Roots Radio News


The grass roots music renaissance of Muscle Shoals Alabama brings a package show to Nashville this weekend as Single Lock Records presents two nights of bands and songwriters in two different venues.

To paraphrase Marty Stuart, Americana music is more about the art and the heart than the charts. That said, the Americana Music Association radio airplay chart has been an important part of the industry for 23 years. And this week, that chart gets its most significant overhaul in that time.

First, says AMA executive director Jed Hilly, is automating the way the roughly 80 panel stations report the songs they play.


“We’re moving from a manually input chart to a monitored chart.”



Old-school bluegrass super-group the Earls of Leicester will record its third album live at the CMA Theater in the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum over two nights, February 24 and 25.

In its short life, the band has earned a Grammy Award and been named Entertainers of the Year three consecutive times by the International Bluegrass Music Association. The new disc will follow on a self-titled 2014 release and 2016’s Rattle & Roar.

Photo by Jim Pankey

Editor’s Note: Chattanooga businessman, fiddler and music philanthropist Fletcher Bright died on Christmas day at the age of 86. (Full obituary here) He was a founder and funder of the free 3 Sisters Bluegrass Music Festival, which held its 11th edition last October. Bright was also a founding member of The Dismembered Tennesseans, a band that’s lasted across seven decades.

Magnolia Pictures

Rick Hall, who died on Monday at age 85 after battling prostate cancer, is being remembered as a stubborn visionary who could be as nurturing as he was exasperating. Yet all agree that he built one of America’s most successful and exceptional music production operations in a place where it shouldn’t have been possible, Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Sometimes there’s a trade-off between quality and quantity. But sometimes there’s more than enough of both. Such was 2017 in roots and Americana music. Some icons and stars of the format released new music, and the waves of impressive newcomers with debut or sophomore projects never stopped coming.


Reviving Nashville's Jefferson Street R&B Scene in Museums Small and Large

Dec 18, 2017

It took about a decade of concerted story telling, media strategy, tourism success and breakout artists to correct the dominant narrative about Nashville that it was, first and last, a country music town, rather than a fully rounded Music City. One thread of the effort was the story of R&B music in Nashville.

Here’s a possible scene from the near future.

You think that renegade folk singer Robbie Fulks is tremendous, and you’d like to know about other artists on his label, Bloodshot Records. You visit and before the page loads, a splash screen appears. It’s an advertisement for the couch you lingered in front of last weekend at a local store.


WNCW is one of the most influential and important radio stations in traditional American music, a progressive roots station that’s been broadcasting from Isothermal Community College in Spindale, NC (just east of Asheville) since 1986. It reflects and shapes the culture of its region, one of the nation’s hubs for folk and bluegrass music. If you love roots music, it's as essential a part of driving around the Great Smoky Mountains as WWOZ is to hanging out in New Orleans.



The Secret Sisters Grammy Nod

Dec 4, 2017

Watch The Secret Sisters perform "He's Fine" and "Tennessee River Runs Low" at WMOT's Birthday Bash during AMERICANAFEST 2017. The Secret Sisters, Laura and Lydia Rogers, were nominated the Best Folk Album Grammy last week. The album was produced by Brandi Carlile and recorded at her Bear Creek Studio in Seattle.

Commentary from WMOT // Roots music had a strong 2017 in the marketplace, but it’s had more influential years in Grammy Award nominations, which were announced Tuesday morning. There is no Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell or Margo Price among the big-time General categories, and no country stars for that matter in a field dominated by hip-hop.


Earlier this month, Murfreesboro-based photographer and blues musician Bill Steber played a few songs on the MTSU campus to bookend an evening event investigating the origins of the so-called North Mississippi Hill Country Blues and the genre’s godfather “Mississippi” Fred McDowell. The night, organized by the school's Center for Popular Music, was centered around a screening of a new documentary.

Between 1963 and 1966, country music enjoyed one of its earliest and most prominent showcases on national television from a studio in the heart of Manhattan. The Jimmy Dean Show, a prime-time, hour-long series launched on Sept. 19, 1963. It was an ambitious Broadway style production, says series co-producer Steve Boyle.

“These were shot at West 77th Street in New York City in ABC Studio One, which is about two blocks from Julliard and three or four blocks from Lincoln Center. It must have seemed like a UFO landing in the middle of Manhattan.”

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Mel Tillis, the affable longtime country music star who wrote hits for Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs and many others, and overcame a stutter to sing on dozens of his own singles, has died.

A spokesman for Tillis, Don Murry Grubbs, said Tillis died early Sunday at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida. He was 85.

Grubbs said Tillis battled intestinal issues since 2016 and never fully recovered. The suspected cause of death is respiratory failure.


It’s a soundscape unique in and to Nashville: the cascading fountain in the atrium of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, mingled with the floating country jazz guitar of David Andersen. He’s played here six days a week for a good while. Five thousand days, as of this week. He started more than 16 years ago.

“May 1, 2001. That’s right when they opened the building,” he said on Wednesday.


Americana En Francais from Brace and Hoffman

Nov 14, 2017


Songwriter Eric Brace, founder of the band Last Train Home and Nashville’s Red Beet Records, has a pedigree of pure Americana. But if you scour his catalog deeply, you’ll see that he very much enjoys singing songs from France.

Compass and Red House Join Houses

Nov 9, 2017
Compass Records


Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams are among the prominent folk and Americana artists whose record label will soon be moving from St. Paul Minnesota to a new home in Nashville.

Nashville’s Compass Records announced this week that it has agreed to acquire Red House Records, a folk label launched in 1983 by DJ and music advocate Bob Feldman.



Acoustic music legends David Grisman and Tommy Emmanuel released Pickin’ last Friday, marking their first-ever duo album. And it would be hard to find anybody more excited about that than guitarist and singer Trey Hensley. Because he and his duo partner Rob Ickes were invited to join the ongoing album-inspired tour.



Last Friday, about a month after the untimely death of beloved rock and roller Tom Petty, Canadian folk trio The Wailin’ Jennys released Fifteen, their first album in six years. Track two is one of Petty’s most intimate songs, “Wildflowers.”

“I remember jamming it in a hotel room a few years ago and it came together really naturally. And then we started performing it and people just loved it.”

Folk Anthems, Free At Last?

Oct 27, 2017



Folk anthems “We Shall Overcome” and “This Land Is Your Land” are on their own road to a particular kind of freedom. Separate lawsuits claim the songs should not be under copyright but in the public domain, and one has been decided.


'Galax' Is A Homecoming For The Wild Ponies

Oct 19, 2017

Galax is a town of about 7,000 people on the southern border of Virginia on the edge of the Appalachian mountains. For music lovers, its name conjures up one thing - the Old Fiddler’s Convention a premiere contest and roots music gathering that’s taken place in Galax since 1935. For married musicians Doug and Telisha Williams, who perform under the name The Wild Ponies, the Galax area is also their old home place. It’s where they grew up, dated as high school sweethearts and launched their music career.


The office of the Music Health Alliance in a Green Hills office building is bustling with activity on a typical weekday afternoon. The non-profit helps self-employed music professionals - about three fourths of the industry they say - negotiate the complexities of the health care system and take advantage of laws and programs that often go unnoticed or unexploited in times of health crises.

Rhiannon Giddens Eyes New Medium With MacArthur Fellowship

Oct 18, 2017



When Rhiannon Giddens won the Steve Martin Banjo Prize in 2016, it was a validation of the North Carolina musician’s contributions to old-time, string band and bluegrass music. But her MacArthur Fellowship, announced last week, propels Giddens into a creative and intellectual future that promises to shape society itself.


Ruston Kelly 'Black Magic'

Oct 17, 2017

Ruston Kelly performed his song, Black Magic, for WMOT's Wired In session May 25, 2017. Kelly is a Nashville based singer-song writer.

A half a dozen guys are wrestling with the poles of a big canvas tent in a field in Kingston Springs, TN. We're at Hayshed Farms, and the goal is to be ready by Friday for the second annual Hoedown on the Harpeth. Organizer Robert Dunn takes a break to describe what to expect over two days and nights this weekend.  “We’re trying to reflect on that 1925 to 1975 era of classic country music," Dunn said. "And back in those days was when you had a festival like this at the local farm or down the street. Everything was homemade. Just to give that down home feel of the working man’s festival.