September 12–17 at Various Nashville Locations
This month, Nashville will host the 18th annual AmericanaFest, a music festival and industry conference put on by the Americana Music Association, a trade organization advocating for American Roots music like folk, country, and bluegrass.
The event is not your typical summer music festival. It carries a focus on creative contributions over music industry sales. Think more Sundance Film Festival, less Bonnaroo.
“AmericanaFest was a response to the commercial music industry focusing more on the almighty dollar than the artistic value of the music,” explains Jed Hilly, the association’s executive director. “AmericanaFest was a response to shine a light on those artists that the commercial industry was ignoring. It wasn’t easy to go against the stream at first, but in the last five years especially, we’ve seen our event grow beyond our dreams, more than tripling in attendance and, significantly, reaching mainstream fans with the quality music they have been yearning for.”
This year’s performers lineup features almost 300 artists, including Deer Tick, Drive-By Truckers, and Lee Ann Womack. There will also be the annual Honors & Awards Show at the Ryman, which this year will welcome Van Morrison, The Lumineers, Iris DeMent, and others to the stage.
Beyond presenting underexposed and artistically focused acts, AmericanaFest directly advocates for industry change through an accompanying conference. “The conference is primarily focused on the business of music and really is a must-attend event from that perspective for an artist, an agent, or an A&R rep,” Hilly says.
Among the fifty daytime events planned are a panel on recording artistry curated by Rodney Crowell, Joe Henry, and Rhiannon Giddens, as well as a 60th anniversary celebration of Royal Studios in Memphis featuring artists who worked on historic recordings there. Put together, the performances and conference are a concerted effort to improve, or possibly reset, the way our culture values musical art by offering a different avenue for accessing it.
“Discovery is critical to our human existence,” Hilly says. “Where would we be without these artists, without these songs we love? We need an industry and community that support art, that support artistry, or we lose our soul.”
Though the event has grown to include AmericanaFest NYC and AmericanaFest U.K., Nashville remains the cultural hub for this particular brand of music. “Nashville is, at its core, the home of Americana, the essence of that place where blues, country, gospel, bluegrass, and rock and roll collide,” says Hilly. “It’s in the water here . . . Nashville once was Country Music City, now it’s Music City, and I think Americana has a lot to do with that.”
AmericanaFest will be held from September 12 to 17 with events throughout the city. For more information, please visit www.americanamusic.org.