The Americana Music Conference hit the ground running Wednesday (Sept. 12) in Nashville. With three talented, animated and downright fun bands on the bill at the Basement, the air was thick with great music, sweaty jigs and ear-to-ear grins.
The late night showcases followed the Americana Honors and Awards show at the Ryman Auditorium. The conference continues through Saturday.
As soon as Shovels & Rope started setting up their signature two guitars, keyboard and homemade drum set layout, the audience got elbow-to-elbow. The packed crowd joined in and sang along to pretty much every song the country-punk duo played. Expertly trading off instruments and vocals throughout the night, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst passionately played through the majority of their newest album, O Be Joyful, and even threw in a few older favorites.
Closing out the night, some of the highlights included “Keeper,” “Boxcar,” “Bad Luck” and an impressive medley of “Night Rider” by Jonny Fritz (formerly known as Jonny Corndawg), “Little Black Star” by Hurray for the Riff Raff and “Kiss Off” by Violent Femmes. They closed the night out with a little tribute to Marty Robbins by playing an amped-up version of his much-loved hit, “El Paso.” Needless to say, the audience participation hit a bit of a zenith during this final number.
Roots rock trio Blue Mountain took the stage just before Shovels & Rope and had the crowd singing and swaying along to their harmony-thick, guitar-fueled offerings in no time. Lead singer-guitarist Cary Hudson displayed some impressive chops on his gorgeous vintage Epiphone, and his voice magically blended with bassist Laurie Stirratt’s every time she joined in on background vocals. In fact, the only thing that could’ve made Blue Mountain’s set any better would’ve been more duet vocals from those two. Other than that minor (purely selfish) quibble, Blue Mountain’s bluesy, country stomp and swampy Southern rock produced a great middle act.
Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside kicked the night off in style with their quirky brand of head-bobbing, hip-shaking, rockabilly rumblings. The four-piece band perfectly channel the 1950s via wiggly tremolo guitars, stand-up bass, garage rock jungle drums and fire-haired frontwoman Sallie Ford’s croon and coo. Effortlessly shifting between charmingly awkward banter and authoritatively powerful performances, Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside transformed the Basement into a sepia-toned school dance that no one wanted to see end.