Americana Music Association Week – Part I

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What exactly is Americana music?  I read a comment thread this week about Richard Thompson’s inclusion in the festival this year.  How can this British folk legend be considered Americana?  To me that is what is great about Americana.  It’s all about the roots of music, roots are what keep a plant grounded, roots also form a connection.  Someone on this comment thread complained about Americana being a marketing scheme and that it used to be called Folk Music.  What do you think?  Personally, while I see Folk being encompassed by Americana but Americana includes music that would not be considered folk by any stretch of the imagination.  I believe my experience so far (one night to go) at the Americana Music Festival has provided a good cross-section of the diversity and inclusive nature of the term, Americana.

So as I alluded to a bit earlier.  I got to be part of a focus group at the Americana Music Association Conference.  A panel of radio guys who represented different facets of the many headed beast that is Americana radio each brought a 5 minute sample of what their station does.  The clips were as diverse as the stations which were as diverse as this hard to define genre of music.  

First up was WGCS –  91.1 The Globe which is a public station associated with Goshen College in South Bend, Indiana.  They use primarily student talent on-air.  Jason Samuel is the General Manager of the Station and an Asst. Professor at the college.  What impressed me most about The Globe was the professional sound, the focus on artists and that they had a show that dealt with putting current artists into a historical perspective (that’s my description…)

Next up was another public station WNCW from Spindale, NC.  I was impressed by the incredible mix of music the station played.  WNCW is associated with Isothermal Community College, but uses mostly paid and community DJs.  Besides the great Americana and Roots-based music, they are notable for the long-running Frank on Friday show which features a full hour of Frank Zappa. Martin Anderson represented the station on the panel

WDVX from Knoxville, TN.  They are a public station not associated with a college.  They are all live – no prerecorded content. What I loved again was the diversity of the music, but also, they broadcast out of the Knoxville Visitors Center and can and do invite their audience in studio where they often have live on-air music. The Blue Plate Special is a legendary show and it’s host Tony Lawson represented the station on the panel.

Next, up was the first commercial station represented, KNBT 92.1 FM New Braunfels, TX. They are apologetically Commercial. At first, I was a bit turned off by the slick sound of the clip they played, although the music was great, and Ray Wylie Hubbard hosts a show for them.  But, when Mattson Rainer explained what they do, and why they do it, it makes sense. First of all, they were the only station on the panel who are 100% Americana, and Americana is blasted out in everything they do. They’ve been doing the Americana thing practically from the beginning of the term.  The slick and professional sound goes along way to “normalize” Americana to a growing radio audience.  

Finally, KRSH – The Krush is from the Wine Country of Northern California.  They are a commercial AAA and Americana fusion station with a heavy dose of Blues thrown in for good measure.  Bill Bowker is a radio legend, and he represented the station on the panel.  My biggest impression was that KRSH was the sound of Northern California.  It sounded laid back and inviting and it wasn’t hard to imagine driving along a winding road, rich, cool air blowing through my hair and just generally feeling great about the world.

The panel was put on my Rounder Records.

My final impression.  I think the truly refreshing thing I got from this panel is that there may still be hope for Radio in America.  With the huge media conglomerates playing generic music on generic stations  – the magic of radio has been diminished. The Country Station in Chicago sounds exactly like the Country Station in Nashville or Atlanta.  Same with all of the other genres of music.  These stations were all so unique and so uniquely tied to their location.  

“So you had better do as you were told. You better listen to the radio.”

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