Twang to Trombones: Top 20 Picks for AmericanaFest 2017

When Wynonna and Lee Ann Womack drag queen impersonators are NOT the highlight of the night, you know you need to be at these shows. AmericanaFest has something for every music fan.

Now that’s Americana! For years, Jim Lauderdale hailed this refrain during the Americana Music Association Awards show at the historic Ryman in Nashville. The umbrella genre of music highlights legends and emerging musicians, embracing twang to trombones. The live performers for the televised and radio broadcast awards ceremony this week embody the breadth of music:

Legends and longtime fan-favorites line up alongside present-day buzz generators including Van Morrison, Graham Nash, John Prine, Rodney Crowell, Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm, Iris DeMent, Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, the Drive-By Truckers, Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, Old Crow Medicine Show and Lori McKenna along with The Lumineers, Jason Isbell, Margo Price, Rhiannon Giddens, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Brent Cobb, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Sam Outlaw and Amanda Shires as confirmed performers for the Honors & Awards show. The ceremony is the capstone event for the 18th annual AmericanaFest: The Americana Music Festival & Conference, held at various venues throughout Nashville.

While legends draw crowds, the real magic of AmericanaFest (through Sunday across multiple venues in Nashville, TN) is the deep line-up of cult favorites and regional rising raconteurs. Buy your event wristband now and catch over 300 showcases. It’s like South By of the past. No matter how you bounce from venue to dive bar, use the app to plan your best week ever.

Aaron Lee Tasjan

Tasjan surprised concert-goers with Wynonna and LeeAnn Womack impersonators during his song “Success” at last year’s showcase, but it takes a real genius for his music to outshine the fabulous drag queens.

Blackfoot Gypsies

Recently wrapped a rock and roll run opening for Dwight Yoakam. Ask them about their milkshake recipes.

Blank Range

Soon to be hitting the road opening for Jessica Lea Mayfield (who kicks major a**), they live the mantra #AlwaysSeeTheOpeningBand.

Bonnie Whitmore and Her Band

Don’t F*** with Sad Girls. Whitmore’s raucous sing-alongs and attitude elevate her exemplary playing and social commentary.

Boo Ray

Like a modern day chicken pickin Jerry Reed, Ray tells tall tales that happen to be totally true, and his live performances make country music lovers of people who hate twang.

Cafe Rooster Records Party

AmericanaFest is known for its official and unofficial parties, but if we had to choose only one to attend, this is it. Don’t miss their latest artist, Jon Latham, and his album, Lifers. Get to the brewery warehouse early and bring money for the food trucks and Little Harpeth Brewing. Jon Latham, Ladies Gun Club, Brian Wright, Darrin Bradbury, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and more.


Always catch a band that other musicians say are a “must see”. Cordovas combine their world-class playing from diverse traditions to perform like a punctual Grateful Dead show. They’re so good, they make it seem like it just happens.

Don Gallardo

With a dedicated fan-base in the UK, Nashville songwriter Gallardo brings his songs of home back to Tennessee. His showcase at Acme Feed & Seed happens to be the unofficial pre-party for the Van Morrison show, so get there early and grab a delicious meal, too.

Eric Ambel

The Del Lords and Yayhoos, noted producer and collaborator, “Roscoe” brings his latest solo work, Lakeside, to showcase. Few musicians have worked with so many other note-worthy creators, and continue to forge fresh art.


With songs like “Olive Garden Dream #47″, this Athens, Georgia, band sizzles on stage. While their albums lean towards psychedelic country rock, their live show will leave you needing a smoke afterwards — or maybe beforehand.

Hiss Golden Messenger

Hiss Golden Messenger’s upcoming album, Hallelujah Anyhow, is the most danceable of their broad catalog. Don’t let the heavenly harmonies and trombones fool you: the band digs deep.

Joey Kneiser

With the official final performance/20th anniversary of his band Glossary coming in October, Kneiser continues to highlight his prolific songwriting and latest solo album, The Wildness. Also a favorite videographer of many Americana musicians, expect to see them at the show or on stage lending their brilliance.

Leyla McCalla

American fusion of traditional stringed instruments (cello, banjo, guitar) with Creole, Cajun, and Haitian music, McCalla’s jazz inspiration demonstrates the most innovative folk music of today. Even when singing in French or Creole, there’s a familiarity to her songs that make them accessible and not lofty.

Lilly Hiatt

While the outside press has glamorized the neighborhood of many East Nashville songwriters, Hiatt has lived there and writes a more realistic view of the hard work and heartache of life off of Trinity Lane, the title of her latest album. “I think my neighbors are selling drugs / I know how that goes / I ain’t judging nothing,” she sings.

Little Bandit

Just as Little Bandit was building steam across the region, their beloved drummer, Ben Eyestone, was diagnosed with Stage three colon cancer and passed away from complications, just days after most people learned he was ill. His passing at just 28 demonstrates just how fragile communities of artists are when faced with major medical diagnoses. His loved ones seek to change that through partnerships with Music Health Alliance.

Nicole Atkins

Some of the biggest “new” stars within Americana rise up after long battles with booze. Atkins left behind her hard-partying ways, falling on an off the wagon, until she toughened up and quit hiding. She’s letting her light shine via Goodnight Rhonda Lee.

Patrick Sweany

With slicing wit and gutting clarity, Sweany’s blues range from close and mesmerizing to bombastic and rollicking. Whether solo acoustic or with a full band, his live sets suck you in for every minute and leave you begging for a full show.

Robyn Hitchcock

If the last time you listened to Hitchcock was a tune about a Balloonman, then you’ve missed his gems. Since taking up housekeeping in East Nashville, the legendary songwriter regularly shows up unannounced at small dive bars and song swaps to test new material and support musicians he digs.


The backing duo to stars like Kesha, John Oates (Hall & Oates), and Miranda Lambert makes intriguing instrumental music, reminding you of Booker T and the MG’s. With their latest album, Ism, they turned that on its head by adding vocalists from their brilliant circle of friends. This showcase will surely have some special guest surprises.

Tommy Womack

A cult favorite that you may not realize you know and love, Womack’s warped humor and psychological commentary waft through all of his projects, since the days of Government Cheese. He’s a prolific songwriter and author, as well, swerving “90 miles an hour down a dead end street”.