AmericanaFest 2021: Best Things We Saw at Nashville Event - Rolling Stone
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AmericanaFest 2021: Best Things We Saw

Annual roots-music gathering returned to Nashville with a festival and conference that highlighted the scene’s diverse sounds

Maggie RoseMaggie Rose

Maggie Rose performs at Nashville's Cannery Ballroom.

Jason Davis/Getty Images

After being forced to go virtual in 2020, AmericanaFest returned to in-person panels and performances this week in Nashville, with the caveat that attendees had to show proof of vaccination or a negative test before entering most clubs. Events stretched from last Tuesday into the weekend at venues including the Basement East and Cannery Ballroom, as well as outdoor spaces like Musician’s Corner at Centennial Park and the parking lot of the original Basement. Here are a few highlights from roots music’s big week.

Dave Hause Brings Down the House.

Philly punk turned (mostly) acoustic folkie Dave Hause decimated a late-night crowd at the High Watt on Saturday, delivering furious versions of songs off his upcoming album Blood Harmony. “Sandy Sheets” recalled the bittersweet nostalgia of weekends at the Jersey Shore, “Surfboard” begged God for a buoy in a roiling sea, and “Gary” — about a schoolmate that Hause used to tease and torment — atoned for the childhood sin of bullying. The overarching highlight, however, was Hause’s harmonies with his brother Tim, living proof that there’s nothing quite like a sibling bond.

Rainbow Happy Hour Offers a Place for Everyone.

AmericanaFest has gradually become a more welcoming and inclusive event over the years, and that was entirely evident Thursday at the Rainbow Happy Hour at combination bar/record store/performance space Vinyl Tap. Presented by the online publication Country Queer, the showcase featured a diverse group of LGBTQIA and BIPOC artists including Izzy Heltai, Lizzie No, Mya Byrne, Lilli Lewis, and Paisley Fields. Among many highlights was New Orleanian singer-pianist Lewis’s almost hymn-like reading of Radiohead’s “Creep” for anyone who’s ever felt like they didn’t belong. But at least for the night, in that moment, everyone did.

Lilli Lewis Joy Clark

Guitarist Joy Clark and singer-songwriter Lilli Lewis perform at the Rainbow Happy Hour during AmericanaFest. Credit: Gabriel Barreto

Gabriel Barreto*

Joshua Ray Walker’s Texas Range Stuns.

With his “Sexy After Dark” baseball hat and dye-job hairstyle sticking out underneath, Texas songwriter Joshua Ray Walker was hard to miss this year. He was also everywhere, playing gigs in sweaty clubs and on hotel rooftops. His Thursday afternoon set at the Bobby Hotel was mesmerizing, with Walker hushing the outdoor crowd with songs about his strained relationship with his late father (“Flash Paper”) and suicidal ideations (“Voices”). But Walker, one of the most promising of new songwriters, wasn’t afraid to have fun either: Every performance he gave of “Sexy After Dark” played up the song’s inherent swagger.

Maggie Rose Makes a Soulful Star Turn.

The longtime Nashville belter brought a hefty dose of Muscle Shoals soul to each of her AmericanaFest performances, highlighting songs off her new album Have a Seat, which she cut at Fame Studios last year. At the Cannery Ballroom on Saturday night, her big band leaned hard into funky jams, allowing Rose room to improvise and let her powerful voice run wild. A set-closing “What Are We Fighting For” was particularly majestic and underscored Rose’s evolution from a relative country-music unknown into a must-see Americana star.

David Ramirez Is a Musical Chameleon.

Austin singer-guitarist David Ramirez was one of AmericanaFest’s best surprises. At a showcase Tuesday night and a Thursday daytime gig at the Bobby Hotel, he and his band performed seductive ballads and hard-rockers off his album My Love Is a Hurricane over a swirling, vibey mix of electric guitar, piano and effects. The title track was a stunner, with big drums and haunting harmonies — “You can’t escape my love,” Ramirez chanted. As a vocalist, he comes across like Bono meets Neil Diamond, but his emotional bombast is served with a self-aware wink.

David Ramirez

David Ramirez performs during AmericanaFest. Credit: Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Americana Music Association

Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Americana Music Association

S.G. Goodman Brings the Noise.

Kentucky singer-songwriter S.G. Goodman was set to open for John Moreland in 2020 before everything shut down, so it was a treat to see her back on a handful of stages throughout the week, including the parking lot of the Basement for a Kentucky-centric event where she played songs from her album Old Time Feeling. Backed by a compact band that could muster surprising volume and psychedelia-heavy noise, Goodman still cut through the din with an otherworldly voice and songs about bringing progressivism to the South. And between songs, she employed a raconteur’s dry wit to disarm anyone who might’ve been on the fence.

Jackson + Sellers Are Americana’s Hot New Duo.

One of AmericanaFest’s most anticipated live debuts was the exciting collaboration between singer-songwriters Jade Jackson and Aubrie Sellers, who release their album Breaking Point on October 22nd. Jackson + Sellers played multiple events throughout the week, including the still-under-construction space at East Nashville’s Eastside Bowl for WMOT’s Wired In. At each gig, the pair proudly showed off their rock influences in tight, angular songs that nodded to Nineties grunge, with the kind of close, angelic harmonies that Nina Gordon and Louise Post perfected with Veruca Salt giving a subtle country twist.

Jackson + Sellers

Jackson + Sellers show off their harmonies on WMOT’s ‘Wired In’ stage. Credit: Val Hoeppner

Val Hoeppner*


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