After it was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, AmericanaFest is returning to Nashville for four days of music showcases and panels across Music City. The festival kicks off on Wednesday, Sept. 22 and wraps up on Saturday, Sept. 25. While there's no shortage of artists to see this year (there are over 200 on the lineup), we've rounded up our eight picks for must-see artists and showcases at this year's AmericanaFest.
View the full 2021 AmericanaFest schedule here.
Summer Dean (Hear Fort Worth Showcase: 3-7 p.m. on Thursday at Tennessee Brew Works)
You know how fandom gatherings like Dragon Con offer "tracks" for specific interests, meaning there's event itineraries for pass holders primarily interested in, say, Star Trek? There's quite of few unofficial "tracks" for the taking at AmericanaFest. For instance, if you're traveling to Tennessee to hear Texas' finest, Thursday's lineup alone lends itself to a Lone Star State theme. Start at a Fort Worth-centric showcase featuring country traditionalist Summer Dean and buzz-worthy singer-songwriter Vincent Neil Emerson, then drop by ONE at Cannery that same night for master storyteller Joshua Ray Walker and a second shot of Emerson.
-- Bobby Moore
AJ Lee and Blue Summit (9 p.m. on Thursday at The High Watt)
AJ Lee and Blue Summit's prodigious namesake's been performing live since she joined the Tuttle Family Band (yes, that Tuttle family) at age 7. Now she's one of bluegrass' guiding voices and the leader of a band featuring Sullivan Tuttle (from that Tuttle family). Lee and Blue Summit join Po' Ramblin' Boys and other AmericanaFest participants in pushing bluegrass and its traditions into the future as the genre nears its 76th birthday.
Charlie Marie (8 p.m. on Saturday at The Basement East)
As this list helps establish, there's way more musical styles under the Americana umbrella than the type of roots-bound music that's underrepresented on country radio. With that said, AmericanaFest always offers ample chances to discover today's staunchest and most talented traditionalists (or, for those hip to such things already, an opportunity to hear your favorite unsung artists live). If you're seeking country music at AmericanaFest, Carlene Carter's Saturday night set at The Basement East likely tops your priority list already. We strongly suggest showing up early to hear Charlie Marie, the Nashville-via-New England artist behind Ramble On. It's not hyperbole to call it a dark horse for album of the year.
Miko Marks (8 p.m. Thursday at the Exit/In )
Miko Marks, whose stellar album Our Country was released earlier this year, will take the stage at Nashville's historic Exit/In on Thursday night. Marks' first album in over 10 years (the follow-up to 2007's It Feels Good), features a stirring cover of "Hard Times," the hopeful "Hold it Together" and "Ancestors," a rousing ode to those who came before her.
"'Ancestors' was written line by line and was inspired by the events that unfolded in 2020 and continue to unfold to this day," Marks told Wide Open Country earlier this year. "I was raised to know that those who have gone on before me have the ability to impart wisdom and guidance if I am open. So, for me it was a call and a cry out for the power of our ancestors."
Marks will also take part in the panel The Unbroken Black Circle: Developing Shared Community in Black Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Roots, held at 1:30 on Thursday at The Westin SoBro I and II. Jett Holden, Lizzie No, Queen Esther and Lilli Lewis will also be part of the panel, which will be moderated by journalist Marcus K. Dowling.
-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer
Natalie Hemby (11:30 p.m. on Thursday at Cannery Ballroom)
Natalie Hemby, acclaimed singer-songwriter and The Highwomen member, will preview her forthcoming album Pins and Needles at the Cannery Ballroom on Thursday. Hemby has made her name as a sought-after collaborator, penning tunes with Miranda Lambert and charting hits with Little Big Town, Jon Pardi and more. Pins and Needles is her first solo album since her 2017 concept album Puxico.
On Friday at 3:30 p.m. at the Westin Vanderbilt III, Hemby will take part in a conversation with CMT's Leslie Fram about her path to making her new album.
Kathleen Edwards (10 p.m. Thursday at The Brooklyn Bowl)
Following the release of her 2014 album Voyageur, Kathleen Edwards announced that she would be taking a break from music to focus on another business venture: Quitters Coffee, a coffee shop and cafe in the Ottawa suburb of Stittsville. Last year, the alt-country hero made a glorious return with Total Freedom, a collection of songs about self-determination ("Options Open"), starting over and finding peace ("Birds on a Feeder").
Edwards will take the stage at The Brooklyn Bowl Thursday night.
Tré Burt (11 p.m. Friday at The Mercy Lounge)
Sacramento songwriter Tré Burt's sophomore album You, Yeah, You features the John Prine tribute "Dixie Red," a collaboration with Oh Boy Records labelmate Kelsey Waldon.
"I prayed under an old oak tree in my neighborhood a lot for John and his family while he was in the hospital last year. In the days following his passing I was mostly silent and listened to The Tree of Forgiveness non stop," Burt says in a press release. "One night, I was standing on my porch looking at the full moon through a break in the trees over my street. It was especially silver and awfully large. The moon looked as if it were signaling John's safe arrival to the other side. I felt privileged to witness this message sent for his family. 'Dixie Red' is a southern grown peach and that line from 'Spanish Pipedream' has always been so potent to me. So I used a peach as imagery to represent John's body of work he left behind for all of us."
Burt, who earned praise for his set at this year's Newport Folk Festival, will take the stage at AmericanaFest on Friday evening at The Mercy Lounge.
Emily Scott Robinson (10 p.m. Saturday at 3rd & Lindsley)
Emily Scott Robinson is gearing up to release American Siren, her first release on Oh Boy Records and the much-anticipated follow-up to her 2019 album Traveling Mercies. Get a preview of the Colorado-based singer-songwriter's new album during her showcase at 3rd & Lindsley on Saturday.