BRANDI CARLILE
BRANDI CARLILE / Photo: Jason Kempin / Getty Images for Americana Music Association

Eight AmericanaFest Best (and Not So Great) Moments

There were hits and misses at AmericanaFest 2021 in Nashville, but organizers made a valiant effort to ensure the festival allowed us to hear live music again.

3. HIT: Little Big Shows – Desert Hollow / Brian Wright and the SneakUps

The Groove, Wednesday, 22 September / ACME Feed & Seed, Friday, 24 September

Our first music stop in Nashville on Wednesday (actually East Nashville after hitting Distillery Donuts) was the Groove record store, where Mule Kick Records hosted a Rock and Roll Brunch that included yummy (and free!) homemade tacos, breakfast burritos, and a beer keg. Opening the show on the outdoor stage at noon was Desert Hollow, the terrific tandem of Xander Hitzig and Nicole Olney who I specifically came to see after writing about their exploits ahead of their debut EP release. 

Guests were treated to a sneak preview at soundcheck. Then multi-talented multi-instrumentalist Hitzig, sounding like a youthful Tim Blake Nelson, entertained the crowd with his musical artistry and corny puns about the rainy weather, “Wetter we like it or not.” Playing acoustic guitar, Olney took over lead vocals for “Tennessee High” and more as the easygoing duo didn’t let a little drizzle dampen their spirits.  

Desert Hollow
DESERT HOLLOW / Photo: Michael Bialas

They were followed by label regulars Rosie Flores, the HawtThorns, NOCONA, and Side Pony in a comfortable, informal setting. Lawn chairs were the appropriate furniture, just right for folks who might as well have been invited — in the immortal words of Flatt and Scruggs — to “sit a spell, take your shoes off.” 

While others might prefer huge crowds in midsized venues to see a show, I also like smaller clubs with louder bands that provide a sweaty, let-it-all-hang-out atmosphere. ACME Feed & Seed, just down the tamer end of Broadway before Nashville transforms into NashVegas, seems like one of those places, a 21-and over, 300-capacity venue with limited seating. 

Brian Wright and the SneakUps
Brian Wright and the SneakUps / Photo: Michael Bialas

Of course, there are heavy drinkers who like to party all the time, but the hot spot seemed perfectly suited for a band like Brian Wright and the SneakUps. Unfortunately, previous commitments prevented me and my family from checking out the California Country Show on Friday until the final act was already onstage. Therefore, we missed recent discovery LadyCouch along with the Mastersons and Dead Rock West, a couple of bands I always enjoy. But there was nothing wrong with watching Wright command the stage right in front of us with an ACME Feed & Seed sign directly behind him. The Nashvillian and his four-piece band concluded a seven-song set with a cover of Aaron Lee Tasjan’s “The Dangerous Kind” then “Glory Hallelujah”, providing all of us rock ’n’ roll heathens our own religious experience. 

ACME Feed
Photo: Michael Bialas

4. HIT AND MISS: East Coast Social (Anxiety) Club

The Bowery Vault, Friday, 24 September

It’s a good thing the Brother Brothers aren’t a cover band. Actual Identical twin brothers Adam (fiddle and vocals) and David Moss (cello and guitar) were among the acts who played at the tiny venue that lists its capacity for a 21-and-over crowd at 39 but seats only 16. The Bowery Vault off Gallatin Pike in Nashville takes pride in providing “outstanding musical acts, full espresso bar and beer menu, good food, and vintage clothing shopping.” What about Southern hospitality? 

I was unable to attend the noon-4:30 event that day because of another commitment, but my sources tell me artists such as Ben de la Cour, Rod Picott and the Brother Brothers were very good, and the Bowery seemed like a nice, intimate setting for the East Coast Social Club.

No covers sign
No covers sign, the Bowery Vault (Photo by Carmen Bialas)

The Brother Brothers, who played a normal showcase later that night at the much larger Mercy Lounge, probably weren’t used to performing in such a tight space as the Bowery. After all, they’ve been praised for Calla Lilly, their sophomore album that was released in April, and have tour dates scheduled as special guests with Courtney Marie Andrews in October followed by a massive tour supporting Grammy winner Keb’ Mo’ that runs into February. 

So the Brother Brothers must have been dumbfounded, along with other newcomers in attendance, when they closed their Bowery set with a cover song (title unknown by my sources) that didn’t sit well with an unidentified venue employee. She went to the front of the stage to announce — apparently for everyone’s benefit — that original music only is played there. No covers! There’s even a sign in front of the stage that states that very fact. 

Seeking comment from the Brother Brothers through their publicist on Wednesday, we had yet to hear back before this article was published. Maybe they’re running for cover.

David Moss (Brother Brothers)
David Moss of Brother Brothers, the Bowery Vault (Photo by Carmen Bialas)
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