Monday, September 29, 2008

Americana Music Conference 08 Nashville TN Edit

I caught my flight out of Laguardia heading into Nashville to cover the Americana Music Conference again this year with every expectation of having a great time and checking out a lot of bands. As I sat there at the gate gazing across the runways I couldn't help but feel fortunate in being sent off to cover such an event. I wondered if there was some poor bastard peering back at me in the distance through one of the windows of Riker's Island wishing he was catching a flight to anywhere. I'm sure there was.

After landing in Nashville, I picked up my bags and joked with the rental car guy that I would like to be upgraded to the yellow Corvette that was parked outside the office. He replied that he would be happy to do that for an additional $150.oo per day. "Ha!" I proclaimed and asked him for the coolest car he could give me at my regular rate. Dude came through for me I have to say.

I never really got why they built an exact replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, but it makes a great backdrop for a meaningless rental car photo shot such as this. As I drove to the hotel I was reminded again that Nashville is sometimes referred to as the belt buckle of the Bible belt. God-fearing mostly Christians go to church weekly and give some of their earnings to help pay for the infrastructure of the corporate Jesus machine that it seems to have turned into. I've never been too big on religion but have no problem with those who are. Live and let live I say. As a child I would hide from my mom when it was time to go to church and then kick and scream all the way after she finally found me. She gave up on it by the time I turned four which made my dad happy because he didn't really want to go either. We would watch wrestling instead. I always feel weird when I'm in a church. Like the statues are staring right at me and about to start bleeding from the eyes. Luckily I'll be spending most of my four days here in bars watching bands and not talking about religion thereby exposing myself as the godless New York boy that I am.

I'm reminded of the lyrics to a Metallica song "Leper Messiah":

Time for lust, time for lie
Time to kiss your life goodbye
Send me money, send me green
Heaven you will meet
Make a contribution and you'll get a better seat
Bow to Leper Messiah

Billy Graham is arguably the king of evangelicals and has made a shitload of money over the years. Not a dime from me.

As it turns out, hurricane Ike messed up the supply chain for gasoline here in the south and there are tremendous lineups to get some. Sometimes the people in the lines don't get along so well and the cops are called in.

Since getting a gun here is so easy, I can understand why the police might be nervous about gas line violence.

The first show I checked out was at the famous Ryman Auditorium, which is known as the first church of country music. It actually used to be a church and then was the home to the Grand Ole Opry for decades. They moved the Grand Ole Opry to the outskirts of Nashvile into a shiny new soulless venue that if personified would resemble the love child of Michael Eisner (Disney CEO) and Dolly Parton. Surrounded by a giant mall with every sort of crap available in souvenir form, this is nothing short of a corporate monolith in the form of a shameless money grab. I liked it better at the Ryman.

Levon Helm is the headliner. Levon was the drummer and vocalist for the legendary group The Band who were Bob Dylan's backup band for a while. They had a string of hits of their own including "The Weight" and "Up on Cripple Creek". Apparently Levon got really screwed by Robbie Robertson on all of the royalties for those songs. I was told that when I interview him there are to be no questions about The Band. He was awesome.

It was a fantastic show with some big time surprise guests.

Billy Bob Thornton.

Sheryl Crow.

Robert Plant.

Ross Gordon Rylance, the security guard who watched my equipment bag while I was taking pictures. He is also a realtor if you are looking to buy in Nashville.

Steve Earle was there but didn't play, sadly. I lined up an interview with him back in New York sometime soon.

The next day there was some serious music watching to get done so I got right at it bright and early, checking out various local and conference sponsored bands. There are a lot of bars in Nashville and almost all of em' have a band playing at all times. So how can you hang out in bars all day and not get totally sloshed? Well you have to be a professional like me. My extensive road experience and Canadian drinking lineage ensure that I never have too much blood in my alcohol system or vice versa. Really I just love music and it energizes me.

These local boys were quite good I thought, with wicked telecaster riffs and a smartass front man hitting on the ladies while hustling rounds for the band. I bought them one after they attempted a Hellecasters song that I requested. Next I went to a rooftop party that I was invited to where they had a cool band playing with a pretty girl in it. It was there that I cast my eyes on one of the most peculiar creatures I've ever seen. It was Beatle Bob.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:Beatle Bob (born 1953) is a well-known figure in the St. Louis, Missouri music scene. He has been seen doing his characteristic dancing at a wide range of concerts including Ani DiFranco, Less Than Jake and Chuck Berry, both in the crowd and onstage with the performers. He is known for his arrhythmic dance moves and Beatle-inspired "mop top" hairstyle and '60s attire. His constant presence and dancing is welcomed by some concertgoers and an aggravation to others, but even his detractors admit that his presence signals that one is seeing the best music event in town on that particular night. He has allegedly been to at least one live show every night since Christmas Eve 1996, and seen over 10,000 bands over the last decade.
I cannot over-emphasize the extreme dorktitude of the moves this guy makes. He waves his arms in a fashion that might be useful while directing a symphony of drunken village idiots on exstacy. I felt tremendous shame on that terrace, horrified at the sight of someone who works in my profession carrying on like this in full public view. I resisted the urge to push him over the edge, downed my beer and moved on to a bunch more bars. Little did I know, I would be witnessing a lot more awkward dance moves by uncoordinated white folks before the night was through.

Who knew that Billy Bob Thornton had a band? I wondered why he was at the Ryman the other night and now I know. They had a gig at the Cannery Ballroom so I hopped the shuttle and checked them out. They are the Boxmasters and really sounded great. Dude is naturally photogenic and this may be the best live band shot I’ve ever taken.

Now it was time to do my interview with living legend Glen Campbell.

The interview went pretty well I thought.

There was a tribute performance for Glen later that night that was really terrific. The man himself showed up and did a few from his new record "Meet Glen Campbell" where he does cover versions of contemporary bands like Travis and Green Day.

That was a fun night. That's it for this year's Americana Music Conference. See you next year Nashville. Watch for this year’s South by Southwest blog entry coming in March. Thanks for reading. Comments and suggestions welcome.

*Photos by Paul Goguen.

*Paul and Glen Campbell photo by Dave Sollenberger.

*The views on this posting are entirely those of the author and are in no way associated with any other entity or organization.