The Ascend Amphitheater may be the best thing to happen to downtown Nashville since the conversion of the old Sparkman Street Bridge into a pedestrian bridge in 1998. Formerly the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge and now the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, its becomes a vital link between downtown and East Nashville for pedestrians and cyclists (and the go-to location for engagement photos). The Ascend has great views of the stage and the skyline, a properly pitched lawn, excellent food choices and a relaxed vibe. It’s the downtown amphitheater Nashville deserves. The Americana Music Association’s Americana Music Festival and Conference may be one of the best things to happen to Nashville’s live music scene all year. Considering the vibrancy of our live entertainment and festival options, that’s saying something. It’s tempting to say the festival is Nashville’s SXSW, but it’s really become its own thing, complete with up-and-coming artists, buzz bands and big names. Its Wednesday night Honors and Awards show at the Ryman might be one of the finest single nights of live music of the year.
The Americana Music Festival and the Ascend will converge on September 19 when the AMA presents a festival-within-a-festival of sorts at the Amphitheater. Americana at the Ascend will feature two stages and performances by legends Loretta Lynn and Steve Earle along with genre favorite Gillian Welch and rising stars Valerie June, Nikki Lane, Tift Merritt, Emmy Rose Russell and Eric Heywood. Lawn tickets start at $25 and are onsale now.
The Ascend show will cap off day four of what’s become a six-day festival spread out among numerous venues around the city, including the entire Cannery Complex (Cannery Ballroom, Mercy Lounge and the High Watt), the Basement and the Basement East, the Station Inn, Third Man Records, Bluebird Cafe, 3rd & Lindsley, Country Music Hall of Fame, City Winery and more. And that’s just official stuff. There’s plenty of unofficial showcases all over the place as well. The conference at the Hutton Hotel features dozens of panel discussions and workshops geared toward those working in the industry or aspiring to. While full conference and festival badges — which come with an Honors and Awards show ticket — are sold out as of this post, full festival wristbands are still available. $60 gets you into most venues. Know that rooms have a capacity, though, so be sure to get there on time.
Part of the joy of the festival is discovery, so be sure to take some chances. If pressed to provide some highlights of our own, we’d say we’re looking forward to: Wednesday, September 16 – Patty Griffin at City Winery at midnight; Thursday, September 17 – Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn at Downtown Presbyterian Church at 7:00 p.m.; running up and down the stairs to catch both Lera Lynn at the Mercy Lounge and Lindi Ortega at the High Watt at 10 p.m. (especially since it’s unlikely you’ll see Ortega in as intimate a venue ever again); Friday, September 18 – Sam Outlaw at 3rd & Lindsley at 8 p.m.; Josh Ritter and Glen Hansard at the Cannery Ballroom at 10:30 and 11:30 p.m., respectively; Saturday, September 19 – Americana at the Ascend Amphitheater starting at 4:45 p.m.; Andrew Combs at 10 p.m. and David Wax Museum at midnight, both at Mercy Lounge.
Also not to be missed, American Aquarium, Angeleena Presley, Buddy Miller and Marc Ribot, Doug Seegers, John Moreland, Lee Ann Womack, Madisen Ward and Mama Bear, Mary Gauthier, The McCrary Sisters, Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line, The Pine Hill Project with Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky, Sarah Borges, The Mavericks, Shemekia Copeland and you know what … we realize we’re pretty much picking the entire lineup. So don’t listen to us, head on over to the Festival’s website to check out the full list on your own. Then download the festival’s app and make your own schedule. We’ll see you around town!