10 Top Moments From Americana Music Festival

Buddy Miller and Lee Ann Womack Share Lineup With Rising Talent

The Americana Music Festival deserves a big shout-out this year for striking a near-perfect balance between showcasing longtime favorites as well as the genre’s rising talent. Nashville hosts a lot of outstanding music all year long, but the talent in town last week was undeniably special. Here are 10 of our favorite moments from the festival that took place Wednesday through Saturday (Sept. 12-16)

Chastity Brown at the Basement
On the final night of the festival, I decided to only see bands I’d never seen before. As it turns out, my favorite song I heard all weekend was from Brown, a Tennessee native who now lives in the Twin Cities. With an addictive banjo riff and a slow-burn voice, her tune “After You” knocked me out during her showcase at the Basement. She’s definitely a songwriter and performer to watch. — Craig Shelburne

Anthony DaCosta at the Basement
Anthony DaCosta joked that only three people in the room (including his publicist) had ever heard his latest album, Secret Handshake. Well, I was one of those folks, so I wanted to catch him in concert. He’s young with a big voice and skillful guitar playing, but what I enjoyed the most was his perspective. His lyrics remind me of something you’d like to yell at the one who just left you — if you just had the nerve or the presence of mind. Somehow he manages to do this without sounding like a jerk. If anything he seems like a nice kid with an abundance of musical talent who’s just learning the ropes. — Shelburne

Robert Ellis at Cannery Ballroom
Ellis’ debut album Photographs showed a talent for thoughtful songwriting, and his set Friday night proved he’s also a confident performer. Working with a full band — mostly buddies he’s been working with for years — he dared to play one new song live for the very first time. It’s a love letter to his hometown called “Houston,” and since he’s recently decided to move to Nashville, it was vividly sad yet thankful at the same time. That song, like many of Ellis’ others, shows a great deal of reverence for classic country. — Chris Parton

John Fullbright at Mercy Lounge
The Okemah, Okla., native Fullbright did Woody Guthrie (who is also from Okemah) proud with his transformational songs of spirituality and humanism. “Gawd Above” and “Satan and St. Paul” spelled out his unique point of view in easy-to-listen-to fashion, while “Fat Man” provided a stinging indictment of powerful men with little or no concern for people being taken advantage of. Fullbright’s writing is concise and action-minded, which he reiterated at the end of the show just before “Moving,” saying, “If Woody teaches us anything, it’s to stop worrying and do something about it.” — Parton

Buddy Miller and Lee Ann Womack at Mercy Lounge
After leading the house band at the Americana Music Association awards show at the Ryman, Miller played a Saturday night set of duets with Womack at Mercy Lounge. After putting out a call for requests of duets, they lit up a nine-song set for a packed house of appreciative fans. Each song seemed to generate a louder response than the previous one, but there seemed to be just a little something special on their version of Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty‘s classic “After the Fire Is Gone.” — Will Hodge

Punch Brothers at Cannery Ballroom
Oh, my. Where to begin with the Punch Brothers show? With jaw-dropping musicianship, hooky choruses, incessant smiles and Dapper Dan aesthetics, these guys are a must-see. Their closing cover of The Band’s “Ophelia” was a genius crowd-endearing move and a fitting tribute to the late, legendary Levon Helm. — Hodge

Bonnie Raitt at the Ryman
At the awards show Raitt was joined by guitarist Al Anderson for “Not Cause I Wanted To,” a soft song from her most recent album, Slipstream. Then she cranked up the energy and the volume by grabbing her electric guitar and providing some greasy slide work on “Thing Called Love,” a breakout track from her 1990 Nick of Time album. Since the song was written by John Hiatt, who presented her lifetime achievement award earlier in the evening, it was a no-brainer to bring him onstage to share the verses. — Calvin Gilbert

Shovels & Rope at the Basement
On the first night of the festival, country-punk duo Shovels & Rope threw down an explosive set at the Basement. While I thoroughly enjoyed the whole show, I think the highlight for me was their 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 . With Michael Trent on guitar, Cary Ann Hearst on drums and both of them trading off vocals (sometimes on the same mic), this song set the crowd on fire. — Hodge

Billy Joe Shaver at Mercy Lounge
Watching Shaver perform is always a treat because even though he’s a tough guy, onstage he turns into a big old teddy bear. He couldn’t keep a smile off of his face at Mercy Lounge, and I’ll bet if he didn’t have a stage to sing from, he’d be just as happy to do it on a street corner for tips. Not much changes in his set list from year to year, but why should it? With “Heart of Texas,” “Georgia on a Fast Train,” “Honky Tonk Heroes,” “Live Forever” and many more, the Outlaw movement is essentially inseparable from his songs. Each one has a story to go with it, and most include a little shadow boxing or some silly dancing, too. Like he always says, “God loves you when you dance!” — Parton

Richard Thompson at the Ryman
In a solo acoustic performance at the awards show, Thompson offered “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” an original ode about a motorcycle and violence that was popularized in recent years by the Del McCoury Band. Aside from the song itself and his vocal delivery, Thompson once again proved worthy of his reputation as one of the world’s greatest guitarists. — Gilbert