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Amelia White Brings Wisdom And An Album Tease To Americana

Jon Karr / Lorena Lopez

When East Nashville emerged as a nationally important music scene in the early 2000s,Amelia White had a substantial role in that play. Like so many others, she’d migrated from elsewhere (Boston and Seattle) to find a nurturing community full of collaborators and enablers. She’d just released her first breakthrough album, Blue Souvenirs. Soon her song “Black Doves” was included on the seminal anthology The Other Side: Music From East Nashville on the new Red Beet Records in 2006. The scene, White included, abides these 20 years on, but it’s easy to get nostalgic about the early days.

“Oh man, I think a lot about it,” White says in Episode 259 of The String. “There would be these group shows, like Sunday, early evenings. And people would bring casseroles! I remember these old Nashville legendary musicians that had these big beards, and just a real country, neighborhood vibe. Coming from Boston, that was just bizarre. But I loved it.”

White has been an anchor of the East ever since, even as she released another seven albums and toured steadily across the country and in Europe where she’s made quite a few fans. She gets great press, including recent praise from NPR and Rolling Stone Country around her 2022 album Rocket Rearview. And yet that was all for an album she hadn’t planned on releasing. As she tells it, White felt “on a peak” during 2019. Her album Rhythm of the Rain had been well received, and she recorded a new project with Americana star Kim Richey as producer. But when the pandemic hit, White and her manager decided not to release the album, titled Love I Swore (which this listener has not yet heard). Rocket Rearview was a quicker turn record about the strange dynamics of 2020 and 21.

All that to say, Love I Swore is ready to go, and when Amelia White showcases at AmericanaFest on Saturday, she’ll be previewing some of its songs in advance of a winter release. “It's a very lush album,” says Amelia about how it feels. “Kim’s sensibilities are sublime. And it's an album that really has her vibe, and I love that. It's different than (the other) albums I've made. I really gave her the power.” She shared the track “Get To The Show” exclusively for this interview.

White grew up in Arlington, VA and then Seattle, WA, where her dad moved for a job when she was 13. An older brother’s record collection - folk rock, The Beatles, James Taylor - and a Martin guitar he brought into her life sparked the fire for making music. She says her family was a source of stress, while music “became a kind of fortress.” She made friends with a duo partner, and they won the school talent contest. College took her to Tufts and thus the songwriting culture of Boston. And there she found enough validation and mentorship to start a career, not to mention the support and belief of rising stars Mary Gauthier and Lori McKenna.

The move to Nashville felt like a natural step, and here too she found encouragement and musical partners. We talk about how the cherished drummer Paul Griffith (now a former Nashvillian) took her to school about owning herself as an artist and about how song sage Mary Gauthier coached her in the all-important matter of engaging an audience. And Amelia says those lessons helped her shed the need for (though never the love of) playing with a band in all settings.

“To claim my place, I think I had to get over the fear and just step up to the plate and learn to be a better singer and player and go out solo and just learn to tell some funny stories in between songs,” she says. “It's just that confidence to entertain an audience, however you do it. And it's hard man. It takes years.”

Years of experience are one of Amelia White’s advantages at this point. So are the fans who continue to nourish her. “It's just my gift and I don't feel right if I'm not doing it,” she says, adding that it’s definitely been a struggle. The fall of 2023 finds her well though. “I feel some momentum building up again, and I still believe.”

Amelia White plays with her band The Blue Souvenirs on Saturday at 7 pm at the 5 Spot and solo during the East Coast Social Club event on Friday at the Bowery Vault at 4 pm.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of <i>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</i>