AmericanaFest 2018 Wrap

Read our look back at this year’s AmericanaFest in Nashville

Nashville TN



2018 Stats

  • 285 officially sanctioned artists at 64 unique venues
  • Conference attendance up almost 10%.
  • the largest number of Awards member votes ever
  • nominees in each category were reduced to four (to shorten the run time of the Awards show)
  • three local radio stations broadcasted the show live, as well as SiriusXM and NPR livestream
  • a new partnership in place with CMT (the Awards show will be broadcast on CMT in November)
  • there are now 3,000 AMA members (compared with 800 in 2007)


This is my sixth AmericanaFest back-to-back.  It continues to grow steadily, but not visibly so.  I think the event can handle the growth as it is not a normal festival with a raft of major headliners, large stadium nor single venue focal point.  AmericanaFest growth is in spread venues rather than single crowds.  A pre-fest industry shindig on Monday night with Jim Lauderdale, Jason Eady, Chuck Mead and Drivin n Cryin was a sensationally welcome development.  I was thrilled even before the festival commenced.

Bad! = Filtering the special event RSVPs into the same time and choosing 3am Eastern Australian time was an unpleasant move, making it impossible to get a spot unless you were an insomniac.

You do get a pretty good return for your full registration costs plus the Honors and Award Show ticket, although I had to spend an extra $40 to get roughly the same seat at The Ryman that I had last year (the Show opened up to the public this year).  Wristbands are incredible value but you don’t have access to Conference Sessions, RSVP’s to some hot off-campus events and your place in line can get bumped by badge holders.


The Honors and Awards Show

The historic Ryman Auditorium hosted the annual celebration of the year in Americana music and honored Lifetime Achievement Award recipients.

The Lifetime Achievement Award honorees were the iconic k.d. lang, blues legend Buddy Guy, the Soul Queen of New Orleans Irma Thomas, singer/songwriter/humanitarian Rosanne Cash and Olivia Records pioneers Judy Dlugacz and Cris Williamson.

Among the artists performing were: lang, Guy, Thomas, Cash, John Prine, Robert Earl Keen, Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, I’m With Her, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Margo Price, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Mary Gauthier, Anderson East, Lilly Hiatt, Tyler Childers and Courtney Marie Andrews.  The standouts were John Prine (the tender “Come On Home”), Brandi Carlile (the multi-layered and soaring “The Joke”), “White Man’s World” by Jason Isbell and Courtney Marie Andrews (“May Your Kindness Remain”).

Those who didn’t have their own band on the night were backed by Americana’s most-awarded artist, songwriter, musician and producer Buddy Miller taking the reins of musical direction for the Americana All-Star Band featuring Don Was, Jerry Pentecost, Joe Pisapia, Ian Fitchuk, Lillie Mae, Josh Grange, Jim Hoke and the much-loved McCrary Sisters.

Americana award-winning and Grammy-nominated duo The Milk Carton Kids (Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan) were on hand to host for the first time.

Winners were:

Album of the Year:
“The Nashville Sound,” Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, produced by Dave Cobb

Artist of the Year:
John Prine

Song of the Year:
“If We Were Vampires,” Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, written by Jason Isbell

Duo/Group of the Year:
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Emerging Artist of the Year:
Tyler Childers

Instrumentalist of the Year:
Molly Tuttle

“Spirit of Americana” Free Speech Award, presented in partnership with the First Amendment Center:
Rosanne Cash

Americana Trailblazer Award:
k.d. lang

Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist:
Buddy Guy

Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance:
Irma Thomas

Jack Emerson Lifetime Achievement Award for Executive:
Cris Williamson and Judy Dlugacz of Olivia Records


It surpassed last year’s show, a little more streamlined I thought.  A major sound glitch when the house front power went down for a while caused some over-angst from patrons but if there is a better place to find the year’s best music delivered so professionally in one of the best acoustic venues in the country, let me know!  Having said that, the 2014 Show with Ry Cooder in the All-Star band still rates as number one.


The Best Shows

Well, I figure I saw, outside of the Awards Show, almost seventy individual performances over the five days. I didn’t see anything much that wasn’t good, which is the trademark of AmericanaFest.  It is all worthwhile no matter where you go, it’s just about what appeals to you on the day, in the venue, who’s in the audience, where you are sitting or standing.


In some sort of temporal order, these were my favourites:

Drivin n Cryin – The True Bar

Jason Eady – The True Bar

The War and Treaty – BMI building

The Muscle Shoals Tribute To Rick Hall – 3rd & Lindsley

Whitehorse – The Local

Alejandro Escovedo – The Local

Robby Hecht and Caroline Spence – City Winery

Sunny War – City Winery

Mike Farris – The Filming Station


The Verdict

Here’s why this event is the NUMBER ONE event on my music calendar – it is never the same experience from year to year.

Neither does it pay to plan your program too far ahead in advance.  I had a small group with me this year and I was able to observe how each person in their own way gets into the AmericanaFest groove, setting out and exploring their own muses.  It is inspiring to watch.  For myself, I tended this year to find longer ensemble programs and just stay put and soak up the brilliant diversity of it all.


Coming back to Nashville… is like shaking the hand of a good friend you only see once a year.


Coming back to AmericanaFest…IS literally shaking the hands of many friends I see every time this year.


That makes it special.


Next Year

Bring on next year.  The dates have just been announced:

10 to 15 September 2019

Hope to see you there!!!


Read our look back at this year’s AmericanaFest in Nashville


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Author: Rob Dickens

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  1. Great read Rob, looks like you and Jim enjoyed yourselves. Hope to do it with you guys next year, enjoy the rest of the trip. Callum – Avenue Records

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    • Hey Callum. Good to hear from you. It was a blast alright. We’re now in Asheville North Carolina in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Heading to another festival, in Bristol – Rhythm and Roots Reunion in a couple of days. Cheers

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