Once again it’s time for some twang, because the Americana Music Festival is upon us. The week-long festival and conference, held every October, is above all a celebration of music and, buddy, they’ve got that in spades.
One need only check out the Alabama-themed lineup at Cannery Ballroom Wednesday night (Oct. 12) for evidence that Americana is a big tent with doors open. The performance schedule included a two-hour Muscle Shoals tribute, followed by gospel legends the Blind Boys of Alabama, and indie success story of the year the Civil Wars, who had to cancel last minute over John Paul White’s vocal woes.
Alabama Music Hall of Fame director Wiley Barnard greeted the crowd before introducing Renaissance man Webb Wilder, who hosted the Muscle Shoals tribute. The outstanding band was a revolving cast of Shoals session pros including Spooner Oldham, Jimmy Johnson, Clayton Ivey, Charles Rose, David Hood and many others.
The music started on an adorable note with AMA Exec Dir. Jed Hilly’s young son Charlie singing the Osmonds’ Jackson 5-channeling “One Bad Apple,” digging into the soulful choruses with gusto. Lake Street Dive singer Rachael Price came out to tackle Aretha Franklin’s 1967 hit “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You).” That song’s B-Side “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” was performed by sultry alto belter Sherrie Phillips later in the show. Lake Street Dive was also on the bill over at The Basement.
Host Wilder tackled Arthur Alexander’s timeless “Anna (Go To Him),” also covered by The Beatles on Please Please Me. Musician, songwriter, and actor Donnie Fritts came out to perform his song “We Had It All,” which Waylon Jennings recorded on his 1973 album Honky Tonk Heroes.
Across town, AMA-related Tweets were blowing up about Brian Wright’s 8 pm performance at the Basement, as well as the sets Marty Stuart and Connie Smith delivered at The Rutledge.
At Cannery, the Muscle Shoals performances continued to impress. T. Graham Brown, with a full-on white Santa beard, growled out a spirited version of Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally.” Then R&B legend Candi Staton came to the stage to perform her 1969 song “He Called Me Baby.” In a just world, Staton could have been just as famous as Aretha Franklin. And you know what? She’s still that good nearly 40 years later. Screaming Cheetah Wheelies singer Mike Farris stole the show however, with his devastating from-the-gut performance of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind,” which was recorded at FAME in Muscle Shoals.
Other guests included Nashville soul man Charles Walker on Luther Ingram’s “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want To Be Right),” former Prince & the Revolution member (and Nashville resident) Dez Dickerson on the Rolling Stones hit “Brown Sugar,” former Wet Willie leader Jimmy Hall on Pickett’s “Land of 1000 Dances” and Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love,” singer/songwriter Dan Penn performing his “I’m Your Puppet” (a hit for James & Bobby Purify), and Billy Burnette leading the ensemble cast through Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock N’ Roll.”
Meanwhile the Kenny Vaughan Organ Trio was upstairs in the Mercy Lounge, wowing the crowds with virtuosic chops that fused blues, jazz, country and the kitchen sink. Vaughan is also a member of Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives, and his first solo album V was just released in September.
While the Blind Boys of Alabama showcased downstairs in the Cannery, a reunited Foster & Lloyd took the stage at Mercy Lounge. The duo’s set started with “It’s Already Tomorrow” from the independently-released 2011 album of the same name. After working out some initial guitar sound troubles, Radney and Bill rocked through a quick collection that included “Fair Shake,” “It’s Already Tomorrow,” “Something ‘Bout Forever,” “Hiding Out,” and “Picasso’s Mandolin.”
Americana favorite Hayes Carll rounded out the lineup at Mercy Lounge, leading his band through a rollicking set of alternately hilarious and sad songs including “The Letter,” “Faulkner Street,” “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed So Long,” “KMAG YOYO” (title track from his latest album), “Grand Parade,” the unrecorded “Ain’t Enough Of Me To Go Around” (with help from Austin musician John Evans), “The Lovin’ Cup,” “Hard Out Here,” “Stomp and Holler,” and the Tom Waits classic “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart.”
His encore consisted of KMAG YOYO cut “Another Like You,” with Carll singing both his and duet partner Cary Ann Hearst’s parts, followed by “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” and “Little Rock.”
Carll made a point to thank everyone for supporting his music and all Americana acts. “I’ve been coming to the Americana festival for 10 years now, and it gets better every year,” he said.
So far, I have no argument with that.
Coming up tonight: the Americana Honors & Awards, followed by venue showcases from Lori McKenna, Will Hoge, The Jayhawks, JD Souther and many more.