Day 3 of the Americana Music Festival is in the books and it shows no signs of slowing down at all with performers including Buddy Miller, Amy Speace, and Lisa Marie Presley among others. This Examiner spent Sept. 20 at The Station Inn, where 5 acts showed off the broad size of Americana music's tent with 3 generations of acts and multiple musical styles represented.
Kicking things off for the evening was Joy Kills Sorrow. After turning heads as a performer on Wednesday night at Ed Helms' Midnight Windup, the band finally got their chance to put on a full set and they took every advantage of it. Straddling the line between traditional roots music and indie rock, Joy Kills Sorrow packs a serious musical punch, boasting several members who studied at Berklee and mandolinist Jacob Joliff who was the 2012 National Mandolin Champion.
But the true greatness in Joy Kills Sorrow's performance is their intimate lyrics delivered by the powerhouse vocals of Emma Beaton. Last year, Della Mae walked into the Station Inn a virtual unknown and walked out well on their way to stardom. Judging from the crowd reaction, the same may be said of Joy Kills Sorrow come next year.
The next band on the bill was The Claire Lynch Band. Lynch is a two time International Bluegrass Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year and she showed off why in her hour long performance. Lynch's songs ranged from traditional bluegrass style tunes to Civil War era ballads to even some instrumental jams and a hambone and clogging session from bassist Mark Schatz, a two time IBMA honoree himself as a bassist.
Following Lynch was The Stray Birds. This trio has only been together since 2010 but has been making waves in the traditional music community almost since their inception. Maya de Vitry and Oliver Craven are long time friends and multi-instrumentalists while bassist Charles Muench keeps it all together with a strong anchor. Trading off vocals, each member brought a very unique vocal style that helped avoid repetition. Instrumentally, the band was on fire, with a trio of dueling fiddle tunes to close out the night that lit the Station Inn up.
Next up was SHEL. This 4 piece sister act took the prize for the most unique act on the bill. It's hard to describe SHEL as a group because there is nothing to base their musical style on. They are taking very traditional instruments, mandolin, drum, fiddle, and keys, and doing very non-traditional things with them. Taking full advantage of a lifetime of harmonizing together, SHEL layers their vocals to create an ethereal wall of sound that provides a lush canvas for Eva Holbrook's lead vocals to paint upon.
Sonically, the 20-something sisters are absolutely fearless. The baby sister of the bunch, Liza, is a surprisingly talented beatboxer in addition to being a fine drummer and may be the first person in history ever to beatbox at the Station Inn. Sarah Holbrook provides strong fiddle support and also acts as the primary source of crowd interaction, joking with the audience between songs and keeping the mood up in the room. Hannah provides the deepest layer of their sound with her superb keyboard work.
The group's fearlessness was evidenced in their setlist which, in addition to including a number of original tunes like their current CMT Pure video "Freckles", also included a showstopping cover of Led Zeppelin's "Battle of Evermore." Any vocalist would be daunted by taking on a vocal legend like Robert Plant, but "Battle of Evermore" adds another vocal deity in Sandy Denny. But with Eva taking on the Plant vocals and Sarah providing the Sandy Denny vocals, the sisters did the near impossible and provided a cover that gave a nod to the original while providing enough unique landscape to stand on its own.
Closing out the night was rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef. The 77 year old LaBeef cut an imposing presence with his 6'7" frame barely managing to squeeze onto the Station Inn stage without hitting the ceiling. But LaBeef, along with Dave Pomeroy, proved to be an avuncular presence on stage, regaling the crowd who remained for the almost 1 a.m. start time with stories of his travels over the years and of the writers of the hit songs he played. In addition to his own stable of hit songs, LaBeef also dipped into the catalog of everyone from Little Richard to Muddy Waters for his hour long set.
Careening wildly from song to song, often not even stopping for a second at the end of one before launching into another, LaBeef's vocals were strong and his guitar work was as good as ever. He even had several of the ladies from SHEL out of their dressing room and dancing on the floor beside the stage.
All in all, the night showed well just how healthy the Americana music genre is. From current stars like Claire Lynch to rising stars like SHEL, Joy Kills Sorrow, and The Stray Birds, to legendary figures like Sleepy LaBeef, Americana's past, present, and future were all bright on this day.