I spent most of Wednesday through Saturday of last week at the Americana Music Festival and Conference in Nashville.
I went to a lot of panels, and I took a lot of notes using an analog device known as “pencil and notebook.” This antiquated technology works really well, at least until I go back and try to read what I scribbled. But it was more convenient than trying to find an outlet in every room so that I could type notes on my laptop.
First, a general observation: “Americana” seems at times like a brand in search of a genre. Musically, the category covers a broad swath of the musical spectrum. Jed Hilly, the Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, did his best to narrow it down when he defined “Americana” (for the purpose of a new Grammy Awards category) as “contemporary music that honors and derives from American roots music.”
That does, indeed, cover a LOT of territory. But more important than what the brand or genre represents musically is what the concept embodies as a movement. Musically, this may be “roots” music, but market-wise, this is music that is coming up from the grassroots. And, based on what I heard over this past week, it represents in some respects the very best of what the new grassroots paradigm has to offer the listening audience. I mean, these people are GOOD and deserve the recognition that “mainstream” cultural forces are too often too slow to provide.
With that as a premise, here’s a note from the first panel I attended early on Thursday morning.
I didn’t realize until I got there that a discussion of “Raising The Next Generation of Americana Fans” would turn out to be a discussion about bringing this music to children, which is not generally speaking an area of my own personal interest.
Well… duh. Music is sorta like cigarettes – if you want them smoking it when they’re adults, you gotta start ’em out as kids. So (politically incorrect tobacco reference aside), what could be more important than a discussion of bringing “Americana” music to kids?
So once I realized where I was and why it was the right place to be, I started paying attention to Jason Ringenberg (aka “Farmer Jason“) and Miss Melba Toast as they described their experiences bringing music to children.
Panelist Kathy Hussey said the one thing I found most encouraging: When she shows up for her songwriting-for-kids workshops, she said, “they start out wanting to write a rap song,” but their interest is very easily redirected. “Kids are learning that they don’t have to consume what’s on the radio.”
When I was growing up, “what’s on the radio” was all their was, and we all grew up wanting to be The Beatles or The Stones. But the impact of an infinite variety of cultural choices is beginning to have a diversifying effect on a new generation.
Kids today may show up wanting to replicate what they hear in the media. They may think for a moment that that’s what’s expected of them But if Kathy’s experience is any indication, the commitment is shallow. They wind up wanting something resonates personally on a deeper level.
That’s a consequence of a world of infinite choices instead of just a few dominating channels. More choice forces us to dig a little deeper to find what matters. Mark that down as another upside of the new era, Music 3.0.