Americana Music and the Big Tent

This morning the Americana Music Association  shared a link to an online (Meet the New Stars of Americana) past covering the Americana scene in Red Hook Brooklyn and touching on the Americana genre in general.

I take a view much like I believe Jed Hilly and the AMA do, since they sent this article out via twitter and their own official email blast, that any press is good press and it helps to lift all Americana boats in the ocean of mass-media and National consciousness.  It takes a real aberration of opinion, like calling Robert Plant the King of Americana or declaring the predecessor to Americana, to be dead , to rile my feathers enough to take use this blog as a virtual soap box..

But the article is pretty much what i would expect from Spin magazine. A 20-something speaking using context of indy-rock and language of 20-somethings to establish shared taste and like-mindedness. Ever generation does this. Have you listened to most 20-somethings on the  train talking to one another? It’s like razor wire, like, for your, like, ears. Right?!

I’m just glade that in this instance Uncle Tupelo , Whiskeytown and Bill Monroe are the topic of conversation instead of the whatever skinny-jean and hoodied is the flavor of the week.

If there’s anything in the article that peeves me it’s the reference to Americana pioneer Gillian Welch, who co-produced of the 9 million unit selling O, Brother, Where Art Thou and Alison Krauss, the most awarded woman in Grammy history (26 awards of  38 nominations) as “niche acts.” I think most musicians would love to have that niche. there is also the painfully ham-handed application of sub-genre definitions – “chillbilly, bootgaze, artisanal rock, outhouse, tin can alley, or hobohemian.”

Fans of Americana share, aside from band-wagoners, share a lot of the same attributes as folk, blues and jazz fans. there is a reverence to a purity and reverence to an idea of “tradition” that sometimes gets in the way of innovation and creativity. But in the case of Americana, a mongrel genre at best, the litmus of genre purity, or as I like to call it the “more authentic than thou” argument, makes no sense for a field that can claim genre-bending acts like Those Darlin’s , Hank Williams III and the Legendary Shack Shakers as members.

Washboard lessons held in Brooklyn, John Deere caps and pearl-snap shirts from Urban Outfitters  and a vague grasp of bluegrass history is no threat to Americana.  Age, geography, wardrobe or other litmus tests aside from the musical variety which I partake in ad nauseam, is pure horseshit.

4 Replies to “Americana Music and the Big Tent”

  1. Great response. Yeah, that “niche” comment bugged me to no end, had me fired up for the better part of the morning. In the end, I feel it was just really bad writing–I did a fair share of music writing in my 20’s, even interviewed Ms.Welch myself, and I’d have been as embarrassed then as now to turn in an article as ill-informed as this one. I mean, Bill Monroe was mentioned absolutely apropos of nothing, just a random aside set off by a pair of em dashes that took up less space than the writer’s descriptions of Brooklynite wardrobes.

    The majority of the bands mentioned in the piece strike me more as indie rock played on traditional instruments, which is totally ok, sometimes even interesting (I actually like Mumford & Sons and don’t hate the Avett Brothers), and probably doesn’t need to be shoehorned too much to fit under the wide umbrella that is “americana,” but I’d hesitate to label it “something that people think is real.” And I’m certain some very listenable stuff will come from some of these bands, which is great for the evolving legacy of our musical history.

    What did bug me about that thread of discussion, though, was the implication that music with a history stretching back over a century only matters right now because trendy, New York young people have deigned to take interest in it. “It’s also enjoying an unexpected commercial and cultural renaissance, particularly among the indie-rock set,” the writer says. Not like ten years ago, when “Americana itself was still a relatively small, insular genre.” That’s as ill-informed as it is arrogant (please refer to the writer’s treatment of Ms. Welch and Ms. Krauss once again), two traits that have no place in serious music writing.

  2. Thanks for bringing this article up Twang Nation buddies! I thought it was a nice overview of a scene, and what’s interesting is that Amanda Petrusich is NOT a 20-something hipster at all. She’s a well-known music critic who just wrote a book that I loved (and reviewed) on American roots music and her travels across the US.

    Check out my review of her book. I think she actually is one of the few writers today with a really good grasp of what ‘Americana’ really means as a genre. She gives the term substance, whereas I usually hear people bandying it about whilly-nilly with no idea what it means.

  3. Amanda Petrusich may have a larger context of the Americana scene (I have bit have yet to read her book) bit because of the editors or something the article was an mile wide and an inch deep.

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