Roots Radio News

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.

Jim Demain


Quite a few music venues in Nashville have a capacity bigger than the population of Glenarm, Northern Ireland, a seaside village about 30 miles north of Belfast. Nashville based songwriter and recording artist Ben Glover says growing up there was a good environment for a future performer.

Hoedown on the Harpeth

Hoedown On The Harpeth, the only multi-day, camping roots music festival within 50 miles of Nashville, has stepped up its lineup for 2018.

Amanda Shires Won't 'Give Away The Secrets' Of Her Songs

Aug 8, 2018

Amanda Shires is known for her folksy, Americana sound. In 2017, Shires was named the Americana Music Association's Emerging Artist of the Year and she frequently lends her voice and style to her husband Jason Isbell's band, The 400 Unit. But her new solo record, To the Sunset, moves away from her normal style, taking on more pop sounds with crunched guitars and layered vocals.

Josh Goleman


When the five string wizards known collectively as Punch Brothers returned for one last encore on a July Friday night at the Ryman Auditorium, they unplugged their in-ear monitors and stepped to the front of the stage. With no amplification, it seemed likely they’d tear into something loud and bluegrassy, so as to commune with the ghosts of the Grand Ole Opry and to be clearly heard.

One of the most ambitious and diverse lineups for a WMOT Wired In show yet will play an outdoor mini-festival in the late afternoon on Sunday, Sept. 2 at Westhaven Residents Club in Franklin. The show with Chuck Mead, The War And Treaty, Carolina Story and The Watson Twins will celebrate the second anniversary of WMOT Roots Radio, which flipped to its current Americana music format in 2016.



The biographies tell us that Americana star Jim Lauderdale released his first album in 1991, but sometimes history has to be revised. The album that he hoped would be first was recorded in 1979 in the basement studio of Earl Scruggs in Madison TN. It was a duo bluegrass project with recently inducted Bluegrass Hall of Famer Roland White.

When the 22-year-old newcomer couldn’t find a record company willing to take a chance on the project, it got set aside and then lost, until a couple years ago.

Lance Cowan

This week's episode of The String (#63) is about a sense of place and how we stand up for the places we cherish. Nashville has thrived as the epicenter of country music songwriting in part because of its own strong sense of place. It was a mid South crossroads city that welcomed art and music from the 19th century on. It became a pioneer in radio in the 20s and 30s by reflecting and broadcasting local values and sounds.

Tyler Hughes


There are two meanings behind the title Shout and Shine, the debut album of the trio Fink, Marxer and Gleaves. The title track captures the spirit of the diversity and inclusion movement sweeping through bluegrass, as covered here last Fall. The other, expressed in the original "Moonshine" by Sam Gleaves, is literally about spirits. As a child and student of Appalachia, he knows whereof he sings.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Acclaimed singer-songwriters including Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, Steve Earle will lead a five-city concert series to support families who have been separated at the border due to immigration policies put into place by the Trump administration.


The Women's Refugee Commission announced "The Lantern Tour: Concerts for Migrant and Refugee Families," will also feature Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Lila Downs and Graham Nash.


While nominations for this year’s major annual awards continued to recycle longstanding industry stars, much of the energy at Wednesday’s International Bluegrass Music Association Awards nominations event was generated by a raft of bluegrass hall of fame inductees. Besides a bigger than usual class, IBMA spotlighted a new place to enshrine them, a new Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum opening this October in Owensboro, KY.

Erin Rae’s sound is soothing and dreamy but her lyrics wrestle candidly with struggle and regret. That bewitching combination, plus a decade of patient development and experience in the supportive artistic community of her native Nashville, has made Rae's new album Putting On Airs one of the more anticipated and widely covered releases so far in 2018.

Covers of pop songs have been commonplace in bluegrass music since the late 1960s, when The Dillards, Flatt & Scruggs, The Country Gentlemen and others adapted songs by The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Lovin’ Spoonful. For Charlottesville, VA band Love Canon, it’s a way of life, a “mission statement” according to my conversation last week with lead singer and guitarist Jesse Harper.