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10 Must-See Artists at AmericanaFest 2018

Kris Skoda

If you’re lucky enough to live in or near Nashville (literally the only time this native New Yorker will say this, so count yourself lucky), you’re about to be in walking distance of AmericanaFest 2018. Now in its 19th year, the six-day long festival is put on by the Americana Music Association and is part conference, part music festival for those working in the industry. Some people will tell you that Americana is the “melting pot” of Americana music: roots, folk, country, blues, and soul.

More simply, it’s anything that country radio won’t play — for various reasons — even though they should. Americana music tends to be more politically outspoken. It often plays with the boundaries between genres to create something entirely new. Because these artists either won’t get played on country radio or don’t want to be, the songs tend to dig deep emotionally. These musicians alternate between the most innovative and the most traditional among their peers.

A brief glance at the lineup shows full gender and racial representation of the musicians playing the kinds of music that bring us all here to Wide Open Country. Not only is it one of the most diverse lineups anywhere in any genre this year, it shows country music’s full potential. As our managing editor Lorie Leibig pointed out, the threadbare excuses for not playing women and non-binary people on the radio have long since snapped. This year’s AmericanaFest lineup proves that there are all kinds of people playing excellent music within the genre.

This year’s AmericanaFest will feature some true legends but it’s also the best place to discover up-and-comers. I’ve been writing about the Americana scene for a few years, and these ten of the hardest-working people and artists in the biz whom you need to make sure you see.

Austin Lucas

Clear-eyed and with an angel’s voice, Austin Lucas is classically trained with a rough-and-tumble heart. On his new album, Immortal Americans, Lucas has become the musician and singer he’s always meant to be. After getting sober, getting fit, and persevering through some truly crushing hardships, this is all by Lucas’s own admission. He’s come out of the other side of some huge personal transformations, and Immortal Americans sees him facing the world with a new confidence. I can only imagine how much more powerful he’s become as a live performer.

Caleb Caudle

Caleb Caudle and Lucas hit the pavement at roughly the same time and in roughly the same scene, so it’s thrilling to see both of them get their due. Caudle’s more recent efforts, like Crushed Coins, is a quiet, meditative examination of life on the other side of your tumultuous twenties. But if you go back a few years to Carolina Ghost and Paint Another Layer on My Heart, you’ll see Caudle can rock with the best of them. Caudle’s depictions of the ways relationships can challenge people to grow is my favorite treatment of romantic love in the genre.

Courtney Marie Andrews

Go to a Courtney Marie Andrews show and you will find a room that is dead silent. Andrews’ voice fills the empty spaces in the room and will reach into those little corners of your heart that you thought were dead. On her newest album, May Your Kindness Remain, Andrews’ blend of ’60s folk (a la Carole King) and old-time country soar to new heights as she explores the true nature of survival and the best it brings out in all of us. Andrews lets the songs do the talking at her shows and you’ll come out changed a little bit for the better.

Great Peacock

Gorgeous harmonies? Check. Soaring folk music with the best hints of pop? Check. Gorgeous ponchos and Nudie-style suits? Check. Stage presence out the wazoo? Yep. I remember the first time I heard a Great Peacock song and you will, too. Blount Floyd and Andrew Nelson are a bit unreal life, balancing each other’s frequencies perfectly. Nick Recio on drums and Frank Keith IV on bass round out a sensitive rhythm section that allows the band to soar. You’ll need to see Great Peacock live to believe it.

H.C. McEntire

If you haven’t dug into H.C. McEntire‘s earlier work in Mount Moriah, you’re going to want to do that now. The North Carolina native has an extraordinary talent for creating swirling combinations of folk, punk, and Southern gothic motifs that feel larger than life. McEntire’s new solo album, LIONHEARTdigs deep into her experiences growing up queer in the South and trying to claim a home. She’s supported on the album by frequent collaborator Amy Ray (of the Indigo Girls) and riot grrl legend Kathleen Hannah among many others. I’m sure bringing the songs to life in a live setting will only make them shine brighter.

Kaia Kater

Kaia Kater‘s been one to watch for a while now. The Canadian banjo player has a voice for days. I was taken by her early morning set at Newport Folk Fest — and that was at 11 a.m. Kater’s self-assurance and ability to connect with her audiences makes her sets fun, but it’s her singing that makes them memorable. Kater will soon release her sophomore album on Smithsonian Folkways, a nod to her ability to preserve traditional music while nudging it into the future.

Queer Roots at AmericanaFest

This one’s cheating a little bit but I’d give my right arm to be here. This is AmericanaFest’s first showcase for queer artists, and hopefully it’ll be the first of many. It’ll feature crooner Mercy Bell, trans roots and folk artist Eve Sheldon, Southern gothic powerhouse Amythyst Kiah, Little Bandit, and queer country pioneer Patrick Haggerty with his band Lavender Country. As I’ve written before, Patrick, who’s a decent way into his 80s, can put on a show and it’s not to be missed. The showcase will be at The Crying Wolf at 5 PM on Thursday, Sept. 13.

Rev. Sekou

Reverend Sekou really is a reverend, and it’s his liberation theology that truly animates his songs. Sekou was raised in the Mississippi Delta and intimately understands the combination of physical toil, faith, community, and power. His album In Times Like These is a balm and call to action for anyone struggling against injustice. In addition to his scholarly works and activism, Sekou can bring the jams. His concerts are charged with passion, jubilation, and possibility.

Samantha Fish

Seeing Samantha Fish live will make you re-evaluate your life. You won’t necessarily want to shred like she does, though you’ll definitely be jealous. You’ll just question what life choices led you away from a path where you can hire someone to hold a megaphone between you and your microphone while you sing a ten-second bridge during your encore. The blues guitarist’s shows pack a lot of punch. Fish released two albums within a few months of each other: Belle of the West, produced by the North Mississippi All-Stars’ Luther Dickinson, features Fish’s guitar chops while Chills & Fever showcase her pipes and gospel leanings. I mean it when I say her set is a must-see.

Sunny War

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to write that Sunny War‘s music is a roadmap for where Americana can go next. War’s guitar picking style calls to mind the blues but her songs transcend easy definition. War’s lyrics show her to be a person with astounding observational powers and a specific outlook. Listening to her music is to listen to someone doing exactly what they were put here on this earth do: help us reframe our daily existence and change the ways we interact with each other.

AmericanaFest 2018 Lineup:

Ahi

Animal Years

Aaron Lee Tasjan

Alejandro Escovedo

Amanda Shires

American Aquarium

American Folk

Amy Helm

Amythyst Kiah

Andrew Combs

Arkansas Dave

Ashley Monroe

Asleep at the Wheel

Austin Lucas

Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons

Birds of Chicago

Birdtalker

Blackfoot Gypsies

Bobby Long

Bones Owens

Bottle Rockets

Brandi and the Alexanders

Brandy Clark

Buddy Miller

Buffalo Gospel

Buxton

Cordovas

Caleb Caudle

Candi Staton

Carolina Story

Carson McHone

Catherine Britt

Cedric Burnside

Chance McCoy

Charley Crockett

Charlie Faye and the Fayettes

Choir! Choir! Choir!

Chris Gantry

Chris Shiflett

Courtney Hartman

Courtney Marie Andrews

Creamer

Daddy

Daniel Donato

Darling West

Dawn Landes

Dead Horses

Devon Gilfillian

Dom Flemons

Doug Seegers

Drivin ’N Cryin

Dylan Pratt

Elise Davis

Elizabeth Cook

Emily Scott Robinson

Erin Rae

Esther Rose

Fanny Lumsden

Fantastic Negrito

Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen

Ghost of Paul Revere

Great Peacock

Greyhounds

Guthrie Trapp

Guy Davis

H.C. McEntire

Hyways

Hayes Carll

Hayley Thompson-King

Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs

Holly Macve

Hymn For Her

I’m With Her

Ian Moore

Ian Noe

Ida Mae

Israel Nash

J2B2 (John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band)

J.P. Harris

Jackie Greene

Jade Jackson

Jaime Wyatt

Jamie McLean Band

Janiva Magness

Jason Boland and the Stragglers

Jason James

Jedd Hughes

Jeffrey Foucault

Jeremy Pinnell

Jerry Douglas

Jill Andrews

Jim Lauderdale

Jim White

Joe Purdy

John Carter Cash

John Craigie

John Hiatt

John Oates

John Paul Keith

John Prine and Friends

John Smith

Johnny Irion

Josh Rennie-Hynes

Kaia Kater

Kathy Mattea

Katie Pruitt

Kelsey Waldon

Kim Richey

Kirby Brown

Kristin Andreassen

Kyle Daniel

Leah Blevins

Lee Ann Womack and Friends

Lee Roy Parnell

Lera Lynn

Leslie Stevens

Lilly Hiatt

Lindsay Lou

Liz Brasher

Logan Ledger

Lucie Silvas

Lucky Lips

Luke Winslow-King

Lula Wiles

Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear

Mando Saenz

Mandolin Orange

Mandy Barnett

Mary Gauthier

Max Gomez

McKenzie Lockhart

Mike and the Moonpies

Mike Farris

Mindy Smith

Mipso

Molly Tuttle

Mountain Heart

My Politic

Neighbor Lady

New Reveille

Nicholas Jamerson

Nicki Bluhm

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Oliver Hazard

Ordinary Elephant

Paul Cauthen

Peter Bradley Adams

Peter Case

Phil Cook

Phil Madeira

Pony Bradshaw

Prinz Grizzley and His Beargaroos

Rev. Sekou

Richard Thompson

River Whyless

Robbie Fulks with Linda Gail Lewis

Robby Hecht and Caroline Spence

Romantica

Ron Pope

Rosanne Cash

Ross Cooper

Ruby Boots

Ruen Brothers

Ruston Kelly

Szlachetka

Sam Lewis

Sam Morrow

Samantha Fish

Sarah Borges

Sarah Siskind

Scott Mulvahill

Shemekia Copeland

Shook Twins

Sons of Bill

Southern Avenue

Sugaray Rayford Band

Sunny War

The Wandering Hearts

Taylor Kingman

The Americans

The Band of Heathens

The Black Lillies

The Commonheart

The Earls of Leicester

The Josephines

The Last Revel

The Lone Bellow

The McCrary Sisters

The Milk Carton Kids

The Nude Party

The Reckless Electric

The Small Glories

The Suffers

The War and Treaty

The Watson Twins

The Way Down Wanderers

Them Coulee Boys

Thomas Csorba

Tim Bluhm

Tom Freund

Tommy Ash

Tommy Emmanuel

Town Mountain

Treetop Flyers

Tyler Childers

Tyler Ramsey

Tyrone Cotton

Van William

Vandoliers

Walter Salas-Humara

Whiskey Wolves of the West

Whitehorse

Will Hoge

William Crighton

William Fitzsimmons

William Prince

William the Conqueror

Wood and Wire

Worry Dolls

Yola Carter

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10 Must-See Artists at AmericanaFest 2018