Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bye Bye Miss Americana Pie

Category: Opinion

I have credentials to attend the Americana Music Association conference in Nashville at the end of the month. I'm very excited.

So, what exactly is "Americana?"

That's a good question!

I know, that's a bad answer.

In one regard, you certainly cannot get a definition by looking at some of the artists scheduled to appear or showcase. Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, and Laurie Lewis are scheduled to be there. They're all bluegrass. Lyle Lovett is a keynote performer. He's...well, he's Lyle, a man who can perform country that would do George Jones proud and do big band jazz that'd make Glenn Miller happy. Webb Wilder, one of the best "roots rock" performers on earth, will be there (he's not country, but It Came From Nashville, from 1986, is an absolute must-have album!). Steve Forbert, a folk-rocker, will be there. He wrote "Samson and Delilah's Beauty Shop," which Wilder covered, and "What Kinda Guy?" that became "What Kinda Girl?" on Rosanne Cash's Seven Year Ache album. (He also got the career "kiss of death" by being tagged "the next Dylan" when his first album, Alive on Arrival, was released.) The Gougers, an alt-country band, will be playing at the all-day barbecue. Peter Case has the conference on his schedule. He was the lead singer of the early 80s rock band the Plimsouls before creating a masterful solo career with outstanding folk-rock albums such as The Man With the Blue Postmodern Fragmented Neotraditionalist Guitar and (one of my favorite album titles ever) Peter Case Sings Like Hell (which is a collection of old folk and country songs such as "Down in the Willow Garden").

Other than looking suspiciously very much like my record collection, there aren't a lot of clues from the artist line-up to define "Americana."

But on the other hand, that speaks volumes as to what Americana is. My favorite quote, one I have in practically all my profiles, is a remark from Sir Paul McCartney that I read in a 1974 issue of Hit Parader: "I just like good music. And, you know, you've gotta search for it." That sounds like an apt description of Americana music. Americana is Dale Watson bemoaning the fact that "rock and roll back in the 70s sounds like the country (crap) today" in "Nashville Rash." It's Webb Wilder singing Sonny Landreth's "Meet Your New Landlord" alongside covering Waylon Jennings' "Nashville Rebel." It's Uncle Tupelo singing the Louvin Brothers' "Great Atomic Power." It's Steve Earle singing "Copperhead Road," which he described when I saw him perform it live shortly before the album came out in 1987 as "the first heavy metal song written on the mandolin." It's good music, performed by artists who want to be good first, and if they sell, that's a bonus. These are the men and women who are just as much at home on a front porch pickin' as they are in a hot venue performing for their fans. Oh, and they most likely have time to shake their fans' hands at the end of the day, too.

If you're in Nashville, I hope to see you at the Americana Music Association conference from October 31 through November 4. It might not all be "country music," but I'll bet you a pile of Monopoly money it WILL all be good music.


Jay said...

The best definition I've heard for Americana music is:

Country music for democrats

Glen said...

Webb Wilder said it best: Real music is out there, and real people are making it.

Raizor's Edge said...

Jay -- LOL, I love that definition. I'd agree with it 100%, too, if (a)Webb Wilder was country and (b)Ricky Skaggs was a democrat. ;-)

Glen -- Webb knows how to make great sayings, doesn't he? "Last of the full-grown men," "the idol of idle youth," etc.