The Expansion of Americana Music

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Jerry Douglas

I thought I’d share something that I find intriguing in my weekly musings. Americana -- once the realm of country and roots rock -- seems to be expanding exponentially these days. Not only is it a bigger umbrella -- one reason why so many folks have a hard time defining it -- but in recent years it’s found its way into other scenarios as well.

I was looking through my music collection the other night and I noticed titles by the most unlikely of artists -- Motley Crue, Nirvana... the Moody Blues -- all covered by traditional pickers of the bluegrass variety. On the face of it, it seems an odd combination. After all, the aforementioned bands have nothing in common with roots music whatsoever. So the fact that these tributes come from such unusual sources could initially be interpreted as overreach. And yet, the fact that the arrangements and the songs find such a natural symmetry indicate that in truth there is no limit to American’s influence, and that while it’s yet to pierce the mainstream, it certainly isn’t there yet.

Indeed, Americana has spread its wings and found new avenues for exposure. This weekend I am attending the extraordinary Big Ears Festival in my nearby environs, Knoxville Tennessee. While the event is primarily known as a gathering of some of the world’s most eclectic... and eccentric... musicians, it’s also made a place for artists that have their roots in traditional music. Indeed, this year’s performers include Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck and David Hidalgo, allowing for a different and more rootsy variety of music to line-up this year.

While each of those individuals are world-class and deserve to be included in any upper tier line-up, in my opinion, it also indicates that Americana is being taken seriously as an expressive art form and no longer viewed as simply sounds of the back porch variety. It’s a prestigious kind of recognition that’s often eluded those who combine strings and songs. And it’s a recognition that’s well deserved.

By the way, I hope you’re enjoying these new weekly musings. Our hope is that they give you something new to ponder in the interest of what Americana music brings to the table, both as a unique genre and as a bigger factor in the music world overall.

Check in next week when I give my critique of a performance by one of the Eagles, one of originator’s of Americana back in the day -- when its forerunner, country rock first came into prominence. We’ll take a cue from my upcoming book about that transition -- Americana Trace -- and compare the band then to now.

I hope you’ll check it out...

-- Lee