The giant AMERICANFEST once again descended on Nashville....

It has been slyly joked that the only difference between country music and Americana is a flat-brim hat. One might think millinery a reductionist’s way of describing the busiest and most poignant week in the calendar year of music, but clothes have forever served as the most vivid of all easily wrought social signaling mechanisms, and, my goodness, the great Louise Erdrich has written an entire book of gloriously eldritch ghost stories revolving around the exclusive central theme of her Borsellino hat – so, clearly clothes carry all sorts of cachet and often function as much more than wearable clutter. Likewise, there exists a linguistic understanding in many Indigenous American cultures that apparel is forever animate with the spirit of its makers, much like automobiles, and much like what actually sets Americana music into its own category, which is its intensely relational bearing to the lived experiences of its players and purveyors, a buzz-luring brace of which descended upon Nashville once again from Wednesday-Saturday, September 20th-24th, for AMERICANAFEST 2023, the most thermonuclear one yet on record for sheer volume of talent.

The clothes are certainly not to be underbid, however, when it comes to the saturation of symbolism (and the social scrimmage) that occurs during this most sacred of sonic weeks. Whether the thread-throwdown takes the form of the reclamatory statement-making turquoise and beads at the Ishkōdé Records showcase or the darling darning on the vintage Boy Scout uniform shirt (complete with merit badges!) worn by the undeniably meritorious Jobi Riccio, fashion at AMERICANAFEST is its own “instant language,” as Miuccia Prada foretold.  Anyone who has ever stood like a particularly bellicose Bertie Wooster watching from the sidelines of the Bastogne-like horror that is the ongoing great Urban Outfrittering of Grunge can tell you with very real tears in their eyes how much the clothes in a movement really do matter to what that groundswell says and ultimately becomes. Emblematic toppage as directional theater aside, fundamentally Americana (both the festival and the music) is about stories and the way they tend to lead to swingnose crossings in lives and careers that could not have been garnered via any less chaotically DIY interstice. Throughout the solid seven days of fission and fusion that is AMERICANAFEST each year, Nashville transmogrifies from full-time center of gravity for all top-drawer things in the music industry to both nexus and nepenthe for the Next Up, the Nearly There, and the Nowhere-Close-Yet alike.

One would require bullet trains for feet to even pretend to take in half the staggering musical sunbeams going Gran Brillo at AMERICANAFEST every September. No one ever has to beat the weeds to find the best players in the world in Nashville, but during AMERICANAFEST the music is even more everywhere, the music is nine times more never-ending, and the music is like something poured out the back of a bottomless dump truck that is somehow facing the melodic Meccas of nearly every country in the world. Additionally, by September in Nashville the horticultural exhale of autumn has not even begun, the kick in summer’s shoes not so much as considered fleeing for the tale-rich Tennessee hills yet, so it is not just the stride that is hot when you are trying to catch all this heavenly hell in a happy hornet’s nest that is AMERICANAFEST.

Any regular reader of mine knows that I already eschew the wearing of all linguistic masks and assimilatory demands the manufacturers of language would try to impose on we few modern inklings left and that mine is a near-illicit refusal when it comes to pre-approved writerly postures, no matter how serious my subject matter. I am forever dressed, literally and figuratively, only as me when I am anywhere writing about anything, but wordsmithing around AMERICANAFEST drops a different kind of drawbridge even on my moat-less manner precisely for its willful removal of that last perceived barrier between performances and pens. It is a week wherein every artist and audience member is deemed fully unseparated, and for that merry merging a kind of color verity comes through when the experience of it all is rendered in ink.

Here’s the closest runny-go we can give to a full breakdown of one (mostly) indefatigable musical Mouseketeer’s sweat equity within this annual empyrean exercise of the ears, including microburst moments, mini-features, and many, many foiled brunches bent on reportorial legwork that gave way instead to canorous giggles with friends both new and old and collaged collisions between characters that, viewed side by side, would have made the nonsense poet Edward Lear quite proud indeed.





12:30 p.m. | The Westin Hotel

Much like the superstitious Italian carriage drivers who will change their seat position from the right or left side of the bench to the middle at dark each night in order to discourage the devil from sitting beside them, it is ancient and oft-secretly observed wisdom that any AMERICANAFEST formally set in motion by a midday meetup with a microphone maven is marked for magnificence. AMERICANAFEST 2023 began just that way for me, as my first appointment was an Eastbound and Down kind of sit-down with a saintful sinner both Smokey and Bandit in her brushing-against-baritone singing voice.


Elles BaileyA Microburst Moment with Elles Bailey

QRO: The first word I absolutely have to say to you is Bristol. Massive Attack. Portishead. Idles. It’s a city of untouchable voices. You are very much of that element, Elles! What is in the dirt there that is making all of you sing with such bone-luxe beauty?

Elles Bailey: Oh, thank you! That’s so very kind of you to say. You’re right to say Bristol has special voices. I immediately think of Yola too. I don’t know what might account for that; maybe it’s the mud of The Avon or the history of The Severn.

QRO: I think it must be the spiritual sediment of both, and you’re definitely right inside that tradition of bourbon and honey. As is Brandy Zdan, whom I understand you’ve done some work with on your newer material. I also realize that you’re not a newbie Nashvillian by any means. Can you talk a bit about working with Brandy and any of your previous history here?

EB: Absolutely. This is my ninth trip, but it’s been four years since I’ve been back. I was invited over to Arkansas for the House of Songs writing retreat, and that’s where I met Brandy. We had to write songs for a week, had to play a couple of shows over there with the songs we had written, and then we came to AMERICANAFEST. I did all of that with Dylan Earl, Jonathan Terrell, Jamie Freeman, and Judy Blank. Unfortunately, I lost my voice for no reason at all during that time, so I’m really hoping that, as my showcases for AMERICANAFEST this year are toward the end of the week, I don’t have a repeat of that experience.

QRO: Well, everyone knows that the voice is the most temperamental instrument in human history. You don’t even have to offend it for it to up and decide it isn’t going to work for you today! As you mention your voice, I’d like to ask you about the story of your childhood illness that you ascribe your voice’s persona-defining gravel and growl to, if you don’t mind sharing about that.

EB: I don’t mind at all; it’s really a central piece of my story as a singer. I got a respiratory illness when I was three years old that made me really, really sick quite quickly. I got the last ventilator available in Southmead Hospital in Bristol in March of 1991 when I had seconds to live. I was on life support for seventeen days, and in those days lots of damage was done to voices because of the tubes that were put down the throat. It dries the vocal cords out, so when I started talking again, gone was my normal voice.

QRO: Completely incredible. It seems to me that there is an important message about the yin and yang of life in that experience. It both stole your voice and gave you the voice that would be heard loudest. It’s interesting to me that it gave you scratches in your physical voice only to have that be the signature reason that your metaphorical one holds such smooth clarity for people who love listening to you.

EB: Exactly, and when my parents took me to a vocal surgeon later, a specialist, he said, “We’re going to leave her be; she’s been through a lot, and if she’s ever a singer, she’ll be great at singing the blues.” That’s exactly what he said! I have a two-and-a-half-year-old of my own now, so I really get to see how small I truly was when all of that was happening.

QRO: Which leads me to a moment of woman-marvel at you: you birthed that child and this album at precisely the same time…expound!

EB: I was genuinely listening to mixes in the early stages of labor and sending revisions! I was also doing first-fix electrics for a house renovation that we were doing. If anything was going to make me feel like a superhuman, it was getting that house renovation done, nothing more as that was definitely the worst of the three! [laughs]

QRO: You’re a miraculous machine. End of story. You’re also a great seamstress of verbal symbols, whether you do it intentionally or not. I notice that all of your record titles, with the exception of the live albums, reference roads or light in some way. What is interesting to me about that as a writer is that these are almost certainly the two words I would choose to describe you as an artist if someone forced me to do it in only two words.

EB: Road and light–that is so interesting because I’ve not thought of it before, but you’re right…those are in all of them! I definitely have always thought “fire” and that would connect to light, wouldn’t it? I do think that sums me up because I’m always on the road and I like to think that I can spread a little spark wherever I go.

QRO: There is no question you do that, musically and personally. Tell me about “Devil Claims His Prize” because this song is the latest of your movingly illuminated soul queries in the vein of Robert Johnson and the other blues kings. Where did that song come from?

EB: I’m very inspired by politics and people in power, and I like to remark on those things in my music. To quote Mary Gauthier in “Mercy Now,” “People in power, they’ll do anything to keep their crown.” I feel like “Devil Claims His Prize” is my warning to them, like “Hey! You can’t take it with you.” My feeling is that I have worked very hard for the career that I am building, and I have done all of it, gotten this far, as an independent artist. What has allowed me to do that is the generosity and loyalty of the fans, who were so unbelievably kind and giving during the pandemic when everybody had less to give. No matter what profession anyone may be in, focusing on the material riches rather than the moral reasons just does not seem to pan out.

QRO: And it never will where gratitude and wonder are not the hitched team pulling someone’s wagon to the stars, which ties into my last question for you before I set you loose on the British Underground Welcome Party at Alley Taps in a minute: what is the next shooting star you are trying to hopscotch toward with your music? What’s the next big wish?

EB: I am making a new album and I do think that now is the time for me to partner with a label. I initially named my own label “Outlaw” because I felt like one. I couldn’t get in meetings with anyone so I just decided I would do it myself, and I have. In order to keep growing the way I would like to, I know that my artistry cannot be the thing that gives. Obviously, my being a mother cannot be the thing that gives either, but if I stayed at home there would be a big part of me that would be empty and I do split myself in a lot of ways to be able to do this. Maybe being a label for myself is the thing that gives. You know, you can’t magic up females in classic rock and I’d love in the future to get to a place where I could sign other female artists to Outlaw and give them a place where they feel at home. That would make me feel very good.

QRO: That is so very exciting, and even thinking about the possibility of expanding your own label reach to supercharge more women is about as noble a mission as any musician could ever have. I want to thank you for making the start of my Americana so congenial and gratifying. I could not have special-ordered a more enchanting entree to the 2023 games!

EB: This has been genuinely wonderful; thank you so much for taking the time. I’m honored and look forward to seeing you again later this week!


3:00-5:00 p.m. | The Eighth Room

Rachael Davis

Having recently undergone a traffic-stopping interior renovation that has taken it from roustabout honky-tonk to candlelit brunette speakeasy, The Eighth Room made numbers one through seven appear irrelevant when it showed off its new pin feathers serving as the locale for the Bonfire Music Group party, kicked into high gear from Moment One by the showstopping  Rachael Davis. A typhoon of torrential talent in a thimble, Davis is not so much an audio nosegay as she is a stereo noseglee, able to present universal human truths in unforgettable songs like “Atlanta’s Burning” and “(I’m A) Diamond Girl,” which are by their very observational intelligence surly as a young Lou Reed, but in her skillful storycraft become conversational 10D and Smell-o-Vision for the ears.

Bee Taylor

As a counterbalance to Davis’ dancehall darlingness, Bee Taylor, in voice and presence, flashes with the firestorm of an unmatched underground femininity that cannot be sufficiently described by even the sharpest of razorlike nibs. The great English novelist Lawrence Durrell thought that the Mona Lisa looked like she had dined off her husband, and Bee Taylor, no matter what sort of song she is singing, looks like she knows exactly why that meal commenced and perhaps even that she whispered its suggestion to Ms. Mona in the first place. Whether covering Tom Waits’ studied lostness in “Cold Water” or extending her night’s Bourbon Street steam into the aurora with “Morning Sex,” she is the female ghost of Dr. John, as we live and breathe.

Tania ElizabethBonfire’s triad of dreamy dryads was completed by one so elfin and illustriously gifted as to elicit the feeling of an anarchic discovery. Though many people are presently most name-familiar with her via her lucky-for-them association with The Avett Brothers, Tania Elizabeth is a sprite-like and spectacular musician tout court and the feather-work in her fingers should be qualified by none but her own self-comparison. Her solo songs are a hallucinogenic concoction of Charlie Daniels meets Lindsey Stirling, with leaf loam in every loop.

In keeping with that same tree-spirit timbre and having never seen them play live before, I found out that it is an interconnected and visionary endeavor when The Arcadian Wild engulfs you in their phonic fabula. Theirs is folk music at a different shutter speed altogether and one so strikingly unorthodox as to feel more like multi-messenger astronomy than traditional translation. Though they closed the Bonfire party in practice this day, their songs are bright telegrams from a historical concert diary only they have the key for, and one that continues to pour buckets of gasoline on all that already burns brightest in Bonfire’s ragingly different roster.


8:00 p.m. | The 5 Spot

After a wallet-pulverizing and utterly unplanned pitstop at the plunge pool of pixie pet objects that is Starland Emporium which resulted in MC Hammer earrings, a vintage McDonald’s dry-erase board, and a clutch of NKOTB-inspired insanity (all of which I will be invoicing Bonfire’s head bad influence Ryan Slone for as it was his great taste in the Thai next door and good manners in inviting me to join him that caused me to pitch headlong down that causeway of buyable nostalgia in the first place), I found myself making Mach 1 time to meet Minor Gold at The 5 Spot. We had allocated fifteen minutes of almost-fame to exploring the syncretic approach they are taking to bringing stripped-back folk music forward and backward at the same time. My immediate and lasting impression was and remains that Tracy McNeil and Dan Parsons, each with their formidable individual songwriting backgrounds, seem to have realized in separate tandem that there has not been a band within bowshot of the sleepy paeans of Ian & Sylvia in many buck moons and decided to do something about that dire dearth together. Thank goodness for the major-ness of Minor Gold in that and a ream of other respectable respects.


Minor Gold

A Microburst Moment with Minor Gold

QRO: You beauties have both pounded the jewel-encrusted pavements of the rock-n-roll dream independently for long years and to luminous effect way before you founded Minor Gold together. Is there a different destination in mind for this project as opposed to where you have taken all of the incredible work you have done prior?

Tracy McNeil: At first, this was a natural offspring diversion from solo work. It was where the muse and creativity flowed. We are partners in life as well and had never had the opportunity to write together. With the scope of it being just the two of us rather than a trio or a five-piece like what we are used to, the mobility of it is astonishing to us, the efficiency and lack of strings. We have no children, nothing tying us down to anyone else, so we literally just get in a car and go. We have covered more ground in a year than either of us has accomplished in our solo careers in ten years.

Dan Parsons: I think we also both just really wanted a change. I had been doing the same thing for a long time and certainly enjoying any successes I was lucky to have along the way, but having been an only child who became a solo artist, there was a need for a sense of fraternity. Having a musical and life partner was really attractive to me, to be able to collaborate and share the wins and losses. In a year’s time, I would like for us to be touring over here more often than we are in Australia, playing rooms that hold maybe 100-200 people.

TM: It’s a modest dream we have. I don’t know if I see our faces on the side of a bus…

QRO: Oh, I do! [laughs]

TM: Okay, a very small bus…[laughs] We just want to be able to travel around with our music, constantly creating new songs and having an audience there ready to receive them. If we can live off that and feed ourselves, and ideally save some bucks as well, not just starving on the side of the road, then we’ve won.

DP: We would miss those parts that other people might call hardships though if they stopped. It’s kind of nice to meet people as you go and find yourself in situations where you just think, “How did I get here? What is this?” But that’s what makes a great memory.

TM: I think we feel weird when we stop too because we are starting to feel that momentum now and we both don’t want to go home. We are looking forward to touring Australia, of course, but we are loving it over here and just that feeling of moving forward.

DP: It’s been a long journey to get here, to get to the States. It’s been a place I have wanted to be able to go and play in for the longest time. When we tell people what we have been doing, they think that three months is such a long time, but it’s really nothing when you are on the road and we feel like we could stay so much longer, happily. We have to get better about being on the road too and that’s a learning curve, but a worthy one I think.

QRO: As a road queen myself, I firmly believe that anything you can do to keep the horizon in your windshield is always the right move. People can say whatever makes them feel better about staying home, but the truth is that the biggest learning and the widest possibilities are out there. I will also say that I think what is so clean and undiluted about your dream shows up in the songs themselves, which are equally uncontaminated by the unnecessary. You are pouring out doubles of the same kind of honest stories that Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell first made us drunk on.

DP: It’s interesting because we actually made the album once before and it just was not to our liking so we pulled it. That was expensive, but we had a very clear idea of how we wanted this to be, and it was always supposed to be centered around two guitars and two voices. Whatever it needs beyond that, we only wanted to add simple but thoughtful brush strokes. We always have a vision, and Tracy and I are a good team so often our vision is pretty specific. In this instance, as simple as it was, it was really important to keep a lot of things off it. We recorded in Brisbane at a studio called Out With The In with the help of a wonderful producer called Hugh Middleton, who is also a dear friend of ours, who was very accommodating to our neuroses {laugher}. For whatever reason before, we have always been wary of taking instruments out, so to us the allure of doing less is kind of more badass. You’ve got the beck and call of the radio format pulling at you, but we wanted to be a folk duo and so for us, it was about reining it in.

TM: We write in a way that has a pretty pop format anyway, the songs are structured in a way that is radio-friendly to a degree already so it’s tempting to throw a bunch of stuff on it and make it really sing. For us, it’s just about trusting that the song is going to be enough. It’s been so good for us that we are already talking about stripping the next record back even further. We also waited a long time to play these songs live. We played them for the first time at Folk Alliance here and then we came back and debuted as Minor Gold in Australia at Port Fairy Folk Festival. That’s another aspect of it that has been so refreshing from an ego perspective, the fact that this band does not have our personal names attached to it. It’s our mother’s maiden names, Minor and Gold, put together.

QRO: That is so unearthly cool and Romantic that it takes my breath all the way away! I was going to ask you about the name and had all these literary and allegorical ideas about what it could be and this is so much more magical than any of my guesses. It says something very special about the depth of your union as artists and partners as well.

DP: It was the secret question when we were registering our songs, like “What’s your mother’s maiden name?” type of thing and we realized how beautiful it looked together.

QRO: And how symbolic then that it became the secret answer to your next artistic staircase that you are now climbing together. Unimaginably lovely! As has been this time with you two. Thank you so much for working me into your whirlwind Americana. I can’t wait to hear you play, here and in the future!

DP: We can’t thank you enough for your interest. Talking with you has been a joy.

TM: Yes, this has been truly uplifting and wonderful. We hope to see you again soon!


Jessi Colter10:00 p.m. | 3rd & Lindsley

The captain of all coven parties at this year’s AMERICANAFEST occurred at 3rd & Lindsley, where the walls may well be plastered with the poster-sized painted faces of the most mammoth men in modern music, but both the floor and the stage belonged to a syndicate of untethered feminine forces that still constitutes criminality in a great many antebellum and antinomian places. The occasion for this high court of viragos and harridans was the much-bit-chomped return of Jessi Colter, origin of the species for outlaw dames and widow of Waylon Jennings, whose warm-eyed portrait presided over this intensely intimate affair to a degree that made it feel more than one time as if he was physically in the room with his family and his public, both of which having demonstrably never let his memory fade a farthing.

Margo PriceScenemaker supreme and queenmaker of the witchling rodeo, Margo Price, Galadriel-esque this night in her angel-white, floor-length, fringed gown and flaxen waves, has produced Colter’s new album, Edge of Forever, and helped immensely over the past year in coaxing Colter back out to the fullness of her career. Whenever a younger artist who intentionally straddles what others think are state lines makes a point to hunt down one of his or her heroes in that way that only the magnetism of real artistic reverence at maximum density can dictate, serious transference of the most productive-for-both-parties kind is in store. As unassailably sweet salutes to The Source go, Margo Price making sure the mononuclear world of today’s historically ear-blind listening generation not only knows who Jessi Colter is but can hear her in real time sits right up there beside Jack White dedicating the first White Stripes album in a spare but sorcerous sentence to Loretta Lynn. For White, that undressed deed of pure loyalty sang Loretta straight to him and led to his producing her highly lauded Van Lear Rose just a little skinny while later, much like Price’s own jubilant worship of Colter conjured her own chance to breathe fresh furor into her heroine’s recorded repertoire.

Gormless observers who are inherently lazy with words and live as unabashed ultracrepidarians on every subject they know the least about called Loretta’s album a “comeback record,” which is important here for being both unintentionally insulting as hell and likewise a laugh fit for sauced hyenas – because when someone is as driven into the snow of the cultural economy as Loretta Lynn or Jessi Colter are, have always been, and will always be, there is no such thing as going away, even when you disappear from immediate sight. Legends can’t make “comeback” albums as a verified legend’s very title means that they cannot go anyplace that they do not already own outright, and that includes ducking behind the rewarding cloak of invisibility. Like Van Lear Rose, Jessi Colter’s Edge of Forever is a “come on over here and remember what I am because it’s only you that has forgotten” record.

Inherent authenticity mixed with road-won wisdom like Colter’s is one of those permanent hidden-in-plain-sight signifiers akin to the green carnations of Oscar Wilde. The red roses on Colter’s cowboy boots, concha belt, and silver jewelry are not the wearable abecedary of Nashvillian plumage that anyone could purchase in the shops on the strip. They represent the prettified warpaint of the Western women of old, and the proximity to all of this for Price, as modern a Western woman as could be found in a year’s walk, has produced the kind of ambition-building awe that always results in a leveling-up for all ladies involved. Witnessing mergings of mentor and mentee like this in music where the relevance and aptitude are matched and mirrored by the younger to the elder–especially where it was the music itself that caused the two to meet–stands among the most sacred exchanges that can be had between any two people in this terrestrial temescal we call life.

Shooter Jennings

Supplementing all of this splendor was the disarming dance of watching Shooter Jennings, in so many ways the spitting spiritual image of his departed father, running back and forth onto the stage at Jessi’s command, smiley as ever and visibly proud to be helping his mother remake her musical mark, as well as demonstrate that she has always been Waylon’s true moral heir. Lillie Mae was on hand to play rhythm guitar and violin for Colter as part of the all-star band of Nashville’s brightest session-playing sapphires who all looked keen as buttercream to be on stage with her, and the dynastic element of the evening was fortified by the backup vocals of Jenni Eddy Jennings, daughter of Jessi Colter and Duane Eddy, and stepdaughter of Waylon.

Listening to Colter perform softspoken songs off this latest Price-produced record as well as that most mouth-agape agape-love other woman ode known to all us othered women as “I’m Not Lisa,” it was difficult to keep the mind on the music of the moment and not float fully into the intricate lacework of this woman’s personal history. As breathing part and parcel to the hearts of two of the most enigmatic and untouchably disruptive male entities to have ever put the jailbreak to global musical traditions, this is the lady who watched the lay of that land be laid, and from the closest seat in the house both times. This is the same woman who walked with all of the original writers of the outlaw credo to the door of commercial suicide, helped them set not just the threshold but the house itself that held all previous understandings for tune-tonsure status aflame, and then walked away from all of it without so much as a middle finger when the love of her life left this world. However, to qualify or quantify Jessi Colter even momentarily by the men she married would make a mockery of what she meant and continues to mean, then, now, and in any future that will still be smart enough to elevate the pavement-pouring past to its proper place.




If at any point it is within one’s power to give even the smallest useful or thoughtful thing to a military veteran, I am of the unshakable opinion that a person should always do that thing at any cost, whatever it may be, and do it swiftly, automatically, and with a full heart. It is not only because I am the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and the granddaughter of two WWII veterans that I state unequivocally: we all owe veterans not one ounce less than everything, most especially every atom of demonstrable respect available to our human bodies. It is also because I have known too many people and places with no understanding of what compassionate duty and loyalty mean, and nothing remotely good or pure is ever happening within those people or places.

Easy Eye Sound

The second annual Luck Reunion hosted by Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound acts accordingly, and this is one reason among several that it has now become one of the excitement-inducing events of the Americana season. Held for the past two years at Post 82 of the American Legion’s Inglewood branch, and with all proceeds going to veteran-related supports, both the party and the place are totally devoid of the crinkum-crankum commonly associated with more traditional music gatherings. In place of that emanates a late-sixties backyard barbecue energy that is wholly unique within the AMERICANAFEST program, and a credit to Dan Auerbach’s understanding of the debt he owes his own father, Chuck Auerbach, as well as his late veteran grandfather, who happens to be the subject of Chuck’s Father’s-Day-2020-released, JJ-Cale-curved solo album, making it quite plain that the best “reunions” are most lucky for being able to celebrate unbroken lineages and strong things that never went away.


2:00-4:00 p.m. | American Legion Inglewood Post 82

Dan Auerbach & Hermanos Gutiérrez

The couloir of the legitimately cool is seldom straight or smooth, and I maintain this always comes out in the soundscapes. It certainly did with Hermanos Gutiérrez, who played like those incendiary devices that are activated by a steep incline. Through the cactus gash of cultural memory created by their curling Ecuadorian-inflected sounds seeped a sepulchral old-souledness that sidestepped all stylistic mimicry, even as it openly paid tribute to ancient Latin musical forms that every audience member in that string-lit stronghold was fortunate to bear witness to. Joined for a few songs by their label owner and mentor Dan Auerbach, Alejandro Gutiérrez (guitar and lap steel) and Estevan Gutiérrez (guitar and percussion) exchanged interpretive licks like only close blood relations can, speaking silently to one another and the listener through note-expressed body language coordinates they alone could map, but that felt drawn from a well of musical genealogy too weathered by the centuries for anyone presently living to actively remember.

It was philosophically fitting to follow such a world-widening hypervolt of history with Robert Finley, who plays the kind of limber, epigrammatic blues that comes with vigorously spooky healing properties. The needed top layer of camp on this curative cake came in the shape of Shannon and the Clams, a band John Waters might have dreamt up, with leading lady Shannon Shaw’s every syllable and seam trailing Traci Lords’ infamous “Beat it, Creep” Cry Baby ethos, and twice as unapologetically.

Perhaps the biggest bit of good fortune at the Luck Reunion for this particular Galway gamine arrived under the green banner of home: the super-swell surprise of bumping into Mick Flannery, a fellow Irish stonemason who drapes the killer instincts of his natural gift for songwriting in a poetic turbulence all his own, and an artist several PR teams had been trying to get me into an interview room with for weeks. We did not talk of his new album much, but we did have a large Irish laugh or twenty at many of the shared salted wounds associated with sliding face-first down the rock-n-roll superhighway like he and I have both been doing for years now. The big non-news is that the general Rumble Fish of Mick Flannery in real life is every bit as impressive as his supraventricular song catalog suggests.


8:00 p.m. | Exit/In

Jobi Riccio

The codeine glow of Exit/In, with its swirling, graphite-colored mosaic mural of monumental music faces outside the entrance, is frowsty in the fun way and thus a natural fit for Jobi Riccio, winner of the 2023 John Prine Songwriter Fellowship from Newport Folk and here to present Whiplash, her latest release on Yep Rock Records. Riccio’s are songs with what some in the South still call “Winn-Dixie feet,” which means they harbor a dirty-soled straightforwardness that is both lyrical and bare while simultaneously driving one back to the cleanest-footed days of carefree youth that, encountered at any stage past adolescence, make one feel like a well-traveled zeppelin in a pleasing state of decay.


Sean Della Croce9:00 p.m. | Jane’s Hideaway

A bit of moonlit mayhem at Jane’s Hideaway is always in order on any proper visit to Nashvegas, but especially when a crash course on grace through humor with the chargé d’affaires called Sean Della Croce is on the daily specials chalkboard. With all the charismatic cavalry and carriage-mounted creative cannon of an exemplary cineaste, she creates tightly-coiled songs that strike quietly, like an indolent cobra, and in so doing she also unfailingly writes a world wherein nothing is unsayable, thereby liberating both herself and the listener. The New York Times once described Pier Paolo Pasolini as “an artist and thinker who tried not to resolve his contradictions but rather to fully embody them,” and an equally affirmative accolade ought to be draped over Della Croce for the promise of simplexity she has been keeping to herself, her enamored fans, and the music itself since first she began to strum and sing.




Listening to Christopher Mansfield, better known to the art world as Fences, read from his newly released poetry book entitled Horses in Montana should be assigned as wellbeing homework for anyone struggling over how the light shifts in September or other similarly salient things. There is a decelerated impatience to his writing that is next-door to the exquisitely flippant low-grade dickery of Michael Cera in Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus, but without the emotional immaturity and with a lot more sizzling anaphora. Mab knows I love any man who goes out of his way to re-instruct folks about the unbreakable linkage between music and elevated verse. Playing an ambient acoustic set in conjunction with the release of his most cohesive studio album yet, entitled Bright Soil, the forceful interiority of hearing Mansfield by himself reminds the room that he has always been a hardy industrialist with Highsmithian (as in Patricia) principles when it comes to building tension in a song.


12:00-2:00 p.m.| The 5 Spot


Artists connected to aural ancestry in the way of those showcasing at the Ishkōdé Records 8th Fire Sessions have the heaven-given privilege to present history’s renewed sonic face like virgin wilderness and viaducts, as something that has always been there and never been fully explored in their specific way, and as the natural advancement of a kind of shared architecture that is fundamentally designed to serve all, both inside and outside of any demarcating wall.

Crystal Shawanda

Amanda Rheaume, founder of Ishkōdé and Juno-nominated self-managed touring artist in her own right, is one of the few people on Earth whose professional bio brings her to life in two sharply insightful words: “transformational organizer.” That’s not just what she absolutely is, but what this label stands for in its pedagogy of salvation, the whole wheel turning on unglazed efforts to bring forward the particolored voices of Indigenous artists in profound and productive ways. Featuring spiritually potent performances by Ishkōdé artists, Aysanabee, Crystal Shawanda, and The North Sound among others, the privilege to attend this showcase every year feels each time like stumbling upon a spruce-studded bioreserve that, were it more widely known of, would be greedily squabbled over by empires.


Tanner Usrey3:00 p.m. | Tennessee Brew Works

People don’t usually dream of the distillery when it is a retreat for clear-eyed philosophical ponderances they are seeking and the words ‘brainiac’ and ‘bottle works’ are not frequent conversational bedfellows, but Tennessee Brew Works made free to sneer in the face of all of that short-sightedness, serving as nothing short of a working-class phrontistery when Tanner Usrey took up temporary stage residence. All too commonly, the Billy Gibbons beard and the broad-backed blue-collar bounty of inimitable highwaymen like Chris Stapleton will get visually borrowed and become the slacker gimmick of the impressionable.

Usrey is the opposite of these nothing-to-say nod-alongs; his very bearing screams the best of truth-telling Texas when it is honest with itself as a first priority. Usrey’s songs do not allow any eye to turn away from the trouble in romanticizing tapdancing across the taproom every Friday night because a work week needs to be forgotten, nor do they allow for editing the emotional expenses buried under the formal courtesies and fraternal feuds that make up young manhood, in any part of America or the rest of the world.


5:00 p.m. | Honeytree Meadery

Honeytree Meadery

Honeytree Meadery is tucked away and Tolkienic, a medieval-feeling apiary-attached establishment wherein the staff will bring sculptural wooden trees of mead to your table. The libation itself is artfully tilted in annular glass carafes hung in honeycombed hollows of the wood that make the whole presentation look like a Christmas tree stolen from the hall of The Green Knight and alight with drinkable decorations.

Van PlatingDespite the fact that some of us ultra-lightweight urchins only ordered a glut-worthy tea called “Iron Goddess of Mercy” – not just because it is rightly rumored amongst our many detractors that we fey have black tea for blood, but also because any feral woman is proud to have all the iron and the goddess you can shake a stick at but never misses a dram of her missing mercy – a more fitting venue for Van Plating and the debut performances of her shimmery new album Orange Blossom Child could certainly not be devised anyplace outside Middle Earth. Van Plating is Florida’s answer to Jenny Lewis. She’s all legs and longing, esemplastic in her self-production and extramundane even when singing of the simplest subjects. Classifying her own sound as “orange blossom country,” her sabulous voice anatomizes wave packets of regret, nostalgia, and human folly into precocious, aphoristic aural ear-sweets that caught the light at this vespertine show in the same tawny, xanthous, and amber tones thrown off by the mead itself in the setting sunshine.


6:00 p.m. | Jaan’s House

Montana never wastes a minute making itself known as the state-shaped magna carta for true self-reliance, and Madeline Hawthorne at Jaan’s House was just one more mountain-made stepping stone in a very long line of fence-burning frondeurs that includes both Evel Knievel and David Lynch. Like a femme John Denver, she exudes wilderness in both voice and figure. Hear her sing “Joker” all by her lonesome and you soon realize that these are sounds full of Angostura bitters that go down like creme fraiche.


7:00 p.m. | The Glitter Bomb

The Glitter Bomb

Aaron Lee TasjanThe ague of the truly accomplished is often that the garlanded streets of success make for pillowy habits, and the immediate costs of those are anything but soft, most frequently indicating the known antitheses to any further great shakes. Aaron Lee Tasjan, regarded by most and sundry as a multitalented mahout of moonward melodies, appears to have suffered no such slouch-danger if his record release party for his newest and decidedly most pop-bent album to date (arriving in 2024), at The Glitter Bomb is to be the go-to gauge for what he has made of his time since first making his name in Nashville all those slow suns ago. No part of the album, the bash, or the backdrop could have been more repeat-worthy.


8:00 p.m. | The Blue Room

The Blue Room

Chandra and Leigh Watson, known stage-side as The Watson Twins, dazzled in matching Beetlejuice-striped suits and with who at their side handling guitar duties but the recently familiar face and fleet fingers of Aaron Lee Tasjan, who appears to be every drop as in-demand as Juno the Caseworker. Needing no Handbook for the Persistently Divine (as they’ve long ago penned that pamphlet themselves) this deathly cool duo does so much more than merely orbit each another’s eccentricities throughout their orotund oeuvre. The Watson Twins are symmetrically different creatures from the same cruet set, providing each other ear-emoluments and delimiting one another by virtue of collusively eddying over and under whatever the other might be best or worst at. The result is a spiraling sonic sidewalk ballet only siblings could choreograph and no one else could replicate. From the goodbyes we must all say to nearly all of our favorite firsts as captured in “Never Be Another You” to the rallying cry of resistance undergirding their resounding newest call to action called “Holler,” they pushed the Roche limit on jangly, meditative alt-folk and even mood-managed a rendition of Robert Smith to such perfection that The Blue Room temporarily took the shape and color of the white cliffs of Dover under their naked coverage of  “Just Like Heaven” off their 2008 album entitled Fire Songs.

Readers who have never attended AMERICANAFEST might not fully realize that very little is quickly walkable or connected in a swiftly geographical way with this festival despite nearly every business and backyard of Nashville participating, and thus it is necessary to drive, ride, skateboard, hitchhike, roof hop, and zipline to get to all the places around the city one needs to be even to navigate the most nebulous of event schedules here. Surely Mr. Tasjan must have pulled a Marty McFly maneuver to get across town from his own Glitter Bomb get-together to this gig with the WT dames that fast. Respect is in order for the teleportation and the Telecastering skills.

The Watson TwinsFor those who have not yet had the good fortune to go, The Blue Room is the baronetcy of all that is to be cherished about its owner and builder, Jack White III. An arcane raygun from a firmer guitarward firmament entirely, he won the unspoken headcutting contest of Nashville long before he moved there, and then quickly set about the heroic intervention of making that win possible and more accessible for everyband else that wanted to try for it or any other benchmarks of quality. White’s estimable emmetropia with regard to all things musical integrity has allowed the worthy wrenchwomen of rock like The Watson Twins to go full post-spinach Popeye in a performance and recording space designed and dedicated explicitly to that highest endeavor of enshrining the optimal gravity of any band while at the same time proving where wild routines can best let the whiskers of their sound gardens grow a bit.


10:30 p.m. | 3rd & Lindsley

Fantastic Cat

Full-day exhaustion notwithstanding, few could follow The Watson Twins in a superlab space like The Blue Room, but Fantastic Cat is the band for any and all days and ways in which one might feel lacquered and knackered, and their feline forte in the arena of audio agility is such that you get the sense even a stage is surplus to their needs when it comes to a full-band ballyhoo. Yours Glitterfully appreciates nothing so much about a musician as a lack of self-seriousness combined with a wheelwright’s emphasis on craft, and Fantastic Cat is guilty of both of these recherché requirements to a singular degree. The warp and woof of these kismet-kissed kitties is one word – wonderment – and this is music uniformly applicable to Ferris-wheel days wherein you are in your finest fettle or those fallow fields of forlornness where you feel like fragmented frass.




Melinda KirwinEven herds of Perthian impalas, whether they be borderline tame or Wave House wild, could never keep this card-carrying Australantan from the annual “Aussie BBQ,” hosted by Sounds Australia, and this year’s back patio Rock-Roo-a-thon at The 5 Spot was five-thousand fathoms deep with both fledgling and familiar Oz artists to adore. No one should ever knowingly miss a second to snook a snug from the likes of Melinda Kirwin of Falls or listen to the most wind-whipped thickets of variegated accents effortlessly defy all ocka-ness by creating a communal dialect out of the whole day. Saturday is made for Sydney things and Brisbane kings, quite obviously, and mash in a Melbourne wing or two for good measure if you care to tell Dobies from dreams.


2:00-5:00 p.m. | The 5 Spot

Alex Pappademus once wrote in an Esquire essay that certain garments could make a guy “look like the man cocaine makes him think he is,” and while I will always be a little soulsick and a lot seafoam green with envy that it was Alex and not me who summoned such a rail-worthy snort of goblincore genius out of the invisible ink air, if his triumphant truism as stated is indeed the case, then the outback noir of Nigel Wearne should be on cocaine’s business card. He is the man cocaine makes other men think they are, and it is immediately clear that it isn’t at all the lithospheric livery that made him so. Wearne’s artistic attitude holds the same church as the St. Kilda’s of Nick Cave’s best Birthday Party beady-eyeness, and the gold-rich trommel of wide-eyed word gaze perfected by Tom Waits elides across him the way a groggy gato glissades along the wall of a house, presumably to wake the structure up to stretch its back skyward too. There is also more than a micromort of Moulin Rouge in the man, if the notorious “Red Mill” had happened in the proportionately renowned “red dirt” of aboriginal lands. His business card is as direct and multidimensional as himself: musician, luthier, truth-seeker. During our Sunday coffee the day after, he will add ‘teacher’ to this already impressive list of inclinations, and showcase a range of interests that only lend further gravitational grip to a musical style that already felt very like watching a wildish and deliberately disjointed 8MM film shot by a raven.

On the other side of the daylight and without even performing at this event, Adelaide’s Adonis-in-situ Wesley Dean, flanked by star-goddess squeeze Charlotte, stole a good deal of the subterranean show beneath the stairs just by showing up, and absconded with every Sunshine Coast-sized strand of my heart all over again, for what must be the eleven-zillionth time. If you have not yet enjoyed exposure to their ongoing tune-tinker’s travelogue known as Crazy Hearts, reward yourself that complete reworking of what you think albums can accomplish five minutes ago or right now at the very latest, but be forewarned that this project comes from a place so pure-as-a-theorem as to flay your mind. More like merged-soul mystagogues than married muso-soul mirrors since moving across the world to Nashville together at the tallest peak of the pandemic, they have hoofed a harness-free bridle path beaten by no feet before their own, and one that semi-wild horses could only aspire toward. Crazy Hearts Across America is just the first crossroads on a horizonless highway hidemarked every hundred feet by another blazing intersection of innovation and daring on the level of Mr. Johnson and the Devil back in that deal-making day. Even a sideline observation of what Dean is developing with this template-less dream of his will make you feel a bit like being looked at by a person you really love in a way that you have not yet earned.


8:00 p.m. | 3rd & Lindsley

Three Times a Lady

Like the Commodores song of their name-origin, Three Times a Lady, a trio of twinsome warblers consisting of Lauren Mascitti, Kennedy Scott, and Hannah Blaylock, are like The Mandrell Sisters of yore, but with an immeasurable store of vocal climb that they seemed to keep in a bottomless butter cloche, lifting the lid only so much as they wanted you to hear in. Having adventitiously stumbled upon these newfound nereids, there was nothing for it but open-mouthed awe as Three Times a Lady built out hydra-headed harmonies too high and clear to be believed, and did so across a handful of nectarean, hymn-like songs that put one in mind of the distinct vocal clans that marine biologists have noted existing across pods of Sperm whales, proof positive that Mother Nature insists that some voices just go together and will know one another from any depth or distance.

Having such a sonorous slew of sapid sounds precede the sultry scratch and sway of Elles Bailey felt slightly seditious. Bristol’s best black-beglittered blues boast burned down all pre-existing expectations for gazebos of garden-variety vocal gentleness. Hearing Bailey live is like sinking languidly into a red leather banquette in a forgotten New York underworld cafe of the 1920s where the smoke of decades is baked into the walls. She is both sugar cane and St. Kitts rum in performance, and her felicitously jagged voice arrives in a staggered way to the ears, as if it were the auditory version of jimping on the handle of a knife – something to increase your hold on its powerful purpose. If you are not able to catch her captivatingly carbonized chorales in the sound-to-skin setting this year, do promise yourself some of her brazenly basement-minded belfry-beltings on Planet Rock Radio, where she has wisely been given her own regular, unmissable slot. Artists as born-in rather than sworn-in as Elles Bailey are a delicacy as difficult to dig out as Bordeaux-sourced truffles in the chaos-menu sound kitchens of today, soul or otherwise.


Sarah Jarosz9:00 p.m. | The Basement East

Fame is always the least of all lagging indicators when it comes to evaluating musicianship and often never catches up with the greatest of players in any genre until long after they have departed our Earthly company. Notoriety is often, unbeknownst to itself, deeply regional and deriving more from the sentiments of a locality than the innate difference of the individual who has been saddled with wearing that locality in song. When and where true international celebrity and skillful exceptionality intersect, a great deal of spellworking occurs, as it did when Sarah Jarosz took the stage at The Basement East before an excellence-expecting crowd of fastidious folkies and white-glove writers who appeared to teem within a frantic squash game of subdued one-upmanship. Jarosz’s abilities are colossal, even by the already-elevated standards of the standard bluegrass and fingerstyle scenes she derives from, and that each approach music with all of the ritual and reason of a Japanese onsen bath. It would be nearly impossible to say whether her facility for compelling even the most critical of audiences as though they were a collection of compliant children has more to do with her faultless intonation on her stringed instruments or her certified inability to hit a wrong singing note. See her anyplace and every time that you have any golden opportunity to do so.

The Wilder Blue

In spite of being a longtime advocator of what Oscar Isaac has said his mother taught him about all things in life, “do what is before you with all of your might,” I did much less than envy whoever had to follow Jarosz, and was previously unaware of the brave music men who took on that Teutonic riposte, but The Wilder Blue, led by Zane Williams, the undisputed Sam Elliott of Big Sky rock, sang with voices that still had sails as their primary mode of propulsion and exemplified all the best kind of Wild West gainly clamor while they were at it. Equipped with story-based songwriting skills revolving around the everyday emotional experiences of working men in fast-fading positions, they lasso a near-lost nostalgia that would jam a wedge in Jimmy Webb himself and feel cast forward from a time when bands were mandated to rival Poco, Orleans, and Toto for sheer harmonic capability. The mumblecore rubblebucket of the current indie rock scene is tone-less testament enough as to why that standard had a patented purpose to begin with, and one of the many easy things to enjoy about The Wilder Blue is the way they have disallowed themselves anything less than the continued early-1970s expectation that great songs come from sensational singing.

Furthering that try-harder treatise with Sunday-morning ease was Maggie Rose, with her peyote-flavored neo-Porter Wagoner style and cicada choir a cappella aubades. She piloted a crystalline voice that seemed to be in love with aviation. Such are the angel-aeries of Rose’s dove-boned instrument that, when she sings a downbeat song, the quiet spreads through the room like Tranq has come through the air con.




The ordinary owls and silly ole mediocrity mummers of the world would have it that Sunday is supposed to occur at a paludal pace, to be walked through slowly and deliberately as if in ill-fitting galoshes, life at a slight remove, some sort of extended langoustine brunch of a day that comes with a less lively lunation than the other six days of the week and is meant to be comprised of a long cortege of movement-less yawns as a rule. Ghoulishly unimaginative falderal, say we rock fey in response to all of that! Sunday is everyone’s last train to any stratospheric terroir still left in the week, so make it count is my motto, and the Sunday belonging to AMERICANAFEST 2023 counted by hundreds on two hands.


2:00 p.m. | Third Man Records

Nigel Wearne even so much as entertaining the idea of meeting me at Third Man Nashville, much less actually agreeing to do it and then following through, just goes to show what a fearless sort of fellow he truly is inside and out. He had never yet been to Jack’s juke joint in Music City and this was all the excuse or encouragement (same difference!) I needed, naturally. Migrating swiftly to Crema Coffee Roasters down the road before I once again freely handed the entirety of my life savings to a Detroit garage griot, a seemingly unbreakable interior pattern of mine the ignition-key blame for which I place squarely on the leonine shoulders of Iggy Pop, we vaulted from subjects both viscose and vapid, vaticinating many hours like two old, venerated wall prophets. By the time the sunlight was shifting and we both had to vamoose to our next destinations, my time with him had made me think more than once of Breton saying in his Second Manifesto that “surrealism is a total recovery of our psychic force,” I had a skin buzz from the ‘long blacks’ (read: double-dirt espresso) that Nigel kindly ordered us as he somehow wordlessly sensed my love of caffeine to rival my unrestrained ardor for crunchy Converse boys, and we both had parking tickets awaiting us under our windshield wipers that seemed to match the matching conspiratorial gleams on our faces in all but the latter’s ability to ever be waved away.


Nigel WearneA Microburst Moment with Nigel Wearne

QRO: Nigel, you blew me away with the South Australia soil in your voice at the Aussie BBQ the other day, and you seem to have been well received across the board here at AMERICANAFEST this year. What’s next on the docket of dreams for you?

Nigel Wearne: Yeah, this has been a great week here. I’m excited about the release of The Reckoning, which is actually a double album I’ve completed, and my first three singles off that record have been nominated for Best Blues Work at the Music Victoria Awards, which has really surprised me because I’m a folk artist. I’ve been describing this album to people like it’s somewhere in the middle of a Venn diagram where the circles are blues, jazz, and country–which I guess makes it kind of rock-n-roll! [laughs]

QRO: I suppose it does! I heard a lot of 1920s and New Orleans in there on songs like “A Moment Too Soon“ too. Do you have a special name for this mutt-genre of music you’re painting into existence as you go?

NW: I made up one, actually! I call it ‘Americana-noir.’ I’ve also referred to it as ‘Americana with jazz chords,’ knowing full well that jazz is the American music, the original sound here, so the irony is pretty rich. People have asked me why I don’t call it ‘Australiana,’ but that’s been tarred with a different brush–that’s the full, broad Australian folk music, so I’m somewhere in the liminal space of all that and three hours west of Melbourne…[laughs]

QRO: That’s amazing because I instantly called you ‘outback noir’ to all my friends the same second I heard you! [laughs]

NW: Outback noir! I like that a lot. Did you come up with that?

QRO: I think so; I don’t believe I’ve heard it elsewhere and even if my conscious mind realizes later that my subconscious must have stolen it, I can always just claim deep attenuation to the collective unconscious as an artist… [laughs]

NW: That’s brilliant. I’ve been wanting to go electric for years and the lockdown finally let me. I essentially did nothing but play electric guitar for 18 months, which helped me crack the code on a few jazz chords I had always wanted to figure out, and then the songs quickly followed. I was going to get a producer but I realized I had a very clear vision of what I wanted. I got some money together and kitted myself out with a proper studio at home. I’ve hooked up with an incredible horn section and just told them I wanted something that sounded like it was going off a cliff. The record really came together as what it is now because of them. The big secret is that there will be the shadow twin of this record coming out next year, which will have all the same songs but done totally acoustically.

QRO: That is an aesthetic and marketing masterstroke, sir. A double grab bag of outrageous Nigel-noir, in two palettes. I can’t wait to listen to both, and I love the much-ness of this. The way it stands apart from the sickly “single” culture that Spotify and streaming has bred.

NW: Thank you for listening and I hope you enjoy them. When I write music, I try to plant seeds of topics that I hope everyone is thinking hard about with or without me. One of my favorite quotes of late is, “You don’t have a right to an opinion, you have a right to an informed opinion.”

QRO: That’s Harlan Ellison, right? I really love that one too and live by it to a degree that frightens those who are committed to staying comfortably uninformed. His ideas about no one being entitled to ignorance have never been more relevant.

NW: I totally agree, and so I just try to raise questions rather than answer them. That’s entirely what this album is about, trying to undo tribalistic, thoughtless thinking.” Choir of the Done Wrong” is explicitly about what happens to whole groups of society when people don’t take time to question their engrained beliefs. People get hurt and lost through that, sometimes without even knowing it fully. One of the beauties of Americana that I have observed playing here for the first time is that this genre, because it is so centered on people, draws so many real-world, layered issues into the spotlight with it, and I do think music is a safe and smart place to work through complex or difficult things. I put out a kooky folk record last year that was four or five years in the making about stories of mutiny and civil disobedience in Australian history. It’s called Above The Bit, after the horse-riding term referring to when a horse lifts its head above the bit to evade contact.

QRO: I will be purchasing that today, not least for the name! Any phrasal dressage like that is automatically going to speak to my rabid Rohan sensibilities, but it sounds like the subject matter is also the story of my being every bit as much as the equine imagery.

NW: I’m proud of that one because I just felt that there were so many diverse stories to tell that I was scared would be forgotten. There are maritime histories there, stories about women on the gold fields, and one about this formidable Tasmanian warrior-woman named Walyer, who wreaked admirable havoc.

QRO: Might as well have my name on it already, and I will say aloud that I think Aussies do raw, undecorated rebellion better than anyone. It is the national characteristic I treasure most in your pirate-perfumed people, Nigel – followed closely by the unflagging insouciance. All my favorite Roos are rife with both! [laughs]

NW: You should listen to Beasts of Bourbon if you haven’t yet, and a two-piece punk band called Digger and the Pussycats.

QRO: I’ve heard of the first but not the second, and actually heard neither. Thank you so much for helping me fix that! I think everyone knows the law of the realm clearly states all scuzzmaster supremes of Aussie garage-grunge-psychedelia are to be brought directly to me for karzy-knighting upon arrival in America. Arise, Sir Dirty Distortion, and sally forth to splinter speakers in my name! [laughs]

NW: [laughs] That’s got to be a mutual love affair; you’ve definitely got the spirit those guys are playing for!

QRO: That’s the kindest thing you could ever say to me, matched only by your generosity of self in this interview. Thank you for closing out my AMERICANAFEST 2023 with such unforgettable candor and cool, Nigel.

NW: Oh, this pleasure has been all mine and I really thank you for your time, and the further time I know it will take you to write all of this down. Thanks for caring and come visit us when you’re down in Ausland!

QRO: I’ll be the glitteriest one with the dirtiest boy down the front on The Great Ocean Road for sure; see you soon!




The Sum of All These Sparkling Parts

Armed with my conspicuously color-coded and printed (on card stock!) Excel spreadsheet featuring overlapping set times for more than 60 showcases and meetups across a span of six sleep-free days, I brought the rastrum to all the red-hot demand I could find this year in Nashville’s nookiest elbow-rub sprint of them all. However, the comical part of this is that the nuclear magic nascent throughout any experience of AMERICANAFEST forever resides in what happens within the cracks and crannies of one’s airtight dayrunner. Among the least advertised mysticisms of AMERICANAFEST’s rapturous aura is, despite anyone’s most Olympian level of OCD-dusted planning (and I’m not saying that I know anyone like that…), the most molten moments always occur when one least expects it, has scheduled nothing whatsoever for the particular split second in question, and where a Ph.D. in Decision Theory would not have instructed one to choose whatever way-going made the minor miracle manifest.

Por ejemplo, this randomized list of the following free-range frolics, from a totally-not-Type-A typeface tyrant: sitting across from and striking up a fun conversation about the nature of the female artist with Rachael Sage at a picnic table at the Luck Reunion, having the chance to up-close admire Sarah Jarosz’s immaculate taste in Doc Martens as I walked out the front door of The Basement East directly behind her (handed a loudly red “Get Happier Fuckers” official Basement East sticker from some kindly venue-local soul along the way too), being offered the last open seat at a table shared by a local folk artist named Steve Nansel and hearing about how he turns pieces of instruments into freeform Frankensteinian wonders, and enjoying the enormously generous free-for-all of freebies provided by Fort Worth’s Printed Threads at Tennessee Brew Works during Tyler Usrey’s showcase. It was a volley of custom-fit drinks, hats, bags, shirts, and everything in between. Go see those folks if you need something screen-printed to vintage sublimity, for certain. Fort Worth loomed lush and large in the fortissimo format too, supplying sacksful of sounds from Jacob Furr, September Moon, Jack Barksdale, Robert Ellis, and Keegan McInroe to mention just a mite of the mighty from the predictably prescient “Unexpected City.”

Sometimes the tooth gleam of the snake oil salesmen of music is so audible as to be deafening in Nashville. Those of us still interested in wearing the pure-hearted boots of Frank Black versus the black-hearted frankness of money motive have to overstep the poncey puddles from time to time – but never on AMERICANAFEST week. It is as if the spirit of the event itself bans entry to those who would only be there to make a heartless enterprise out of the harmonics inside someone else’s home sounds. AMERICANAFEST brims with tactility and embrace, every commonplace divider that may in other weeks exist between those musicians who have leaped onto the largest stages and those still walking up the steps toward the smallest are decidedly dissolved. The names carrying the most electrifying industrial voltage are admired simply as the approachable luxury tradesmen of an artisan pride that all who are present share evenly in. Music is still very much an avocation dressed in buttery boyfriend jeans at AMERICANAFEST, and this is that one tuneful tangle of the year where finding the needed people who can implicitly understand then surefootedly turbo-boost one’s decibel dreams goes from being a tip-of-the-sword mission in a border country to a tipsy day party held in the back garden of just such a gaggle of perfect suitors. Benign, business-minded boutonnières to match the hopeful prom dresses of every kind of band balanced in breast pockets before it even begins, AMERICANAFEST enforces only one unbreakable rule: all broad-brim generalizations be damned.

-words & photos: Dana Miller

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