Sources: The Americana Narrative
The Luck Journal and the Mountain Valley Spring Water are proud to bring you “Sources”: an informative look into the origins of inspiration, performative platforms, and cultures from the perspective of creatives across the country.
Our collection of editorial content will track the routes in which American music historically traveled and transformed, and the land and unique stories that play an important role in the continuation of our country's artistic heritage. Read our first Sources article on the Americana Narrative below.
The 19th year of AmericanaFest ushered in more than 500 performances, spilling across 62 Nashville venues to showcase artists who have been at the core of the Americana movement. The weeklong event celebrates the spirited mission to lift up the authentic voices in American roots music: the back porch pickers and juke joint players seeking telling a real story through their craft. From John Prine to Jack White, artists of all walks of life have long gathered in the Americana homeland of Nashville to honor influence, inspiration and, most of all, community.
The term “Americana” has lent itself to various interpretations, sparking an ongoing conversation around genre distinction in the music world. A mixture of the soul, rock, blues sounds that have paved the way for the evolution of American roots culture; Americana has become a platform for celebrating the traditions at the heart of our country and, ultimately, a place for musicians to tell their stories without inhibition.
The 2018 AmericanaFest played host to Luck Reunion's “Luck Mansion” residency, a physical embodiment of the ethos at the center of the Americana movement. Throughout the week the Mansion welcomed artists to perform intimate pop-up sets and break bread together outside of the bustling festival. The dialogue was saturated with the topic of Americana with the conversation leaning heavily toward the designation of an iconic, if hard to pin down, genre.
From the perspective of Americana Music Association’s Executive Director Jed Hilly, the foundation of Americana was an answer to opening gaps in the music industry. “[Before Americana] the Steve Earles and EmmyLous (Harris)...even Dwight Yoakam...they were rejected by the country music business,” Hilly said. “The music business was defining everything with vertical lines; everything ws pigeonholed. And what i had in my mind was that [Americana] wasn’t a vertical genre, it was a horizontal genre. It was everything the music business-business wasn’t. It couldn’t be put in a box.”
“There were so many musicians and songwriters who, before Americana existed, sort of felt homeless”, said Drew Holcomb. There is, indeed, a catch-all feel of the genre that is allowing both legendary and up-and-coming musicians an organic source of creative freedom allowing them to weave their own narrative.
Rosanne Cash, who had delivered a groundbreaking and empowering speech the night before at the Americana Music Awards, waxed poetic on the power of the Americana platform in the lives and careers of genuine artists. As the progeny of one of the world's most beloved outliers, Johnny Cash, she has embraced the familial source of her creativity while also cherishing the world that the Americana genre opened up to her: “It's an inclusive community. In the beginning I was just glad that a community had been created,” Cash said. “I was so glad that Jed Hilly had a vision to create this place where artists who weren't in the Top 40, but were still legitimate, had a community and a place to be with other people of like minds”.
Paul Cauthen echoed Cash’s sentiments: “I believe Americana was a good resting spots for some of us outcasts who weren't really put into a box or genre. I think we have a home now, a place where we can push our music and it’s heard. It's about the purest form of music you can listen to. It has a mystique of its own. I don't really know exactly what Americana is, but I love all the artists in it...so I guess I really dig Americana.”
Amongst the newest of AmericanaFest participants, the Watson Twins spoke poignantly to the bliss of dodging the typical genre affiliation. Having collaborated with iconic indie acts such Jenny Lewis after a Gospel-heavy upbringing, the buzzed about pair shared their own fitting definition of the Americana platform. “It really gives people the opportunity to explore and really find their sound. You don't feel trapped into having to say, 'I do country, I do folk',” they said. The duo also delved into influence and the source of their creativity: “Someone said about our new record [Hustle and Shake], that it's 'country-soul'. Sure, if that's what you feel, that's awesome. We grew up in the church singing Gospel and that really was part of our fabric. But alongside that we were listening to Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and all those people and genres helped form how we sing and write today. Is Americana a catch-all? Maybe, and that's kick-ass.”
As the platform continues to develop its mission alongside artists looking to share their own tales through art, there is a common thread that stands out: Americana is an ode to the roots of our American culture, and the continuation of the narrative of our histories...straight from the source.