Earle. — Adam Gold

Grant-Lee Phillips

Grant-Lee Phillips performs in London

Brigitte Engl/Getty Images

Grant-Lee Phillips

Given how Eighties and Nineties-hailing alt-country journeyman like Old 97's and Uncle Tupelo were building the rusty, rootsy Americana brand before it even had a name, it's somewhat surprising AmericanaFest hasn’t drafted more troubadours of the Jeff Tweedy generation to take Nashville club stages. Hopefully this year's inclusion of former Grant Lee Buffalo frontman Grant-Lee Phillips — whose power-pop leanings add a nice, sunny contrast to his alt-country contemporaries' earth tones — will start a trend. — Adam Gold
Holly Williams

Holly Williams performs in Birmingham, Alabama

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Holly Williams

Last year, Holly Williams took the stage at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium and opened the Americana Honors and Awards show with a theater-silencing version of grandfather Hank Williams' classic "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." But it's the yearning, emotionally understated musical confessionals on the singer's smoky-voiced country-royalty third album The Highway, produced by Charlie Peacock, that make Williams a modern country entity who can stand outside her grandfather's (and her father's) long shadow. — Adam Gold
Robyn Hitchcock

Robyn Hitchcock performs in East Sussex

Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns

Robyn Hitchcock

 

In recent years, AmericanaFest has hosted and honored relentlessly British singer-songwriter luminaries the likes of Richard Thompson and Billy Bragg. Not like that counter intuitiveness is anything to complain about, especially when post-punk statesman turned underground-rock troubadour and long-dedicated Syd Barrett super-fan Robyn Hitchcock makes the bill. Clever wit and even craftier hooks have been a hallmark throughout Hitchcock's career, from his formative years fronting post-punk oddballs the Soft Boys, to his solo days as a left-of-dial college rock contemporary of R.E.M. and the Replacements. In recent years, he's cut a twilight set of stellar pysch-rockin' jangle-pop records with the Venus 3, culminating in his latest solo effort, The Man Upstairs. The album offers a killer grab bag of new originals and seemingly random covers of songs by artists ranging from fellow AmericanaFest performer Grant-Lee Phillips, to the Doors and the Psychedelic Furs. The high chance of hearing him bust out the album-opening, tenderly plucked, piano-punctuated take on the latter "The Ghost in You," along with a likely guest appearance from Phillips, should be motivation enough to catch this AmericanaFest appearance. — Adam Gold

Marah

Marah perform at Bonnaroo

Jason Merritt/FilmMagic

Marah Presents: Mountain Minstrelsy

From 1998 to their all but disintegration 10 years later, Philadelphia's Marah, led by brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko, consistently turned in some of the most attitude-driven bar-band rock, gaining fans like Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle, and earning the moniker of "The Last Rock & Roll Band." These days, however, the group is made up primarily of Dave Bielanko and Christine Smith, who successfully adapted old-timey Pennsylvania folk lyrics for their latest album, Mountain Minstrelsy. Performing the LP's raucous back-porch stompers and sad and weary laments, Marah's showcase may be the most "Americana" thing you'll see all festival. Plus, they boast the youngest member of the fest's lineup: nine-year-old fiddle prodigy Gus Tritsch. — Joseph Hudak

Promised Land Sound

Promised Land Sound

www.facebook.com/PromisedLandSound

Promised Land Sound

Imagine if the Band or the Flying Burrito Brothers were a group of scruffy rockers born out of Nashville's currently burgeoning garage-punk scene and you've got Promised Land Sound. Relatively unknown underdogs in comparison to established Americana fare like the Avett Brothers, with a penchant for ripping guitar solos and punch-drunk campfire harmonies sprawling across an arsenal of golden-tinted, Instagram-filtered folk-rock gems, catching the band's showcase in the Blue Room at Jack White's Third Man Records should be a top priority for any AmericanaFest attendee. - Adam Gold

Buddy Miller

Buddy Miller performs in San Francisco

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Buddy Miller

You could call Buddy Miller The Patron Saint of the Americana Movement. Whether as a multiple Americana Music Association award winner as a solo artist, longtime bandleader at the association's annual Honors and Awards show, music producer for the likes of Solomon Burke and the Nashville TV
show, songwriter for the likes of the Dixie Chicks and Lee Ann Womack, or sideman instrumentalist for Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Robert Plant, Steve Earle and others, Miller is a ubiquitous presence in Americana circles, and rightfully so. — Adam Gold