Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Everywhere All At Once: A WMOT Hit List For AmericanaFest 2023

Collage by Chloe Kimes
Top to bottom, left to right: Jobi Riccio, Logan Ledger, Bahamas, Amy Rigby, Autumn Nicholas, Cruz Contreras, Gabe Lee, and Jenny Owen Youngs

AmericanaFest is a controlled explosion, a circus maximus, an idea so crazy that it just might work. The Americana Music Association has been pulling this thing off for 23 years, so it’s got staying power. It’s grown from a handful of shows at a few bars to a sprawl of 220 artists playing at 40+ venues from the far West End to far East Nashville, so it has drawing power too. And it’s back, between Tuesday, Sept. 19 and Saturday, Sept. 23. We’re as ready as we can be (including three afternoons of loaded Day Stage performances). How about you?

With so many choices, perhaps you’re looking for some focus or some suggestions, and as hard as that is, I’ve been surveying and listening and come up with a list of artists that are worthy of your attention. I hasten to say this list is as personal and subjective as it is well-meaning. There are artists I don’t yet know. There are amazing tried and true veterans returning, including Jim Lauderdale, Chuck Mead and Mary Gauthier. We expect you already have feelings for them. Here though, I’ve tried to spot artists on the make and making news - artists (in alphabetical order) who in my humble opinion deserve a spotlight. There’s no wrong way to do this thing. Have fun.

Old-time music is enjoying another youthful renaissance, thanks in part to Allison DeGroot(banjo) andTatiana Hargreaves(fiddle). They interpret curious traditional numbers and write songs that bring a mythic insight on the troubled modern world, evidenced by their second album as a duo, Hurricane Clarice. Its apocalyptic overtones fuse with haunted vocal harmonies that’ll remind some of the legendary Hazel & Alice. Bluebird Cafe, 9/22 at 6 pm

Many popular Americana veterans are playing showcases, but Amy Rigby makes a triumphant return for her first fest in 20 years. She helped build the 1980s cowpunk movement in New York with bands The Last Roundup and The Shams and released brilliant solo albums like Diary of a Mod Housewife. Her rapier wit and lifelong commitment to rootsy rock and roll are informing a new project for next year. Eastside Bowl, 9/21 at 9:30 pm

Of the many fascinating and talented artists who’ve come through the Black Opry, Autumn Nicholas stands out with a dramatic gaze and a powerful voice. The songwriter grew up in North Carolina and negotiated a variety of journeys, including coming to terms with non-binary gender identity amid a dramatic time for American civil rights. Autumn’s not released an album in this chapter of her growth, but the prospect is exciting. The Basement, 9/22 at 8 pm

Bahamas is the aka of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Afie Jurvanen, a Finnish-Canadian who grew up in Toronto and who’s been collecting Juno Awards at quite a clip. Groovy, witty, stylish and collaborative, Jurvanen brings something quirky but grounded to every track. He’s just released his sixth album, Bootcut. Brooklyn Bowl, 9/21 at 10 pm

WMOT recently hosted St. Louis roots rocker Beth Bombara at Finally Friday, and ever since then we’ve seen critics pile on with love for her fourth album It All Goes Up. Utterly unpretentious and sincere, Beth’s been a regional mainstay for years, but bright horizons are opening up. The 5 Spot, 9/23 at 8 pm

Brit Taylor

This year’s AmericanFest state focus is on Kentucky, and Brit Taylor is one of its standout emerging artists. She’s a classic country songwriter and singer with a soft spot for bluegrass and a defiantly contemporary point of view. In February, she delivered a firecracker of a second album produced by Sturgill Simpson and Dave Ferguson. The Vinyl Lounge, 9/22 at 9 pm

I’m going to predict that Weed, Wine & Time by Caleb Elliott is going to be my favorite album of 2023 by an artist I’d previously not heard of. He migrated from Lafayette, LA to Muscle Shoals and recorded WWT for Single Lock Records. But he’s more than a southern soul man. This is a sharp composing, arranging mind at work. No two tracks sound alike, but they hold together beautifully. Exit/In, 9/23 at 10 pm

Cat Clyde, a recent guest on The String, brings atmosphere and edge on her superb 2023 album Down Rounder, but there’s a strong folkie core to this songwriter from Ontario. She fell hard for Leadbelly and punk rock as a kid and filled the pandemic blockade of her touring with an album of old-time country and blues songs. Working with elite producer Tony Berg unlocked her full potential on the new one. And what an enthralling voice! Brooklyn Bowl, 9/21 at 8 pm

Cruz Contreras emerged in Knoxville, TN with the band Robinella and the CCstringband (whom I saw open for Bob Dylan no less) and then spread his wings farther with the superb Black Lillies. Pre-pandemic he signaled that he was going solo, but only now has his refreshed roots rock been unveiled. It’s a “trippy album from beginning to end” he says, aptly called Cosmico. The Basement, 9/22 at 7 pm

Jobi Riccio has more buzz than most other emerging artists on this year’s roster. The Colorado native got noticed by a producer and vinyl maven in Asheville who helped her make her debut album Whiplash. Its character, energy and insight have earned the notice of Jason Isbell and other tastemakers. She plays WMOT’s Day Stage and a showcase. Exit/In, 9/21 at 8 pm

Lindsay Lou, part of Nashville’s Michigander contingent, has evolved from a hip bluegrass and folk singer to an eclectic visionary who lets a spiritual worldview infuse an earthy rocking sound. She’s getting set to release her new album Queen of Time on Sept. 29 via Kill Rock Stars Nashville. Riverside Revival, 9/21 at 10 pm

Logan Ledger was working at a bar and playing in cover bands when he got word that T Bone Burnett had heard his demos and loved his music, leading to a production deal for Ledger’s self-titled debut on Rounder Records. As great as it was, its timing at the dawn of the pandemic slowed Logan’s roll. But now he’s released Golden State, proving again that he has the voice and gravitas (think Roy Orbison and Glen Campbell) to lead a new wave of sophisticated country. 3rd & Lindsley, 9/22 at 8 pm

Raised in Nashville in a Taiwanese-American home, Gabe Lee was consumed with Mozart and Chopin. Only when he got deep into a classical performance degree program did he realize his outlet needed to be country songs. Over four ever-improving albums, he hews to a traditional core, leaving ample room for his voice and stories to carry the message. In the conversation about a diversifying Nashville, Lee is a bright light. Analog, 9/20 at 10 pm

A friend recommended Jenny Owen Youngs, prompting a ‘where have I been’ moment? Her varied and impressive track record in indie pop and TV/film writing gives me vibes of my heroine Sarah Harmer. Now though, working with Josh Kaufman (Bonny Light Horseman), she’s made the rootsy Avalanche, her debut with YepRoc Records. It’s super smart and moving. Her voice is graceful and worldly wise. Forever Youngs! City Winery, 9/21 at 10 pm

When Nickel Creek reunited for a tour, Chris Thile’s Punch Brothers went on hiatus, so guitarist Critter Eldridge and banjo man Noam Pikelny made themselves a supergroup called Mighty Poplar. On came Watchhouse mandolinist/singer Andrew Marlin, fiddler Alex Hargreaves, and Leftover Salmon bass player Greg Garrison. Their album of diverse bluegrass and folk songs is an easygoing masterclass in acoustic music. They’ve honed their live sound in a busy year of festivals. This will be mesmerizing. Station Inn, 9/20 at 11 pm

Michael Cleveland

Speaking of bluegrass, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper defines the top tier of hard-driving tradition on the circuit today. Michael’s an amazing story, with his lifelong blindness and other disabilities not getting in the way of his Paganini-level gifts on the fiddle. I saw the band at Scruggs Fest, where Josh Richards blew me away with his singing, while the banjo of Jasiah Shrode laid down a fearsome groove. It’s a band, not one brilliant fiddler. Analog, 9/21 at 9 pm

New West Records celebrates its 25th anniversary with a free outdoor concert featuring just a fraction of its impact on Americana music. Featured are: Rodney Crowell Trio, Buddy Miller, North Mississippi Allstars, Emily Nenni, Esther Rose, The Secret Sisters, and The Wild Feathers. Musicians Corner at Centennial Park, 9/22 from 3 to 9 pm

Since graduating from the Austin string band the Belleville Outfit, Phoebe Hunthas carved out a place in acoustic music as a fiddler, songwriter and bandleader who takes togetherness to the next level. A retreat to India, for example, led to her swirling and gorgeous albums Shanti’s Shadow and Neither One Of Us Is Wrong. Now she’s taken a new tack - a songwriter album performed alone on fiddle and voice, and it really works. She showcases as part of a songwriters’ round called Three Instruments, Three Voices with Kaia Kater and Alisa Amador. City Winery, 9/19 at 7 pm

Asheville NC’s Steep Canyon Rangers has been on a long term journey from pure bluegrass to acoustic leaning folk rock, but the band made the biggest transition of its 20-year history this year with songwriter/guitarist Aaron Burdett filling the space left when Woody Platt retired from the road. With the new personality comes the new percussion-forward studio album Morning Shift, produced by Darrell Scott. Analog, 9/21 at 7 pm

Tommy Prine saw his father John rightly elevated to the highest ranks of Nashville sainthood before his tragic passing in 2020, so launching a songwriting career now would have to be intimidating. On his very new debut This Far South, Tommy defines his own robust sound, not a troubadour on a stool but a complete musician with a vision and a writer with plenty to say for himself. Yet turns of phrase here and there assure us he’s his father’s son. City Winery, 9/21 at 7 pm

Apparently Bill Frisell told Yasmin Williams recently that he’s never seen anyone play music on the guitar like her, and neither have we. Trained on Guitar Hero, she brought a fresh, self-taught approach to an age-old instrument and a passion for pastoral instrumental music to a scene dominated by songwriters. She’s an honest innovator and a delightful performer who’s just begun to show her full potential. The Blue Room, 9/21 at 9 pm

Yasmin Williams

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org