Roots Radio News

A New Shrine For Bluegrass Shines On The Banks Of The Ohio

Oct 23, 2018

A freak autumn wind storm didn’t blow out the fire of the fans and artists who gathered Saturday along the banks of the Ohio River to cap off a three-day grand opening of the new Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Owensboro KY.

Concentration has become one of life’s most elusive and precious commodities. So Nashville songwriter Rayland Baxter went looking for it. In late 2016, he booked himself into a unique writer’s retreat in an abandoned rubber band factory near Franklin, Kentucky. A friend of his was converting it into a recording studio. Not yet open for business, it was filled with an all-consuming quiet, save for the murmur of a television that more or less randomly let in traces of the outside world.


A decade-long legislative effort and an epic industry-wide negotiation came to a historic happy ending on Thursday as President Trump signed the Music Modernization Act. The omnibus legislative package, which passed both houses of Congress unanimously, reforms copyright law to work better for all key constituents in the age of streaming music.

Nine Innings With Nora Jane Struthers: A Radio Field Trip

Oct 11, 2018
Neilson Hubbard


This is the best and worst time of year for baseball fans. The playoffs bring the highest highs or their cosmic opposite. Along the way, October produces moments of exquisite and almost unbearable tension, the game at its concentrated best. Regular season baseball is far more relaxed, with a tempo and ambience that’s perfect for catching up with a friend. That’s the idea behind this radio feature with singer and songwriter Nora Jane Struthers.



Roots artists and songwriters are grappling with the state of the nation and what it means to be American more directly than they have in many years. Austin’s Band of Heathens, searching for the best way to add their voices to the chorus, took the tack of rediscovering and re-imagining a little known classic.

At the tail end of the tumultuous summer of 1968, The Byrds, flying high as America’s coolest psychedelic folk-rock band, released Sweetheart of the Rodeo, a radical and visionary homage to classic country music.

C Havighurst

While their musical terrain overlaps, there’s a foundational difference between the recently concluded AmericanaFest in Nashville and World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, NC, and that’s the picking. Picking is what ensues when musicians, professional or amateur, friends or strangers, encounter each other, hang out and jam on tunes they share as a common language. Americana people come to Nashville as either performers or listeners. They do not pick amongst themselves. Bluegrass people pick ubiquitously in a liminal overlap of performer and audience.

The accolades were distributed widely and evenly at the 29th International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, as a range of artists won the major categories in Raleigh, NC on Thursday night. North Carolina quintet Balsam Range was named Entertainer of the Year. It was their second, having won in 2014.

The vocal group of the year, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, had won that prize eight times prior, while the Travelin’ McCourys took their first-ever Instrumental Group of the Year prize.


On a mid September evening at the luxuriously appointed Analog showroom in midtown Nashville, five women took the stage for just the second time as a band. Yet because they are stars of bluegrass, each in her own right, there was abundant curiosity about what they’d play, how they’d sound, and what might be next for them.

C Havighurst


Before last weekend’s Pilgrimage Festival was wiped out by heavy rains, for a bustling six hours on Saturday, the Americana Music Triangle Experience told its story in a variety of ways under its own tent. Joanne Cash spoke about growing up with her older brother Johnny in rural Arkansas. Natchez, MS band Bishop Gunn offered an acoustic set. And booths around the perimiter, set up by music cities and towns across the deep south, beckoned music lovers to future travels.


As far as Nashville’s City Winery knew, their big room was supposed to be dark on Sunday night after a cancelation. About noon though, the team of Brandi Carlile and the venue got in touch with each other and mounted a ticketed show for nearly 700 fans on a few hours notice.

Jacqueline Justice

Americana is, by all indications, rocking. That applies in the metaphorical language of the street, because the community and format seem as popular as ever, but perhaps even more in the musical sense. The six days of shows I saw at AmericanaFest 2018 were, generally speaking, louder, harder and more fuzz-toned than the Americana I fell hard for decades ago.

Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Americana Music Association

Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, the Milk Carton Kids, hosting the 17th Americana Honors and Awards at the Ryman Auditorium, made a joke early in the evening about Jason Isbell’s propensity to win the annual prizes of late, and indeed the Alabama-raised songwriter continued a strong streak with three trophies.

Val Hoeppner

It’s called The Local so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it felt like home straight away. Starting at noon today, the indoor/outdoor venue at 110 28th Ave. N. became AmericanaFest headquarters for WMOT Roots Radio along with broadcasting partners NPR Music and World Cafe for the duration of the event. Live music continues until Saturday at 6 pm.

Navigating AmericanaFest 2018: Our Top Special Events

Sep 10, 2018
Americana Music Association

Nineteen years ago, when the first Americana Music Association conference took place in Nashville, the format was a few years old and the musical movement and community around it was in a formative state. One independent record label owner said at the time, “There’s a certain cult, and now we’re finding each other. The groundswell is coming but I don’t think it’s happened quite yet.”

Photos by the author

Early this summer Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, the duo The Milk Carton Kids, invited a few dozen guests to a live showcase of a new album in a most unusual building. The two story structure, stood alone as if spared by history at the corner of 3rd Ave. South and Chestnut St at the edge of the fast-developing Wedgewood Houston district. It had intricate brickwork, tall narrow windows and a front door on the corner, reminiscent of the neighborhood family pharmacy that it had been for 90 years.

IFC Films



Lucinda Williams recently announced a tour this Fall marking the 20th anniversary of her landmark album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. One of its many exceptional songs was “Drunken Angel” about her friend the late and under-rated Austin songwriter Blaze Foley. Foley may be considerably less obscure after the coming national release of Blaze, an understated narrative film co-written and directed by Ethan Hawke.


Illustration by Val Hoeppner

They say we should think locally and act globally, and it seems that’s exactly what WMOT has in mind for this year’s AmericanaFest Day Stage. The radio station is partnering with NPR Music and World Café to present a slate of top flight talent across five days, spanning September 11 to 15, the Tuesday to Saturday of this year’s community gathering.

Jeff Fasano

At 76 years old, Steve Cropper is in a prime position to reflect on an abundant, history making life in music, and he does so in this week’s show. It’s a special edition taped on stage in front of an eager audience at Nashville’s Who Knew. The series features speakers from the local to the world famous on matters of creativity, entrepreneurship and mission. And Steve Cropper and his history with Stax Records represent all of those in abundance.

Bethany Carson

One of the dominant conversations in bluegrass in the past few years has been about inclusion and diversity. Banjo player Justin Hiltner has taken a leadership position as an openly gay banjo player and an organizer of a movement variously called Shout & Shine and Bluegrass Pride. Hiltner’s new duo album with songwriter and bass player Jon Weisberger, released this month and entitled Watch It Burn, became a chance to live that ethic at many levels.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


This Fall promises too many political dramas to count in Washington, DC, but for songwriters and the music business at large, one cliffhanger will directly effect their livelihoods. The Music Modernization Act, an effort to overhaul the nation’s archaic licensing and payment systems, will make a do-or-die dash to becoming law in September and early October. The industry is virtually united in supporting it, but on a volatile Capitol Hill, there are no guarantees for this high stakes bill.

Putting together this week’s String featuring Nashville’s Cordovas, I began to think of them as a jam band that doesn’t jam. The vibes and grooves and interplay of instruments, whether live or on the new album That Santa Fe Channel, easily conjure The Grateful Dead, one of their core influences. Yet the nine-song disc clocks in at just under 30 minutes. The stage show features tightly constructed tunes that segue smoothly from one to another rather than relying on instrumental flights.


Aretha Franklin, renowned worldwide as the Queen of Soul and the greatest vocalist in Amercan music, has died, leaving a legacy that spans the art form, from its deepest roots to its most stylish pop branches. WMOT grieves with the nation and the world over this profound loss. Here you may read NPR's obituary and an appreciation by our music journalist Craig Havighurst. 



Sebastian Smith

Almost all bands change personnel. Some change personality. And then there’s Mountain Heart, which has done both several times over.

Formed in 1998 as a hard core traditional bluegrass supergroup with five musicians, today Mountain Heart is a quartet with no original members and a soul singing pianist. But the acoustic, song-centric heart, if you will, remains. For 20 years, this band has embraced new influences and grown younger and broader minded.