10 Picks for Americana Music Conference

The Americana Music Conference will bring hundreds of open-minded music fans to downtown Nashville this week, giving listeners a chance to hear roots music from across the U.S. and around the world. And since the official showcases are open to the public, fans can get in on the action. The music begins Wednesday night (Sept. 12) and runs through Saturday.

Here are 10 shows worth a look:

Americana Honors and Awards
The excellent lineup always speaks for itself. This year’s roster at the Ryman Auditorium offers Bonnie Raitt, Alabama Shakes, Justin Townes Earle and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, among many more. Stick around for an all-star tribute to Levon Helm. Wednesday’s show is sold out.

Brandi Carlile, Star Anna
These two Seattle-area songwriters will headline the Cannery Ballroom on Wednesday — and it’s lucky that the space is so big, because these women can belt it out. Carlile’s new album Bear Creek is superb, and Star Anna first attracted my attention with her video for“If Wishes Were Horses.”

Richard Thompson
This year’s recipient of the Americana Lifetime Achievement for songwriting, Thompson will close down the night Thursday at the Station Inn. He’s an incredible guitarist — one of the best in the world according to Rolling Stone — so if you want to see his fast fingers up close, arrive early.

Turnpike Troubadours, Billy Joe Shaver
Turnpike Troubadours’ gritty“Gin, Smoke, Lies” is observant enough to reward those who listen closely to lyrics, yet country enough to drink a few beers while it’s on. They’ll be followed Thursday at Mercy Lounge by Texas icon Billy Joe Shaver, who released a fine live album this summer.

Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers, Eilen Jewell
I’ve only heard these two women on their albums. Now I’m eager to catch them Thursday at the High Watt. Bluhm blows a California breeze into her blend of country, folk and ‘70s pop. Listening to Jewell’s songs, you’ll see why she’s proudly proclaimed herself the “Queen of the Minor Key.”

Blue Highway, Sara Watkins, Paul Thorn, Punch Brothers
You can’t go wrong with Thursday’s lineup at the Cannery Ballroom. Bluegrass band Blue Highway is known as much for their vocal blend as their inventive songwriting. Watkins and Punch Brothers offer an original spin on acoustic music while Thorn emphasizes the bluesy side of Americana.

Mindy Smith, Mandolin Orange
In her new video for“Closer,” songwriter Mindy Smith conveys a message of determination and persistence — two themes that every Americana musician can probably relate to. With a blend of lush pop and bluegrass, North Carolina duo Mandolin Orange open Friday night’s show at the Rutledge.

Chuck Mead & the Grassy Knoll Boys, Cory Branan
Chuck Mead, a veteran of BR549, gave a hearty salute to traditional country this year with Back at the Quonset Hut. In addition, Cory Branan is mixing things up with Mutt, a smart (but not quite smart-aleck) album with a little bit of everything. Catch these guys Friday at the Basement.

Phoebe Hunt, Brennen Leigh
A gifted fiddler, Phoebe Hunt moved from Austin (and Belleville Outfit) to Nashville, with a stop in India. Meanwhile, North Dakota native Brennen Leigh now lives in Austin and has toured Norway eight times. Nevertheless, they should feel quite at home Saturday at the Station Inn.

Buddy Miller and Lee Ann Womack
Buddy Miller may be the most respected figure in Americana and Lee Ann Womack — now free from a major label deal — would surely hit a home run with a country roots record. Their joint showcase closes down the night Saturday at Mercy Lounge. Will there be more where that came from?

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