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Kevin Gordon Toni Catlin

AMERICANA CONFERENCE 2001   (continued)

These are sketchy terms: Folk, Alt-Country, and Americana. Folk usually breaks up into traditional and modern Folk. Alt or Alternative Country refers to Country flavored or oriented music that does not sound like mainstream Country radio. Both genres have singer songwriters that may tour solo or with a band. Americana is a broader term, less a genre than a radio format. It's like the word codependency, a lot of people are into it, but few people can tell you what it means.

This week I swapped phone messages and emails with Rob Bleetstein in Northern CA, he came up with the Americana chart for Gavin originally. Here's what he had to say about the term Americana:

"I originally wanted to call it the Crucial Country chart, borrowing the term from Peter Rowan, but Gavin thought that too big a slight on mainstream Country. We batted a few things around, but I was hell-bent NOT to call it the Alternative Country chart, as both words at the time just had been used and abused. When I worked at KHIP radio with the old KFAT DJs, we used to say "American Music" (borrowing from the Blasters song). In my initial work at putting the panel and everything together at Gavin, I was also working very closely with Jon Grimson who had just left the WB Nashville promo department to start his own Indie Promotion company. He had suggested the term Americana to me, and after throwing lots of terms around, that one stuck with me after I thought about what it meant musically, which was really nothing, so it was our chance to define it as something. My vision was just to bring the KFAT mentality of programming a loose mix of Country oriented music to the world."

Now some years later, Gavin has abandoned the Americana chart, and it currently appears in another publication, The Album Network. It's also evolving into a more inclusive umbrella format, "...everything from Blues to Bluegrass," according to J.D. May, the eloquent Executive Director of the Americana Music Association. [www.americanamusic.org] That includes Folk and Alt-Country, as well as the Pop music that stems from Folk, Roots Rock, even Blues and Jazz. May said that the AMA would be aligning itself with the Blues and Bluegrass associations, and that they would also be part of the Folk Alliance.

All that said, one of the first high hurdles is to brand the term Americana in as many minds as possible, globally -- in the industry, over the airwaves, at retail, even with the artists themselves. But there's definitely a movement afoot, and that's what the Convention was all about.

Things couldn't have started off better. My current obsession, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, opened the kickoff party at The Belcourt Theater on Thursday night. They were typically impeccable, undeniably masterful. Further hyperbole will be saved for an upcoming interview with Gillian in a future issue. David had a very funny moment on stage that went something like this:

"Since this music we do is such radio music [sic], we just got done doing our first ever radio edit of a song. We used all the big label tricks. The edit is probably longer than it says it is, for instance. You should be seeing it soon, depending on where they send it. This is Americana, right? How's that working out?"

Although modestly, the movement is growing, and spreading abroad. One of the more significant points that came up in the various panel discussions over two days was the fact that Americana is an increasingly recognized genre or format in some European locales, especially the UK. (Lost Highway's Ryan Adams, the darling of Americana, had quickly sold 40,000 units there by the time he'd sold 55k in the U.S., and by Christmas will likely have sold 100k.) I also learned that British radio is not genre specific the way our radio is, you can hear many kinds of music in a given hour. The British do not, allegedly, cotton to commercial Country, and are instead prone to traditional Country and Alternative Country. (In these troubled times, they are sometimes one and the same.) Predictably, a growing number of Americana artists are finding moderate success going over to tour, solo or in small combos.  continue to page 3

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