Sept. 18 marked the first night of the 2013 Americana Music Festival and they came out of the gate strong with one of the biggest parties in Americanafest history courtesy of Ed Helms' Bluegrass Situation. But Helms wasn't the only one bringing the goods as Americana superstars such as Aoife O'Donovan, Over the Rhine, Pokey LaFarge, and Della Mae entertained packed houses in clubs throughout Nashville.
For this reporter, the journey started at The Mercy Lounge where a pair of Americana's hottest young acts showed off the extremely bright future of the genre. The night kicked off with an energetic show from The Lone Bellow. This young trio from Brooklyn is touring in support of their Charlie Peacock produced self-titled debut album. There was barely room to breathe and none to walk in the Mercy Lounge as the capacity crowd enjoyed The Lone Bellow's set. The band's music includes a lot of sing-alongs that are the kind of crowd grabbing candy that has made acts like The Lumineers so popular. If the audience's response was any indication, The Lone Bellow will be appearing at next year's Americana Awards Show as a Best Emerging Artist nominee.
They were followed up by one of this year's Best Emerging Artist nominees, JD McPherson. McPherson and his entire band look and sound like they hitched a ride in Marty McFly's car from the Fifties. McPherson's mix of rockabilly, blues, and early rock can only be described as what would likely happen if someone took DNA from Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly and combined it.
McPherson drew a huge audience at this year's Bonnaroo and drew another in his Americanafest appearance. Already at near capacity for The Lone Bellow, The Mercy Lounge lost very few patrons between sets and quickly replaced those that did leave. There was no room for the kind of dancing McPherson's Bonnaroo set but that doesn't mean the crowd wasn't plenty energetic, turning into one undulating mass of bodies swaying along to the music.
After McPherson and The Lone Bellow, this Examiner reluctantly left before the always entertaining Band of Heathens took the stage to ride up to One Cannery Row where Ed Helms had organized the mother of all Americanafest after parties under his Bluegrass Situation banner. Calling it the Midnight Windup, Helms took full advantage of a ton of Americana artists being in town for the Awards show to pull down a guest list to envy any jam session.
There's no way to even begin to list every guest who popped in for a song or what configuration they performed in (at times there were so many artists on stage, they ran out of guitar cords and had to mic the instruments, sometimes with two artists to a mic). Some of the highlight performers joining Helms for a mix of original tunes and classics were Dave Bromberg, The Infamous Stringdusters, Della Mae, Sturgill Simpson, Steep Canyon Rangers, Jerry Douglas, and Jim Lauderdale.
The party began at Midnight and ran well past its listed 2:00 a.m. end time as artists who had performed showcases elsewhere during the night showed up and jumped the stage. See the slideshow for a sampling of some of the artists performing at the Midnight Windup.