Despite lacking some of the major names and massive crowds from my previous AmericanaFest experience in 2014, the whirlwind of activity surrounding Nashville’s coolest congregation of roots artists in 2021 seemed as stimulating as I’d remembered seven years ago.
During the official dates of the fall festival — 22-25 September — my completed itinerary included watching 30 performances, attending five non-showcase events, conducting three interviews (for articles that will appear here in October) and requesting (then witnessing) nine acts take selfies for this feature.
Let’s call this picture-taking exercise a series of AmericanaFest Selfie Portraits.
The shots each personable artist agreed to take without hesitation on my iPhone 8 happened throughout the four-day period. Among them were the three interview subjects along with four performers from Under the Sun, the all-day special event listed on AmericanaFest’s schedule that took place at the L27 Rooftop Lounge at Westin Hotel.
There were promising young bands not appearing at official showcases (Desert Hollow, Zeona Road), stunning duos (Jackson+Sellers, the Grahams) and popular performers who made their presence felt for maybe a day (Lera Lynn, Sarah Darling) or much more (Maggie Rose, displaying her passion and pleasure for performing live again in addition to appearing on a couple of conference panels).
So here are the Sublime Nine, shown in chronological order:
Wednesday (22 September), The Groove, Mule Kick Records Rock and Roll Brunch
Xander Hitzig and Nicole Olney seem to be made for each other on and off the stage. After profiling them at PopMatters in April, I couldn’t wait to see the fun-loving couple perform live. All it took with was a five-hour drive from St. Louis to be there in time for a noon set kicking off a Mule Kick Records bill that included Rosie Flores, the HawtThorns, NOCONA and Side Pony. Their start was interrupted by the sound of a car siren, then a brief rain shower, Hitzig, and Olney were as casual and entertaining as they came across in the email interview. After debuting in May with the five-song EP Thirsty, the Americana Gothic pair are recording more songs at their home base in Maui that should be released (either as one or two albums) next year.
Thursday (23 September), interview on 27th floor of Westin Hotel
This 26-year-old West Virginia native, who was only 18 when he recorded his debut album produced by Dave Cobb, is a fresh-faced, easygoing and humorous young dude. The record cover for his next release, The Other Side (dropping 8 October), shows him as a child having a swim, seemingly without a care in the world. In next week’s PopMatters profile, he’ll discuss the new album (and playing every instrument excluding drums), working with producer Robert Adam Stevenson and performing live. That he did past the Midnight Hour at the City Winery Lounge on Saturday in one of AmericanaFest’s final showcases.
Friday (24 September), interview at Falcon Coffee
The duo of Jade Jackson and Aubrie Sellers will be profiled at PopMatters ahead of the 22 October release of Breaking Point, their potentially smashing debut as a twosome who still plan to continue their solo careers. The previous night at Cannery Ballroom, their explosive set included rocking-their-earrings-off numbers such as “The World is Black”, “Waste Your Time” and “Wound Up”, all driven by Ethan Ballinger’s riveting electric guitar. Jackson, whom I previously interviewed over the phone for her solo album Gilded, and Sellers, Breaking Point’s co-producer and the daughter of Lee Ann Womack and accomplished songwriter Jason Sellers, are confident performers on their own. But being together, especially since Jackson recently moved to Nashville, should definitely be on the plus side.
Friday (24 September), performance/interview at Luck Mansion Sessions, 3 Sirens Studio
This invitation-only two-day event (with sets by exceptional artists like Allison Russell, Valerie June, Anderson East and Sierra Ferrell) at an East Nashville home includes 3 Sirens Studio, owned and operated by Alyssa and Doug Graham. The fascinating couple played a few songs for the filmed/recorded event, then spoke openly about their troubles while trying to get ahead as transplanted New Yorkers in the Music City. They will be profiled ahead of the 15 October release of their three-song EP Sha La La. Its distinctive approach to songs such as “Love Collector” and “Beyond the Palisades” is likely to appeal to anyone yearning to hear something outside the box.