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Irene Kelley David Ball

AMERICANA CONFERENCE 2001   (continued)

The kickoff party Thursday night 11/1 also featured Chip Taylor and Paul Thorn, both well received. Next morning at the Hilton began with registration and the membership meeting. Then Rodney Crowell gave a stirring Keynote Speaker address, very impressive. A couple of panels ensued, one that included Delbert McClinton speaking and then playing a few tunes with Gary Nicholson.

There were many acts appearing at several clubs both Friday and Saturday night, some great shows including Irene Kelley, Toni Catlin, David Ball, and Kevin Gordon. Two of my favorites, though, happened at the Hilton right after a great lunch buffet on Saturday. Garrison Starr was supposed to go on solo, but several bandmates were on hand, and a serendipitous quartet that included Mike Grimes on guitar, drummer Craig Krampf and Jason Wilkins on bass played an exciting set, an excellent example of Pop music that is considered Americana. (Garrison's got a new record coming out on Back Porch Records in February, which we will surely cover.) Then Pin Monkey absolutely rocked the house on the hip Country side of things, they could well be the next big thing. Country enough, Pop enough, watch out for Pin Monkey, they're Good, and have a record coming out on a major label.

Saturday featured even better panels, including the one about "Americana Across the Pond" and "Americana in Print" with No Depression's Grant Alden as the entertaining moderator. Satellite Radio was talked about at several panels. It's been on the table for years, and seems to be on the verge of making a big splash, as agreements with mainstream car companies like Ford go into effect. Since diversity of programming (and consumer feedback, if one can believe such a thing) is a hingepin of their pay package, this could bode well for Americana. That is, people who want a kind of Country or Folk or acoustic type music that don't want to listen to Brooks and Dunn or Billy Gilman can tune into a program called Cross Country or something similar, on a station like Sirius Radio or XM.

But if there're no commercials, who's paying for it? Well, consumers, first of all, probably about $12.95 a month, if they want 150 channels of commercial free radio, including tons of news and entertainment that are not otherwise available. Who else will pay for it? That's right, labels. It's pay to get played everywhere you look, and it goes on in commercial Country radio as well, in the form of blatant promotions that take DJs and their families to the Bahamas in exchange for a certain number of spins for a record that's on its way up the charts. That's how we do it in America, and it's not about to change. Those end bins in Walmart that attract your attention to a record? Those cost a lot of money, and much of the so-called Promotion budgets at recording companies go directly into retail positioning. So it stands to reason that the bigger Americana labels (and many are small, so it's all relative) will get the best coverage, and Americana artists that are releasing their own product will still have to pursue airplay on Folk shows at college and public radio stations.

I used to say "Americana, whatever the hell that means." Now I know what it means, and I hope you do, too. Now I know that I'm definitely behind Americana as a radio format and as a brand for a kind of music that needs to grow worldwide so that a huge number of essential artists that might otherwise be squeezed out of a living by corporate radio's force feeding of the masses might find a home. Even though the word itself doesn't mean anything that we don't make it mean, I hope that ten years from now people will listen to Americana radio stations and go the Americana section of their record store and be able to find "their" music.

I'll definitely be going back next year, and we'll report again on the progress of the Americana movement. In the meantime, please support Americana artists, and use the word to your friends, and tell them what it means. It's everything from Blues to Bluegrass. Folk, Alternative Country, and the Pop music that's the offspring of these elements.

I think the AMA has the right idea, to be inclusive instead of factionalistic. The Americana lobby will grow as a demographic if it includes Bluegrass, Folk, Blues, even Jazz to some extent. But people and companies want to put things into smaller boxes, so their inclusive thinking will bump up against the perceptions of certain listeners, programmers, and promoters of all kinds. But if you like all these forms of music, as I do, they might all become stronger at retail and radio if they band together under a term that serves all equally, Americana.    

• text & photos FG

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