With about 300 acts scheduled throughout the week, Nashville’s 20th annual AMERICANAFEST® conference and festival offers a dizzying variety of musical choices.
What to do?
The best bet for sonic grazing continues to be the venerable Cannery Ballroom/Mercy Lounge/High Watt nightclub complex on Eighth Avenue just south of downtown. Stay for a song or several, then walk through a hallway or down a flight of stairs to more listening.
The buzz surrounding young Austin country band Mike and the Moonpies meant staying for the set’s duration Thursday night in the packed High Watt: the cozy upstairs venue that’s among the top listening rooms in town.
This was turbocharged Texas dance hall music at its finest: five youngish fellas in reptile-skin boots ripping through an 11-song set of guitar-fed stompers (“Road Crew”) and midtempo steel guitar-laden honky-tonk hold-her-closers (“You Look Good in Neon”). It’s as if George Strait got caught at a Fabulous Thunderbirds gig and decided to stay on stage and let loose.
Fresh from recording their new album “Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold: with members of the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in London — yes, the same studio the Beatles made famous — the band recently got the full “next big thing” treatment from Nashville-based writer-editor Joseph Hudak in Rolling Stone magazine.
As in “the year’s most sophisticated country album” sort of treatment, as the magazine’s headline reads.
Mustachioed singer-songwriter-frontman Mike Harmeier, dressed in skinny black jeans and cowboy hat, possessing the smooth vocals, rhythm guitar-playing and the calm collectedness of someone who’s been there and done that. Harmeier formed the band a dozen years ago, after all, parlaying a cover band with 300-plus songs in its repertoire to two critically praised LPs and a robust touring schedule.
Long-haired Zach Moulton spends the set hunkered over his pedal steel guitar, laying down sophisticated but unshowy phrases. Drummer Kyle Ponder looks like he walked off the set of “Wedding Crashers,” sporting an untied bow tie and a no-frills shuffle beat. Lead guitarist Catlin Rutherford stands stock-still and blasts no-nonsense riffs more Jimmie Vaughan than Stevie Ray Vaughan. As a counterbalance, boisterous bassist Omar Oyoque whirls to and fro, at one point crouching as Harmeier leans on his back to lay down a guitar lick.
Yeh, it was fun. Texas-sized fun.
From September 10-15, at nightclubs, music halls and venues throughout Nashville, the 20th Annual AMERICANAFEST®offers hundreds of some of the best roots music going.
AMERICANAFEST® 2019 continues through Sunday at various Nashville venues. View the full schedule on NowPlayingNashville or download the app from the AmericanaMusic.org website for the latest information.