It was a live music moment that showed how it used to be in Nashville.
After the 15th annual Americana Music Honors & Awards at the Ryman Auditorium last week, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Steve Earle and Charlie Worsham were spotted onstage wrapping the night at Robert’s Western World across the back alley. It’s a tradition that dates back to a time when country’s first stars would follow-up Grand Ole Opry performances at the Ryman with surprise sets at the Lower Broadway honky-tonks.
Those inside Robert’s that night were treated to Isbell covering Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home” with Shires on fiddle. Then she took the spotlight for the George Jones classic “Tennessee Whiskey.”
Fans waiting outside got to watch them sing for one another through the blue neon glow radiating from beer signs hanging in the window. While they were onstage, Earle dipped outside in the street to tune his electric guitar. He was on next to sing Willie Nelson’s “Sad Songs and Waltzes.”
Then one of the most rock ‘n’ roll exits in recent Lower Broadway memory happened. As Worsham was about to take the stage with Roger Miller’s “Chug-a-Lug,” Isbell stepped outside with his guitar in a case to have a cigarette and to meet his wife with her fiddle. Then walking hand in hand, they hurried through the wandering Lower Broadway tourists to catch a cab home.
And with more than 215 acts performing at 14 local venues, that wasn’t the only good time had at the 17th annual Americana Music Festival and Conference.
Here are some other highlights from the five-night event.
AmericanaFest Eastside Kickoff Party
The unofficial Americana award for the most bang for your buck goes to Lee Ann Womack's All Star Band at Tuesday’s (Sept. 20) AmericanaFest Eastside Kickoff Party. All around backstage were the minds of world-class musicians and surprise guests thinking, “Dear Lord, please don’t make me follow Patty Griffin.”
The five-hour marathon cost $15 and all the proceeds supported the Americana Music Association and music education in Nashville Public Schools through the non-profit Music Makes Us. It’s a worthy cause because if you’re not born to be an athlete or a brainiac, the only thing left that motivates kids to go to school is the creative arts.
Chuck Meade kicked off the night with a set of honky-tonk rock featuring surprise guests Charlie McCoy, Patrick Sweany and Sarah Gayle Meeh. Then Aaron Lee Tasjan took over with some fiery original roots rock that featured surprise guest Dan Baird for “Younger Face” from Baird’s 1996 album Buffalo Nickel and “I Love You Period” from 1991’s Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired.
Next, Womack sang softly into the mic to her favorite live originals by songwriters and artists Adam Wright, Waylon Payne and Brent Cobb in a moving songwriter round.
Then she and her all-star band took over for an hour of live music that included surprise guests, Griffin, Isbell, Payne, Shires, Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller and Randy Rogers.
Griffin left everyone in awe with her two-song appearance that included the hypnotic blues number “Standing” from 2004’s Impossible Dream.
Isbell backed Shires on acoustic guitar on “You Are My Home” and “Pale Fire” from her newest album My Piece of Land. Then he took the lead to sing Todd Snider’s “Train Song” and “Flagship” from Something More Than Free.
Womack closed with the night with two songs including “The Way I’m Livin’.” The guys in the band for the evening were Glenn Worf (Mark Knopfler), guitarists Duke Levine (J Geils Band) and Jedd Hughes (Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell), fiddle player Tim Crouch (Alan Jackson), steel guitarist Paul Franklin (Barbara Streisand, Peter Frampton) and drummer Jerry Roe (Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell).