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Pop Goes Twang: The Best of the Americana Music Festival 2007

Sarah Zupko and Karen Zarker

PopMatters attended the 8th annual Americana Music Festival in Nashville. We offer our hard-to-pare-down picks of the best Americana had to offer this year.

PopMatters attended the 8th annual Americana Music Festival in Nashville, which ran from 31 October until 3 November. The showcases and Awards Ceremony, held in various, cozy venues, including the famed Ryman Auditorium ran from good to oh, so damn good. The entire event is comfortable, unassuming, and high-quality. It had us thinking we might just pack up everything and move down to Nashville, just to be close to this sweet music and delectable food on a daily basis. Below are our hard-to-pare-down picks from this year. We'll be back, next.

1. Buddy Miller

Buddy Miller at the 2007 AMA Awards show

Fabulously talented, a humble and generous artist, a musician's musician, a master of multiple genres, Buddy Miller and his soulful voice and searing guitar could almost be the personification of Americana music. Miller played all over Nashville during the conference with other artists including Ray Wylie Hubbard as well as knocking it out of the park in his showcase and taking home a trophy at the awards for Instrumentalist of the Year. -- Sarah Zupko


Buddy Miller (you'll need to turn this one up as the audio is rather quiet, but it's worth it)

Emmylou Harris & Buddy Miller - Love Hurts

2. Lyle Lovett

Winner of the Trailblazer Award at this year's Americana Music Festival, the multiple-award-winning Lovett must be one of the sweetest, most unassuming, best-dressed, and terribly unfairly talented men in the music business. He's got that distinctive, soulful voice, of course, that pours out songs that'll move the most stubborn of men, but it's his combined class and shy charm that somehow makes seeing him perform make you feel honored to be in his company. His latest CD, It's Not Big, It's Large, is "border" music; bordering on blues, bordering on jazz, and the next best thing to one of the greatest shows on Earth: Lyle Lovett and his Large Band. -- Karen Zarker


"South Texas Girl"

Lyle Lovett - If I Had a Boat [Live at the Americana Music Awards in Nashville, 2007]

3. Trent Summar & The New Row Mob

Trent Summar and his New Row Mob put on a smoking show the first night of the festival and he was an absolute revelation. Summar is all hillbilly cool with a cocksure swagger and electrifying performance chops. His music is best described as cowpunk and Summar has called it "farm rock," but even that doesn't do this consummate performer justice. Summar penned the Gary Allen hit, "Guys Like Me," and yet as I raved about him to anyone who would listen at the festival, I kept hearing "Trent who?" That needs to change and right now, mister. -- Sarah Zupko


Trent Summar & The New Row Mob - New Money

Trent Summar & The New Row Mob - Paint Your Name in Purple

4. Patty Griffin

If you didn't know her, she could slip her tiny little self right up beside you, maybe give you a friendly nod. Then she steps up on the Ryman Auditorium stage, comfortably surrounded by a huge array of talent, and they gravitate toward her. This talented singer-songwriter won Artist of the Year and Album of the Year for Children Running Through at this year's Americana Music Festival. Emmylou Harris, the Dixie Chicks, and Bette Midler, to name but a few, have benefited from her superlative compositions. -- Karen Zarker


Patty Griffin - No Bad News

5. Dale Watson

Honky tonk as pure as the driven snow from this Austin, Texas mainstay, Dale Watson's smooth baritone brings to mind Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash and his crack band could give Willie's crew a run for their money. Watson's set was one of the finest of the festival and brought traditional country music to an adoring, appreciative crowd. If you want to experience this for yourself, pick up 2002's Live in London, England for a bit of what Don Walser would call "pure Texas". -- Sarah Zupko


This Is Dale Watson

Dale Watson - Exit 109

Dale Watson - Flaming Star

6. Scott Miller and the Commonwealth

Singer-songwriter Miller has stage presence and a sweet face even though, when we saw him live at the Mercy Lounge with his tight band, the Commonwealth, he never cracked a smile. No matter, you'll be smiling -- and shakin' it, too. For those who are, sadly, not yet familiar with his music, his latest CD, Reconstruction, is a good introduction to his rocking/country sound, covering songs from his entire career. -- Karen Zarker


Scott Miller and the Commonwealth - Mule Train Trailer

Scott Miller - Mess of This Town

7. Joe Ely

Winning the long-overdue AMA Lifetime Achievement award for Performance, Ely is a West Texas musical legend and a renaissance man to boot. This year alone, he's released two very fine recordings, Happy Songs from Rattlesnake Gulch and Silver City, as well as his debut novel, Bonfire of Roadmaps. With all the fine storytelling and poetic abilities of fellow Texans, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and Lyle Lovett, Ely also remains one of the best live performers just about anywhere. If you need proof, pick up Live at Antones for one of the most smoldering live performances ever committed to record. -- Sarah Zupko

Joe Ely - Gallo Del Cielo

Joe Ely - Fingernails [Mean Fiddler, London, England on 27 July 1990]

Joe Ely and Joel Guzman at the Tribeca R&R Club in NYC

8. Ryman Auditorium

It's the "The Mother Church of Country Music" and also the home for the AMA Honors and Awards. The former home of the Grand Ole Opry sat vacant for nearly 20 years before being completely remodeled and reborn as an acoustically perfect concert venue where loyal souls could go to "Honor Thy Music." Those wooden pews may leave your bums a little sore after a few hours, but they also keep the music sounding super sharp since they don't absorb a single note. Things to do at the Ryman: see a show, drink a beer, buy a flashy western shirt, take a tour, and go back into musical history. -- Sarah Zupko

Americana Tribute to Porter Wagoner "Satisfied Mind" [Live at the Americana Music Awards at the Ryman in Nashville, 2007]

9. Mike Farris

If you can see Farris live, find something solid to hang on to: he and his band will blow the roof off the place, and you might just well go with it. Look up, and you just might see heaven. Bone rattling Southern Gospel with an undeniably, down-to-the-roots sound right out of New Orleans, Farris praises his Savior from deep within his soul, and draws deep from Southern roots music history. His sweet but mighty tenor can almost crack the heavens open. His latest CD, Salvation in Lights, will have you seeking out his tour schedule. -- Karen Zarker


Mike Farris EPK

Mike Farris - Green Green Grass of Home [Live @ the Americana Association Tribute to Porter Wagoner at Tennessee State Museum during the AMAs]

10. Country Music Hall of Fame

The spiffy new headquarters of the Hall of Fame offer an engrossing excursion into country music's past and a place to celebrate its present. Check out Bill Monroe's mandolin, Jimmie Rodgers' guitar, more Nudie suits than you can shake a stick at and, of course, Elvis' flashy gold Cadillac is among the many highlights. Big props go to the Hall for giving ample recognition to the vital role of African American music in the development of country music. -- Sarah Zupko

11. Loveless Cafe

You don't have to be a biscuit eater to love, simply love, Loveless Cafe's famed biscuits, hot, with butter and peach preserves to die for. Try as you might, you can't take them home with you -- they have a short lifespan. But they're just the appetizer, no matter the time of day, to a generous, delicious, belly-busting, Southern-style meal. Try to resist the country smoked ham. Look up from your plate occasionally and you might see a country music star, digging in at the table next to you. Just don't try to move too quickly, afterwards. Mmm, it hurts so good. -- Karen Zarker

The Loveless Cafe's Biscuit Lady on the Ellen Show

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