A songwriting workshop with the legendary Richard Thompson. A career-spanning keynote interview with Bonnie Raitt. Grammy winning country artist Jim Lauderdale paired with slide guitar daredevil Luther Dickinson’s North Mississippi All Stars. Newcomers Whitehorse featuring Canadian six-string conjurer Luke Ducet and a showcase by Nashville’s own Red Beet Records including the Grammy nominated team of Eric Brace and Peter Cooper plus veteran songwriter David Olney supported by textural guitar wizard Sergio Webb.
These were among the guitar centric highlights of this year’s 11th annual Americana Music Festival and Conference — sponsored in part by the Gibson Company — held in Music City from September 12 through 15. Artists from across the world, with heavy contingents from Australia and Canada, as well as DJs and radio programmers, journalists, producers, publicists, promoters, booking agents and every other stripe of music biz denizen descended on the city. Their goal: networking, attending workshops on everything from social media to the nuts and bolts of the artist-producer relationship, celebrating the genre’s past and present with an Honors & Awards Ceremony, and discovering new music — whether made by the scene’s veterans (guitarist/producer/songwriter Buddy Miller and Lauderdale announced a forthcoming collaborative album) or newcomers like the aforementioned Whitehorse.
Among the 100-plus solo artists and acts featured during the showcases were repeats from recent years: Paul Thorn, the All Stars, Band of Joy’s Darrell Scott, Chris Scruggs and more. It might be more illuminating to see additional new faces on the festival’s stages at various showcase clubs around town. On the other hand, in order to be sustained the event needs to draw fans as well as music biz types, which requires name-brand performers. As usual, it’s the conundrum of balancing art and commerce, or the new with the proven. And the Association strikes a more reasonable balance than many other major showcase events.
The festival’s educational component was also impressive, with the highlight a panel discussion on Memphis’ soul, R&B and blues history and a interview with the great Stax session player and Booker T. & the M.G.’s leader Booker T. Jones, who, along with Thompson and Raitt, were presented with lifetime achievement awards. Thompson was also given a Gibson SJ-200 guitar on stage by Gibson Guitar Corporation President David Berryman.