AMA’s Jed Hilly On Growth of Americana Music Festival & Conference

Jed Hilly

Jed Hilly

Americana music fans are making their way to Nashville for the 15th Annual Americana Music Festival and Conference, which runs Sept. 17 through Sept. 21. An impressive lineup of approximately 180 artists, including Sturgill Simpson, Angaleena Presley, Lee Ann Womack, The Avett Brothers, Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller, Allison Moorer, Suzy Bogguss and Billy Joe Shaver, will perform at venues dotting the Nashville area.

The 13th annual Americana Music Honors and Awards, which will be held Wednesday, Sept. 17, at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, anchors the festival.

Jed Hilly, Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, spoke to MusicRow about the festival’s continued growth. According to Hilly, in 2013, the conference brought in 1,500 music industry professionals, and it is slated to bring in between 1800-1900 industry members this year. Total attendance was 12,000 last year, with an estimated 15,000 attendees slated for this year.

What makes the Americana Music Festival unique?

You can walk into any venue at any time and hear something that will knock your socks off. To me, it’s about discovery. There are so many artists we bring in—180 this year. There are the hot buzz artists like Sturgill Simpson, who is on fire right now. There are legendary artists like Rodney Crowell and big name acts like The Avett Brothers, but by and large our festival is unique because it’s about discovery.

Talk about the process of booking artists for the festival.

The acts that perform are handpicked out of about 900 submissions. We are not like other festivals in town where the labels are doing a showcase for their new acts. They don’t decide, we decide. There’s a bit of a Good Housekeeping-style seal of approval that we’ve acquired over the years. The AMA supports the label’s artists, not necessarily the label, but we support the label through supporting the artists.

We are really lucky that Michelle Aquilato, is our Director of Marketing and Artist Relations, and really the festival producer. She has the best ears in Nashville, if not the country. In 2007, we had 56 artists. We added another night to the festival, then jumped to about 76 artists, then to around 92 artists. Last year we had 120 artists. That was a big jump and we added a venue, The High Watt, which gave us another 18 acts.

This year, we’ve added The Listening Room. Jack White agreed to host two nights at Third Man Records. We put together shows that Third Man would be proud of. We actually did that in every venue. We take the time to think about every single artist performance, every hour of every night in every venue, to make sure that the venue is appropriate for the music that is being played. There’s a difference in the style of artists that we will put into Station Inn than The Basement. We are very cognizant of that. I think it’s that attention to detail that makes it really an extraordinary event.

The business conference portion of the event has also seen growth.

I think that the proof of that is more members of the music biz in America and globally are attending. The word on the street is Americana is what SXSW was 20 years ago. You can get work done, and it’s not madness. We even have shuttle buses that can take you from one club to another.

It took a while to gain that industry respect and recognition. Ian Rogers, CEO of Beats is coming this year. Rich Bengloff, president of A2IM is coming. These are important people and they are coming from different disciplines of the industry.

The festival has seen a lot of growth, particularly in the last few years.

We moved hotels and we’ve already grown out of them. I think we will be at the Hutton Hotel again next year. We saw our business conference sales spike this year more dramatically than anticipated. We went up another 20-25 percent this year, after going up 25 percent last year. We were running on an 8-12 percent increase in the years between 2010 and 2013, and then in 2013 it just popped. This year, it’s popped again. There are only five of us on staff to make it run, and we laugh. It’s a good problem to have. We have lots of those good problems.

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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