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2004 Americana Music Conference

SEPTEMBER 23-25, 2004

by Michael Buffalo Smith
October 2004

The ride up to Nashville was beautiful. The majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains can oftentimes be overwhelming and under the sunny, clear blue skies of Carolina the trip was just perfect. With my new iPod hooked into the CRV’s factory stereo, I was able to enjoy hour after hour of Tony Joe White, Billy Joe Shaver, Paul Thorn, Jerry Douglas and so  much more. I gotta say, I’m old school. I collect LPs, but I must admit I really dig the MP3 thing. Especially iTunes and the iPod. (And no, I am not being paid by Apple to say this.) It’s really good for these trips, including my 6-hour plus trek across the Volunteer state.

I saw the portion of I-40 that had caved in following the mass flooding caused by the onslaught of hurricanes of late and offered up a prayer for the victims of the storms. 

After my long but really fun drive, I arrived at my hotel in downtown Nashville. I could feel the excitement in the air. I love Nashville. I love the music. Not just country, but all music. I checked in, went up to room 315 and met my buddy Kevin Dolan who was going to help us out at the Gritz booth at the trade show. We chilled out and awaited the arrival of Derek Halsey, another great guy who, even though we have worked together for years, I had never met face to face. Derek soon arrived, and after the obvious “hey buddy” session we made our way over to Mercy Lounge for early registration and check in. We immediately ran into people we knew and got hugs and handshakes a plenty but the fun was only beginning. 

Back at the room later, Derek had arranged for some of his friends to drop by for an impromptu jam, and boy howdy, was it ever fun. Ricky Davis of Blue Mother Tupelo pulled out a Dobro and soon we were joined by Ferrell Stone, another Dobro and slide player, and a whale of a talent. Just before he arrived we had been enjoying a live concert on A&E by John Fogerty who was joined onstage by Dobro master Jerry Douglas. It had truly become a Dobro kind of evening. And since he’s not about to toot his own horn, I’ve gotta give props to Derek for some really hot guitar licks. He was a jamming fool. 

Thursday was pretty much a “chill-out” day with trade show load in and some mighty fine seminars. I attended one called “Americana - The International Mainstream.” The panel featured some major heavy hitters from Great Britain and the USA. I immediately recognized Bob Harris of the BBC from his days hosting The Old Gray Whistle Test. Also on the panel was Vector Management kingpin Ken Levitan. In one hour I learned a lot about touring in Europe.

Now, Friday was a day unlike any other. It was a day filled with friends old and new and so much great music.  

When I arrived at the Trade Show, I met Kevin  who was already setting up our table. He was putting out some David Allan Coe posters so I knew my buds Steve Popovich and his son were close by. Shortly, we were enjoying breakfast together. The conversation was enlightening and just plain fun. Popovich, Sr. was the founder of Cleveland International Records,and played a major role in the career of Meat Loaf by signing the Bat Out Of Hell album after it had been turned down by countless record companies. He also had a big hand in the careers of many great artists, including Cheap Trick. These days, Popovich and his son, Steve, Jr., run the company and are partnered with David Allan Coe in Coe-Pop Records which issues Coe music as well as their excellent David Allan Coe Presents series featuring Patsy Cline, Roy Acuff, Merle Haggard and others. 

During the day, I saw old  friends Phil and Gaye Johnson who now do the King Pup Radio Show and met dozens of folks I had previously known only by email and phone. Publicists like Lori Kampa, Carey Baker, Liz Winchester (who helped us out at our booth. Thanks Liz!) Kissy Black, Traci Thomas, Sheryl Northrop, Lee Blankenship and many others. I met Chet Flippo, one of my favorites from the good days of Rolling Stone, now a staple of CMT; Mark Gustafson of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings; Billy Block of Western Beat and so many, many new friends. The trade show was great, and meeting reps from Gibson Guitars, Discmakers, No Depression magazine, American Songwriter - wow. What fun. 

During the day, the Western Beat stage in the trade show area kept the music coming. Outstanding performances by artists such as the excellent Melonie Cannon and James Talley drew vendors back around to the dining area to have a look and a listen. 

The pre-awards dinner was good, and Kevin and I enjoyed the company of John Condon, Michael and his wife from Jersey, and Tom Speed, the editor of An Honest Tune magazine. We were soon joined by old friend Linda Albright (wife of Waylon’s drummer Richie) -- I had first met Linda when she came to Muscle Shoals with Bonnie Bramlett. 

The Americana Music Awards program was just excellent, opening with a performance by Tony Joe White and Shelby Lynne, both dressed in black, Shelby’s t-shirt sporting a quote from Elvis (Costello, not Presley) “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding.” Cool. They were awesome, but it was only the warm up for their gig later in the evening. 

Jim Lauderdale was an excellent host, introducing Ray Wylie Hubbard, who presented Instrumentalist of The Year to guitarist Will Kimbrough. Memories of seeing Jason & The Scorchers in Athens, Georgia ran rampant through my mind as Jason Ringenberg performed “A Rebel Flag in Germany.” A songwriter lifetime achievement award went to Cowboy Jack Clement, who received a trophy and a beautiful new Gibson guitar. Clement is a true legend, having worked with Waylon, Johnny Cash, Don Williams, U2 and T. Bone Burnett, to name a few. 

“Thank you Jim, thank you Jesus and thank you Billy Joe Shaver,” Jack said as he emotionally accepted the award. 

A performance of “Wishbones” by Slaid Cleaves with Ray Wylie Hubbard followed, just before BIlly Joe Shaver presented the emerging artist award to Mindy Smith.

Michelle Shocked and Pete Anderson reprised their song from the new  Songs Of Stephen Foster CD, “Oh, Suzannah.” 

Jason Ringenberg presented The Lifetime Achievement Award to the late Jack Emerson, who did great things in his work with artists like Shaver, Steve Earle and The Georgia Satellites.

Mindy Smith proceeded to show just why she won her award, and Rodney Crowell’s “Fate’s Right Hand” won song of the year. 

The First Amendment Center Freedom of Speech Award was presented to a very deserving Steve Earle, who said, “There shouldn’t be an award for saying what you believe. But I do appreciate it.” He followed with a brilliant performance of “Rich Man’s War.” 

J.D. May of the AMC came out to talk about the AMA rules, and introduced Rodney Crowell, who rocked through “Don’t Get Me Started.” 

Marty Stuart presented Chris Hillman (The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Desert Rose) with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Chris was joined by Bernie Leadon, Herb Pedersen, Al Perkins and Jesse Perkins onstage and Chris introduced “a song Gram Parsons and I wrote together,” as he dedicated “Wheels” to Polly Parsons (Gram’s daughter who was in the audience) and the late Skeeter Davis. Awesome. 

Junior Brown presented Album of the Year to Loretta Lynn who appeared on tape from North Carolina to thank the AMAs.

Staple singer Mavis Stapes was joined by instrumentalist of the year Will Kimbrough on slide for “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”

Loretta Lynn won her second award as Artist of the Year, presented by Jim Lauderdale.

Next up was a personal favorite, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. John McEuen pulled off some ad libs while the crew repaired a faulty microphone. “We’ve been on the road together for 37 years, and we were friends for the first two,” he joked. The band rocked on “Walking In The Sunshine,” from their new CD, which sounded great.

The Presidential Award was presented to The Carter Family, with Jeanette Carter accepting the award. The Nashville Bluegrass band paid musical tribute to The Carter Family and the show closed with an incredible “Keep On The Sunny Side” with all the evening’s stars returning to the stage.

The Gram Parsons Tribute, featuring Bernie Leadon, Chris Hillman and Jerry Douglas

Following the show, I dashed backstage to say hello to Jeff Hanna and The Dirt Band and Steve Earle. Prior to the show, I had hooked up with both “Joes,” Billy Joe Shaver and Tony Joe White, even joking that I wanted to change my name to “Michael Joe.”

Outside the green room, Kissy Black helped Derek and me hook up for photo ops with Mavis Staples, and Derek introduced me to the very talented and kind (and fellow Carolina boy) Jim Lauderdale. 

As Derek headed for B.B. Kings, I hung back to meet and talk with Garth Hudson (The Band/ Burrito Deluxe) and his sweet wife Maud. We talked for a while and I returned to spend some more time with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band before we were all kindly pushed toward the door of The Convention Center. 

I got into the hotel at 2 a.m., but wouldn’t see “party guys” Derek and Kevin until 4 a.m. (see Derek’s story this issue) We would all head back to Carolina, Ohio and Maryland the next morning with a head full of Americana Music memories. I’m ready for next year. 

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