AMERICANAFEST 2022, The Insurgent Ink-Imp’s Irruption...

Nashville’s annual AMERICANAFEST is a musical heaven-sphere wherein all the pro forma royalties are people. The city expands outward from its normal sense of magnetic physical place and becomes a correlative time of its own as well, not to mention a full-scale venue for all manner of the music industry’s most magical makers, movers, and members. During AMERICANAFEST week, every street corner and shop, each high-end hotel and sticky-floor dive bar of Nashvegas transforms into an Audio Algonquin Round Table, and one at which are seated every silent suzerain and sovereign that ever pulled an Excalibur into your earshot and not one of the waywardly-inclined wallydraigles and gold-plated cunts that can so often make a hobbled hobby farm of other attempts to gather music’s passionato pistoleers in this way.

Of all the calendar weeks in the festival year to look forward to every year, and occurring Tuesday to Saturday, September 13th-17th this time around, AMERICANAFEST is the family reunion with all the cool cousins where you effectively play home-run derby with people you wish you could spend every minute of your life and career with. Though my stay this year only encompassed three out of the five available days of musical gastronomy on offer, it entailed more musical miracles than one could hope to hear in a Leap Year’s travel. Buoyed now by fully intact memories of just how fast I always wished my grandparents would drive along the two-lane Tennessee backroads we trundled to get to our actual family reunions when we really were going to see my cool Delano cousins throughout my childhood, I hereby defy any further delay and forego my usual gilded gesso to give you: AMERICANAFEST 2022, The Insurgent Ink-Imp’s Irruption.

Day One

Anyone who knows this rambunctious rapporteur at all is acutely aware that I unmercifully and habitually judge bars by the scabrousness of their bathroom graffiti. It is my firm belief that it will always tell you what even the locals will not about any given slab of vice. Nashville, as a whole, has some of the most genuinely profound potty poetry, bog Baudelaires, and drunkard drawings in the entire nation, and I have threatened on more than one occasion to make a picture book dedicated to immortalizing that not-inconsiderable attribute.

The Po’ Ramblin Boys

With this haruspicating branch of unit economics as a measure, Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge cannot be competed with. Its storied stalls readily announce its secret status as one of the emperor lighthouses of tucked-away Music City must-sees in which you will traipse into the back garden as I did on the first night of AMERICANAFEST to nonchalantly find bands of the caliber of The Po’ Ramblin Boys, regarded by many who have a right to say it as the finest bluegrass band in the country right now. The Po’ Ramblin Boys are traditional bluegrass on steroids and their female lead vocalist Laura Orshaw is fiddling alluvial ur-truths out of ancient aural ground and turning them into faience-for-your-ears in a straight line that runs directly from Art Wooten, making a proprietary pitstop at Charlie Daniels for that fire-on-the-mountain fuel-up that still has no fret-fellow. You have absolutely never found your best banjo and upright bass life until you have heard this band do Jerry Reed’s infamous and endlessly wonderful “Eastbound and Down”, which I enjoyed the privilege of being improved by before heading over to Stop Two of Day One, that most dangerous Graceland of all guitar-gearheads: Gibson Garage.

Kyshona Armstrong

Skipping in like an unchaperoned Matilda on a late-night library lope, past a conclusive display table spilling over with Gibson’s entire line of Slash goodies, including the book and the latest custom Les Paul (for either of which this lifelong vegetarian could potentially be persuaded to eat a carthorse), I found that factory-like room to be engulfed in something even more edacious than my enduring love of L.A.’s sweetest tattooed rose: the melismatic vox of Kyshona Armstrong, which seemed to hold whole home-tailored key signatures inside its resounding vastness and full of something hard-fought to snag your mind. When she incited the audience to howl with her, many conservative and quiet types tried their best but it came out all cowardly custard, which made her let loose a peal of cackles, pop her hip faux-reprovingly to the side, and say, “Y’all ain’t never been to a black Baptist church, have ya?” Even those of us who had, such as yours truly, became instant converts to the guttural, gnostic scripture in Armstrong’s songs, spirit, and siren-sass.

S.G. Goodman

The Kentucky-bent incantations of S.G. Goodman cantered in next. What newcomers to her Parnassian parallax will notice first is the unbelievable natural tremolo on, not in, her rampart-like voice. It is something she forces you to climb, and yet her speaking voice is quite low and ragged, a stairway of soft kingcups. Goodman has, undeniably, the most serrated sarcasm in the traditional folk game today, laced throughout her 20-year-drought-dry delivery of between-song banter, which is brilliant enough to be worth the price of admission all on its own. I particularly loved her, “I’m not bragging, I’m just sharing, I grew up on the Mississippi River on Hank, Sr.” explanation of her own lack of porch piracy when it comes to her authentic style of picking. None of her gnawed-to-flitters songs are to be missed for any reason, but “Solitaire” stands apart like its name, the lyrics, “Oh lord, you’re bound to lose if you bet against yourself,” being searing life advice for us all.

Third Man Records

Day Two

Any day that starts off on, in, around, about, or approximately near something that Jack White has breathed on or blinked at is a great day for both music and the manic pixie dream ragazza set. Day Two of AMERICANAFEST 2022 might as well have had three simultaneous tricolor sunrises for its consequential commencement at The Blue Room, attached to the back of Nashville’s Third Man Records, for the Julian Records ten-year anniversary celebration and artist showcase.


Leading this docket was Brian Lopez, representing the six-piece rock band called XIXA to which he contributes his intensely mesmerizing acoustic guitar capabilities, among other string-skills. He sang a song in Spanish with all of the urgency of a Guatemalan rain request prayer and regaled transfixed ears with a song called “Killer”, about a romantically rapacious femme fatale.

Sid Simons & Wyatt Mones

Sid Simons & Wyatt Mones, whom many may know in their former incarnation as Girl Skin, went second here but absolutely took first prize for feral fabulosity, and effortlessly. When some guitar-based bands try to strip songs back to the steel ganglia like this, it can become a vainglorious spoof and jape without meaning to. Simons and Mones make it a scintillating shred-fusion, and one from which the slim vocabulary of a chord progression builds complete cartwheel galaxies. This is a gift rare as true love in a game of Kisscatchers and you sit in these songs the way you might in haute fourrure – delicately, thoughtfully, delightedly, a bit afraid. If you are, as I am, fed up to your back teeth with a type of tune-reasoning that is not cooked all the way through, barnaclize to Sid & Wyatt before you beat your head on the wall. They will Brillo your bore-weary brain for you in less than a beat and treat that feat like it’s a costless gesture.

Ben de la Cour

Any attempt to classify or catalog the writing capabilities of Ben de la Cour, the third and final Julian artist I would watch bless The Blue Room that day, would be an intractable fool’s errand. Merciful hour but the man is a lyricist! The seraphic lassitude with which he delivered the rhema of “Numbers Game” was knee-numbing and the vertical quality of his voice put me in mind of a favored Kevin Barry quote about a character of similar otherworld-seeing charisma to de la Cour’s: “He paced the room like a single human shriek made flesh and bone.” However, it was the currently highlighted single “God’s Only Son”, with its cheapo-Westerns-cum-chelation-therapy emotional atmosphere, complete with Procrustean lines like, “Johnny folded there in the backseat like a blood-soaked dollar bill,” that could drop both the desultory and the devout into a new and uncanny doctrine surrounding what a single song can do.

The entirety of the Julian Records team is a gang of gems in a trade more rot than rush. Speaking with Julian’s A&R/Live Events legend Travis Guenther in the garden behind The Blue Room at length afterward about everything from books to Bernedoodles to the ballache of blame culture will go down as one of the better chance chats of all my amorphous AMERICANAFEST years.

Bee Taylor

Always begin your day with men who can maintain important things and finish it with mavens who magnify them, I say. Thus, from these aforementioned beatific boys and beneath the specter of the first-best of all Third Men, I made my way to the big-making babe that is Bee Taylor for a bitchin’ private interview at The Westin, otherwise known as AMERICANAFEST’s unofficial headquarters. In case you do not already know: Bee Taylor is a voice and musical presence of a size to leave your eyes fairly crossed. She figured out way early that being a muse can be quite a lot of pro bono light-giving and effectively scoffed at the notion and its pretty purveyors. Promptly baying an unforgiving ‘fuck that’ to the world’s sickly idea that the guitar is a garçonnière, Bee Taylor is also a woman who wears her femininity cut high to the peplum. Not just this: she takes her inspiration from Big Mama Thornton and plays New Orleans-style piano like a dame Dr. John, becoming a princess Professor Longhair in the process. Here’s the droplet of our hallucinogenic honey of a conversation that Bee’s and my own CIA and MI6 cooperatives have authorized us to share publicly [lashes hit cheek like a cymbal crash]:

QRO: I need to hear everything about your Muscle Shoals and Fame Studios time, girlfriend.

BT: Oh, my goodness, where to even start! You know the Shoals is in the Tennessee River, and that magic is in the water. I moved down there during quarantine and my next-door neighbors are a field of donkeys. I grew up rural so it’s important for me to have a place to put my toes in the mud. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to make songs there on that sacred ground.

As a ranch-raised girl myself who kept a 50-year-old retired plow-donkey with no teeth for a pet all through high school when other girls in my grade were squealing over toy Yorkies, I immediately feel this salt-of-the-earth songstress on a spiritual level. When I ask Bee about any internal hurdles she had to jump to become the Fender Mustang-wielding witching stick she is now within an industry and wider world wherein people repeat an awful lot of “oh, it’s hard” or “oh, it’s scary,” she replies swiftly and emphatically: “So is life! So, you might as well do what you love!”

QRO: Agreed to a point that it should be placed in skywriting. Please tell me that the stories I’ve heard about you originally learning to play guitar because people weren’t playing your songs right are true…

BT: Yes! That’s just exactly what it was! Hey, it’s nothing against anybody, but my Mom has this saying, ‘do it to it like Sonny Pruitt’ and that’s what I wasn’t hearing so I had to take it upon myself.

QRO: Love it like I love grunge boys! What have you loved that much at your first AMERICANAFEST?

BT: Oh man, so much! This is all new to me. You know…I’m from the middle of nowhere Alabama and I like it that way because I enjoy alone time a lot, but everyone here has been so great in terms of being no-bullshit and with a million life lessons to share. The education has been incredible and to know that I would be welcome in this world.

Upon being asked to reflect on her influences, she rattles off a radical encyclopedia of excellence that includes legends like Angelo Debarre, Django Reinhardt, Susan Tedeschi, Howlin’ Wolf, and FKA Twigs. Bee and I could easily have yammered on all evening about these informative geniuses, the disappointment of discovering fake virtuosos, the beauty of the bottom end (in life and in the blues), soul music as the only college anyone needs, and how real superstars always believe themselves to be eternal students of their craft–just a few of the subjects she animatedly glossed in a teeny ten-minute tête-à-tête – but she had an awards ceremony to attend and I had a second wild woman to wink at before Day Two got out of my hands. However, you can bet both your grannies this will not be our last twin-termagant tango. You can catch Bee next at The Last Waltz Tribute at The Basement East on November 16th.

Angel Olsen

As people who could stand in for elemental personal religions go, Angel Olsen could talk the rain out of wetting her. I knew this before I deliberately closed out Day Two watching her exercise that spell and several slinkier ones at her Riverside Revival showcase. I already adored Olsen for being beautiful, foul-mouthed, and inviolate. Her audience banter is hilarious in general, but exorbitantly so once she starts discussing the “bad girl shit” she plans to do after the show. She had a crowd of too-cools in transports within teraseconds and was, as ever, clever as Satan in brogues.

Angel Olsen

Perhaps it would behoove me to admit that my attraction to Olsen’s art is amplified by the fact that her kind of love and mine appears to be blood-related. It is the kind that, were it a physical item, would be Cartier’s 1969 ‘Love’ bracelet, which was embellished with screws and meant to be secured permanently on the wrist with a proper screwdriver. It is emotion as iconic, everlasting jewelry. It is commitment as non-refundable as thrown-away keys or rust. She writes a great deal, and in wickedly variegated ways, about that moment when you are no longer an adventure to your lover and all you can do is stand by and rip yourself apart as the whole raft of your formerly shared serpent joys sails away down the river out of your sightline. Atop all this, Angel Olsen is Mazzy Star meets Pixies for the hi/lo and quiet/loud of her filiform fretwork, and this will be why I looked out at her audaciously fortunate AMERICANAFEST audience multiple times to note half the ear-to-the-ground glitterati, including two members of Greta Van Fleet, standing unabashedly agog at her highly idiosyncratic and highway-worn halo.

Day Three

The premier promise of AMERICANAFEST is its spastic synchronicity and scheduling savoir faire. You never know who you will meet or where, and there is the most unique, benign mob-handedness to the air because everyone is everywhere. The aleatory reliability of this fact was both reinforced and thoroughly illustrated at the top of Day Three when I serendipitously bumped into Violet Bell at the Brooklyn Basement brunch at Crazy Gnome Brewery. Having met and befriended Lizzy Ross and Omar Ruiz-Lopez by pure happenstance on the first day of AMERICANAFEST last year, just as they were preparing to sign with Brooklyn Basement, this was both a symbolic and fortuitous full-circle moment. I loved them instantly as both people and performers then, I have watched their skyward ascent with helicopter-parent glee over the course of this past year, I ardently love them still for their insistent selkie-spirits, set to even-more-ethereal heights on new album Shapeshifter, which needs to be all over your every speaker as of October 7th. Fix that now if it has not already made a little bird’s nest in your Blaupunkt.

Digging Roots
Ishkode Records
Evan Redsky

What certainly got fixed directly upon my next stop was the event that would take the proverbial cake at this year’s AMERICANAFEST for me: the first all-Indigenous showcase in AMERICANA history, hosted by Ishkode Records. Run by the divine goddess of the green world that is Amanda Rheaume, this gathering was unlike any other on any festival schedule I have ever had the privilege to attend. Featuring nascent Native talents like Digging Roots and Evan Redsky, this was a chance to take in leggiadrous, loss-sewn lyrics in love-patched tunes that meant something far larger and called something infinitely older into the room than anything going down at the other de-lofted day-discos. By this I only mean to underscore the Ishkode assembly for its invocation of a more ancient ancestor, because all of AMERICANAFEST is soulful, but this was spiritual – and sanctified by the original keepers of the soil all the rest of it came from.

Nikki Lane

To head from that sacrosanct symposium straight to the first annual Easy Eye Community Fish Fry, was like a statement of surreal ying-yang purpose, shouted over a megaphone. It would be simplest and most sensible to paint the verbal landscape of what I encountered in my immediate view upon arriving: Lukas Nelson and friends shooting the shit about outlaw passions and Waylon Jennings’ gold Cadillac, which was gleaming in the sun approximately 40 feet from me. Kid Rock walking around said Coupe De-Wow with a joint hanging conspicuously out of the side of his mouth. Nikki Lane bounding out of a tour bus parked adjacent and pressing herself against the chain-link fence temporarily separating her from Americana Music Awards “2022 Emerging Act of the Year” winner Sierra Ferrell, who was to my left taking selfies with appreciative fans. Adrian Marmolejo and Joey Rudisell of Early James eating pizza by the outdoor stage. Party host Dan Auerbach amiably shepherding his wee-Tony-Hawk-alike son through the food line directly in front of me. Rock history of an underground performance art cabaret color every which way you could crane your neck. Later that evening, nearly all of the aforementioned performed separate sets, alongside honkytonk heroes like Hank Williams, Jr., Kenny Brown, Kinney Kimbrough, and Eric Deaton. The whole shindig went down like contraband champagne and was choreographed chaos featuring the most sweat equity shared onstage by the most chests full of medals I have ever witnessed in one non-official space.

Tommy Prine

In the Tetris-shifting dockets I drew for myself within these three dizzying days of diverse creative deities, several additional showcases broke away from the blur. Those belonged to: Brit Taylor, Ferris & Sylvester, The Heavy Heavy, Old Sea Brigade, Tim Baker, Tejon Street Corner Thieves, and Tommy Prine. Every one of these Automatic-Yes artists deserves their own full-length feature and you are stealing from your own sonic storybook if you fail to seek out their individual heart-spying sounds.

Also, the empress of entertainment archiving, Hillary Howell, gave far-reaching and fascinating insights into the ramifications of record-keeping (and its lack) on her panel entitled “Creative Legacy: Preserving the History and Building the Future for Legacy Artists.” If you are an organizational obsessive like me, or have ever even casually wondered what becomes of all the leftover loot that piles up at record labels, artist management companies, and other arts-based initiatives over the years, learning more about Howell’s work with Iron Mountain Entertainment Services (IMES) will hypnotize your highlighters-and-cardstock heart. IMES is the global archival and media preservation company responsible for storing and caring for some of Hollywood’s greatest assets within the arenas of broadcast, film, sports, and music, among many others. With multiple facilities across the globe, they are responsible for cherished music documentaries such as The Bee Gees’ Emmy award-winning How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, and their inclusion on the panel circuit here should give any reader who has never visited AMERICANAFEST a sense of the arresting array of academically-inclined attractions outside the live music itself that this incomparable muster of musical minds makes possible.

2022 Artist Impressions

Without a doubt, the most powerful and purpose-built aspect of AMERICANAFEST, and the one that distinguishes it from all others on any beat, is the quality and ease of conversations one can have with artists of every bracket, genre, order, and description. The Nashville sidewalks become sonic spinneys of string-smiths, songwriters, and sell-swords of the sound world, and all you have to do is walk up and say “hello.” Here are a few hunches, inklings, ideas, and fancies about AMERICANAFEST 2022 from the artists I was fortunate enough to jabber with about their festival experiences this year:

Ben Chapman, founder of the collaborative hang known as the Peach Jam at The Basement – “I was over the moon to share our best Peach Jam yet with AMERICANAFEST. The crowd, the artists, and the band on both shows all fused together to make a magical cosmic jam that I’ll never forget.”

Meg McRee, classical violinist, songwriter, and frequent Peach Jam performer – “Peach Jam this week was a testament to the fact that true creative community still exists in Nashville and it was so special to share proof of that with AMERICANAFEST. I always say you have to show up and see it for yourself to understand. There’s a lot of magic happening in town right now and it’s surreal to be a part of it.”

Autumn Nicholas, groundbreaking mixed, gay songwriter, Black Opry touring musician, and Song Suffragette – “It was a worthwhile hustle trying to catch every act and every panel/meet-up. Wishing there was a big common meeting area for all artists to gather for some community time. Looking forward to next year.”

Nora Brown

Nora Brown, 17-year-old banjo phenomenon specializing in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee banjo playing, author of Ted Talk on Appalachian music, subject of short film funded by The Tribeca Film Festival, and featured speaker at Voices of a People’s History of the United States: Celebrating the Centenary of Howard Zinn at Lincoln Center – “A highlight of AMERICANAFEST was definitely catching glimpses of other artists’ performances! So sweet to see so much music at different locations. Also, I just enjoyed my set. Had my buddy Jackson Lynch come down with me to play, and we had a great time.”

Adam Hood, veteran southern rock songsmith and Capricorn Studios recording artist – “This was an exciting year for me at AMERICANAFEST. Coincidentally, we scheduled the release of my new album in the same week, so there was a lot to talk about and it was a great place and time to do it. It’s wonderful to have people from so many different avenues of the genre in one place at one time; publicity, radio, publications, writers, musicians, etc. I was able to cover a lot of ground and that was very important for the first week going into this record. We jumped on the festival pretty late in the game as well and I am very thankful for the opportunity from the venues and Americana Music Association. All of the venues were accommodating and we got to meet supporters from all over. It was nice to feel like part of a group coming together and supporting one another.”

The 23rd annual rendition of AMERICANAFEST is scheduled for September 19-24, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee.

-words & photos by Dana Miller (save Bee Taylor & Nora Brown)