Photo Essay: Three Days Of AmericanaFest In Madison
WMOT established its Day Stage tradition in 2017, at the end of its first full year as Roots Radio, with marathon broadcasts from under a tent in the heart of downtown Nashville. Over the years, the rosters have grown more prestigious and the fans have followed us to The Local off of West End for a couple of years and now to our second year at the Wash at East Side Bowl in Madison. While it’s only a year old, the place now feels lived in and fully ready to rock, with an orange crushed velvet curtain to truly set the stage for the immense talent.
This year, WMOT worked with legendary Nashville photographer John Partipilo to capture the scene, even as audio and video were being streamed worldwide in partnership with NPR Music and World Cafe. Partipilo, a Pulitzer Prize nominee and a 40-year veteran of documentary photography, said it was the first time he’d ever been hired to capture AmericanaFest events. “I’m a photojournalist and I try to stick to those principles and tell a story,” he said. “It’s photojournalism meets music.”
Here’s a portfolio of John’s work covering the AmericanFest Day Stage 2022, with notes.
Day One was a WMOT Wired In show for our members and friends, blending classic country, bluegrass, soul and rock and roll, just as we do on the air every day.
Melissa Carper taps the soul of old country music with her bands Sad Daddy and Buffalo Gals, and in her jazz-inflected solo work, she’s been called an Ozark Billie Holliday. On Wednesday, she locked her upright bass in with Patrick Lanier on archtop electric guitar and fiddler Kalia Yeagle for airy, swinging magic, with much of the material coming from her upcoming album Ramblin’ Soul.
Bay Area songwriter and mighty vocalist Miko Marks embodied joy in a smooth set of country soul fronting a bold and versatile five-piece band. Her 2022 single “Feel Like Going Home” made for an explosive, dance-compelling finale.
Bluegrass icon (he’s an anchor of Alison Krauss’s Union Station among other things) Dan Tyminski performed with dobro and guitar player Gavin Largent. Their rhapsodic and bluesy set included Tony Rice numbers from Dan’s recent tribute to the late legend. They wrapped with Tyminski’s signature take on “Man Of Constant Sorrow.”
B.J. Barham took the stage solo and promised “depressing music,” but it was nothing of the sort. The American Aquarium frontman does deal with darkness in his songs, including the new album title cut “Chicamacomico,” but they leave you feeling better. He’s also a magnetic force on stage, and his story about losing his mother was poignant, funny and transfixing.
Winnipeg artist and JUNO Award winner William Prince brought a mighty five-piece band to close out Day One with his graceful voice and his deeply felt and intelligent songs. He opened with the life-affirming and perhaps deceptively titled “Wasted” and closed with his lovely “The Spark,” both from his 2020 album Reliever.
Thursday at the Wash stage was a star-studded affair featuring several artists who’ve been celebrated with AMA Lifetime Achievement Awards.
Legendary Austin-based western swing band Asleep At The Wheel supported the original songs of Nashville’s Brennen Leigh, whose new album Obsessed With The West revives the songwriting spirit of Cindy Walker with gorgeous vocals. Having the full 7-piece ensemble on hand made for a mighty, joyful sound.
There are plenty of husband/wife duos out there in roots music but few have the sizzling chemistry and sonic originality of Whitehorse from Ontario, Canada. They arrived loaded with songs from the upcoming album I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying.
On any other day, Amy Ray would have been the biggest folk celebrity in the room. She rushed to the gig and practically didn’t pause between the car and stage to deliver country music from her brand new If It All Goes South album. This, just a day after receiving the Americana Free Speech Lifetime Achievement Award for the Indigo Girls’ 35-year commitment to causes bigger than themselves.
It was a thrill to welcome the great Lyle Lovett, who played in a signature dark suit with an equally refined band of Viktor Krauss (bass), Jeff White (guitar) and Luke Bulla (fiddle). The room was electrified, the songs cool and cerebrally witty, in keeping with four decades of distinctive Texas magic. He sang from his 2022 album 12th of June, including its set-closing title cut.
The always charming, sometimes heartbreaking country mainstay Sunny Sweeney introduced her imminent album Married Alone as her “second divorce album” and played its lonesome, waltzing title track. But we heard her sass and fire as well.
Young English songwriter Jade Bird became a WMOT favorite a few years ago when her song “Lottery” became a hit of 2019. Now she’s sharing songs from 2021’s fantastic album Different Kinds Of Light and working on a new one.
Friday’s music spanned geography from coast to coast and influences from the 90s to the cutting edge of socially conscious folk music.
Freedy Johnston, folk rock star of the 1990s, recently released his first album in 12 years, the jangling, country infused Back On The Road To You.
Just when we needed a reminder that we were live on the radio, along came the Rainbow Girls, a freewheeling folk trio from the Bay Area. They’re essentially an improv comedy troupe crossed with a band, and they slayed with satirical radio commercials and songs about issues and affairs of the heart, like 2022’s acidly ironic single “Compassion To The Nth Degree.”
Making his second consecutive showcase year at AmericanaFest was Oakland-based folk singer Chris Pierce. He was intense, conversant, soulful and righteous as he offered songs, enhanced with commentary, from 2021’s American Silence LP.
Will Hoge is as Nashville as the Batman Building and Arnold’s meat-and-three, but as stalwart as he is, new material always sounds fresh from the roots rocker. He pierced the veil on gentrification in “Ain’t How It Used To Be” from his August release Wings On My Shoes. And while “John Prine’s Cadillac” is the first song on the LP, it was his punchy, poignant finale on the Day Stage.
Taylor Rae’s debut album Mad Twenties came out in late 2021, but it caught a spark and slowly burned all the way into this fall as an Americana chart anchor. Her velvety voice and Sade meets Dusty Springfield country jazz vibe shone on the romantic “Fixer Upper” and the recent existential single “Just Be.”
WMOT’s Day Stage wrapped with slinging, sliding strings as Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley hit the stage with their eclectic and virtuosic take on bluegrass and blues. Often just a duo, they fleshed their songs out with upright bass and drums. Trey’s Haggard-esque Nashville ballad “Backstreets Off Broadway” was country cream, and they closed as they often do with an expansive “Friend of the Devil.”