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The Old Fashioned Guide To Rad Trad At AmericanaFest 2022

Nora Brown
Brooklyn's Nora Brown

AmericanaFest is back in Nashville, running Sept. 13-17 for its largest and longest edition since 2019, inviting us all to consider again the variety and meaning of the music that lives in the Americana house. The category and community was born in the 1990s largely to preserve and protect traditional country music and country rock, but acoustic and traditional roots have been part of the mix from the beginning, ebbing and flowing in the mix. This year’s convention is an especially good one for lovers of old-time and bluegrass, or for making new fans, with a mixture of veterans and youth that suggest that trad is rad once again.

We have renewed passion for the old school side of Americana here at WMOT because in March we launched The Old Fashioned, our first weekly showcase specifically for bluegrass, old-time and regional folk. It’s been a blast putting it together with my co-host Amy Alvey. And we’re getting ready for our first-ever AmericanaFest party, which takes place on Tuesday, Sept. 13 from 6 to 9 pm at Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge in Madison. We’re hosting four artists who are playing showcases later in the week - The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, Mike Compton (with Joe Newberry), Willi Carlisle and Jake Blount - plus Amy’s Nashville-based string band Tune Hash, a fiery quintet that will make you reassess what you think about old-time.

Here’s a guide to some of the coolest music on the string band side of the festival. Artists playing The Old Fashioned String Band Throwdown on Tuesday are indicated with an asterisk. Full information about the event is at the bottom.

Nora Brown - She’s just now turning 17, but this Brooklyn-based banjo player and singer is perhaps the most talked-about artist in old-time music. She studied first under the late “Uncle” Shlomo Pestcoe, a scene-maker and educator, and later with folk legend John Cohen. Her take on Appalachian music isn’t rollicking but rather stately and refined, achieving tone and depth on her instrument and voice that are rare for anyone. Her new album Long Time To Be Gone, recorded in a church, is intimate, warm and timeless. (Saturday, 7 pm, Koinonia / The Well)

* The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys - Formed as a house band for the Ole Smoky Moonshine distilleries and tasting rooms in Gatlinburg, TN, that residency forged a tough, fast and tight bluegrass band of the old school. The genre needed a brazenly traditional band, and this quintet, recently rounded out with fiery fiddler and singer Laura Orshaw, fit the bill. They’ve been nominated as the IBMA Entertainers of the Year for 2022, and they’re planning to bring their good friend Jim Lauderdale to the WMOT event at Dee’s. (Thursday, 11 pm, Station Inn)

Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves - Fiddle and banjo is the standard core of a Southern old-time band or duo, and these women represent the state of the art in old-time today. They bring range to their sets, with music that can pulse like a locomotive or float in time. Like Nora Brown, they share the provenance of the old tunes they play as if called to pass on a lore bigger than they are. They can stretch into the post-modern as well, and you can get a preview on the new album Hurricane Clarice. (Saturday, 7 pm, Station Inn)

Bruce Molsky - Molsky is one of the wise elders of old-time, a fiddler chiefly but a banjo man and guitarist as well who commands attention and delight. New York born, Molsky became a song hunter in the south, learning first-hand from icons like Tommy Jarrell. He’s recorded for Compass, Rouner and others, and his most recent of many band projects teams him with banjo player Allison de Groot and guitarist Stash Wyslouch. This master must be seen. (Thursday, 7 pm, Station Inn)

* Mike Compton - Compton has been Nashville’s greatest Bill Monroe-style mandolinist since the founding father’s passing if not before. The Mississippi native came to town in the 1970s and joined the Nashville Bluegrass Band even as he pursued numerous collaborative recordings. He was part of the O Brother soundtrack too. He’ll perform at Dee’s with banjo/guitar player Joe Newberry. At his showcase, he’ll presumably spotlight instrumentals from his recent album Rare And Fine: Uncommon Tunes of Bill Monroe. (Wednesday, 10 pm, Station Inn)

Tray Wellington Band - This banjo player from North Carolina is as likely to interpret classic jazz from Charlie Parker or John Coltrane as compose his own hard driving bluegrass instrumental. Wellington is a versatile Scruggs-style player of the first order who came to public attention as part of the band Cane Mill Road. He and the band won individual IBMA Momentum Awards in 2019 and momentum is what he’s got with his debut album Black Banjo. (Thursday, 7 pm, City Winery Lounge)

Sister Sadie - Launched after a one-time Station Inn performance by friends went well in 2012, Sister Sadie became a force, winning the IBMA’s coveted Entertainer of the Year award in 2020 on top of three Vocal Group of the Year prizes. The lineup has recently been refreshed, matching founding members Gina Britt (banjo) and Deanie Richardson (fiddle) with bass player Hasee Ciaccio, singer/guitarist Jaelee Roberts and mandolinist Mary Meyer. It’s not just good all-lady bluegrass; it’s hot, hard driving roots music. (Saturday, 9 pm, Station Inn)

* Jake Blount - We covered his breakthrough concept album Spider Tales when it arrived in 2020, because Jake’s a dynamic musician and an emerging scholar of African American string band music. As a banjo player, he’s won the important Clifftop competition twice and received the Steve Martin Banjo Prize. Now pursuing an “Afrofuturist” thread, he’s getting set to release The New Faith, a postmodern blues/gospel album on Smithsonian Folkways. (Thursday, 8 pm, The Basement)

* Willi Carlisle - He’s neither bluegrass nor old-time exactly, but Willi Carlisle fits into the populist folk lineage of Woody Guthrie, Charlie Poole and Utah Phillips. He’s a writer, showman, multi-instrumentalist and a songwriter to be reckoned with. Songs like “Van Life” and “Tulsa’s Last Magician” make his new Peculiar, Missouri album a special 2022 release. (Thursday, 7 pm, 3rd & Lindsley)

OTHERS TO WATCH: We’ve covered Molly Tuttle extensively here since she emerged as an award-winning bluegrass guitarist and singer from California. The Nashville-based artist has honed her sound with heavy touring this summer with her band Golden Highway. Lindsay Lou always offers a fresh twist on tradition with her band leadership and her luminous voice. Melissa Carper brings raw and pure Ozark old-time country. In a similar vein is folk singer Willie Watson, formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show. We’ve played Tammy Rogers and Thomm Jutz on The Old Fashioned because their first-ever songwriter/artist collaboration, the self-released Surely Will Be Singing is so fine.

Find the full AmericanaFest schedule here.

Old Fashioned Americanafest

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's music news producer and host of The String, a show featuring conversations on culture, media and American music. New episodes of The String air on WMOT 89.5 in Middle Tennessee on Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. Twitter and Instagram: @chavighurst.