Saturday, September 23, 2023

AmericanaFest 2023: Celebrating Blues Great Bettye LaVette

By Wil Comstock

MCAU Contributing Writer

22nd Annual Americana Music Awards


     As I put my hands to the keyboard, I know you have already heard, read or seen who the winners were at this year’s AMA’s.  I would like to write about one winner in particular who has been overlooked for more than 50 years. She has always been here in plain sight. Finally, her day has come… the unstoppable, Bettye Lavette, winner of the Legacy of Americana Award in Lifetime Achievement. 

     Accepting the award, Bettye said, “I have been in this business for 62 years. And I have lost all humility; I deserve this award!”  The New York Times called her “one of the great soul interpreters of her generation.” 

     Jon Bon Jovi says of Lavette, “Some singers sing – then there is Bettye, she doesn’t just sing the song, she lives in each one of them.  I’ve stood close enough to see it in her eyes.”  

     Bettye performed the Randall Bramblett classic “In the Meantime” with all of the grit and soul this 77-year-old woman has acquired over her lifetime.

     In 1962, at 16, she recorded her first single, “My Man, He’s a Lovin’ Man,” produced by local record producer Johnnie Mae Matthewswhich Atlantic records later picked up. It became a huge R&B record between 1963-1964.  In 1965, she charted with “Let Me Down Easy” on Calla Records.  She continued to record but without much commercial success. Atco did not release her “Child of the Seventies” album. In 1979, she was asked to join the touring company of “Bubbling Brown Sugar”cast as Sweet Georgia Brown. She appeared with Honi Coles and Cab Calloway during the show’s six-year run.

     French soul music collector Gilles Petard got a hold of Lavette’s previously unreleased master of “Child of the Seventies,” which she recorded for Atlantic. He released it as “Souvenirs” in 2000. At the same time, Dutch fan Ben Mattijssen recorded Bettye at a live show in Utrecht, Holland, and released it as “Let Me Down Easy – In Concert” on hisMunich label. These two CDs, released almost simultaneously, created a renewed interest in Bettye, and showed that she was still in great voice.

     In 2002, Grammy Award-winning producer Dennis Walker got her signed to Blues Express, and they made her “comeback” CD, A Woman Like Me. Later that year, Mike Kappus, president of Rosebud Booking Agency, signed her on, prompting the release of “A Woman Like Me” in 2003. Bettye won the Blues Foundation’s W.C.  Handy Award in 2004 for Comeback Blues Album of the Year, as well as the Living Blues Critics Pick as Best Female Blues Artist of 2004!

     Kappus invited ANTI- Records President Andy Kaulkin to see one of Bettye’s shows. On the strength of her performance, Kaulkin asked Bettye to sign a three-record deal. Her first album was with Grammy Award-winning producer Joe Henry, who suggested an album of songs written entirely by women. The result was the album I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise, which was on many critics’ “Best of 2005” lists.  Her second album for ANTI, The Scene of the Crime, was recorded in Muscle Shoals’ FAME Studios with Drive-By Truckers. It was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

     In 2006, she received the Pioneer Award from The Rhythm and Blues Foundation.  She received a Blues Music Award for Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer in 2008. In December of that year, she performed a critically acclaimed version of “Love Reign  O’er Me” at The Kennedy Center Honors in a tribute to Roger Daltry and Pete Townshend of the Who, who were among the honorees.

     In May 2010, her third ANTI- CD, “Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook,” was released to rave reviews. Lavette’s husband, Kevin Kiley, suggested the idea after her performance of “Love Reign O’er  Me” at The Kennedy Center Honors.

     The year 2012 saw the release of her no holds barred auto-biography, A Woman Like Me, co-authored with David Ritz, who has written biographies on Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Marvin Gaye. 

     Verve Records released “Things Have Changed” in late 2016, an album of Bob Dylan coversGrammy Award-winning Producer Steve Jordan was at the helm. In 2019, It was nominated for two Grammy Awards, one for Best Americana Album, and the song “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight” for Best Traditional  R&B Performance. 

     In 2020 Bettye’s second Verve album, Blackbirds, was released. It consisted of songs by black female singers from the ‘50s and ‘60s that inspired her early in her career. Again, she teamed with drummer/producer Steve Jordan. She was also inducted into The Blues Hall of Fame and received a Blues Music Award for Soul Blues Female Artist. In 2021, Blackbirds received a Grammy Nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

     This year saw the release of “Lavette!”, an album of Randall Bramblett covers produced by Steve Jordan.   Bettye declares Bramblett to be “the best writer that I have heard in the last 30 years.”  This album has a stellar line up of musicians including Steve Winwood, Jon Batiste, John Mayer, and Larry Campbell, as well as Jordan. Lavette is daring and vulnerable as she stakes new ground on this collection of gems.


Friday, September 22, 2023

AmericanaFest 2023: The Americana Awards Show Brings Music ‘Family’ Together for Unforgettable Performances

The Americana Honors and Awards Show

Celebrating Bettye LaVette and Others

Ryman Auditorium/Nashville City Winery

Sept. 20, 2023

AMERICANA FEST 2023: “The music business needs music, but you don’t need the music business to make music.” — Steve Jordan, music producer (Americana artists who never found a complete fit in narrower music genres like country or pop have found their heavenly place, as well as a “family” to sing, strum and jive along with. And fans couldn’t be happier. The Americana Honors and Awards Show at the Ryman on Wednesday presented a delightful mix of soul, gospel, bluegrass, jazz, blues, country (and any rootsy, unidentified genre in-between), drawing applause after applause. People long to hear what’s true. Artists like Bonnie Raitt, The War and Treaty, Sista Strings, Nickel Creek, the McCrary Sisters, and Logan Ledger have been creatively unleashed to be totally themselves (without the constraints of pre-conceived notions), lifting music lovers to places they’ve never been. If you haven’t heard of Bettye LaVette (recipient of the Legacy of Americana Award), then start searching YouTube. This blues-and-guts singer (a Grammy nominee who has recorded in Muscle Shoals) has been filling entertainment venues for 62 years, but I bet Motown never told you. I’m always awed when I hear Rufus Wainwright sing… such a distinctive voice. Bonnie Raitt seemed to be the perfect musical bridge between Bettye LaVette and Nickel Creek. There were special moments, including a funny quip from a talented and long overlooked Bettye, who said, “I also want you to know at this point, if you’ve had 62 years of success, you feel a little different than you would after 62 years of struggle. I’ve lost all of my humility. Whatever you give me now, I deserve.” The crowd roared. Learn more about the awards show and other aspects of the AmericanaFest 2023 at www dot Americana Music dot org.) #ChuckWhiting #ChucksDiary #AmericanaFest #AmericanaMusic #Americana #Awards #Honors #SteveJordan #BettyeLavette #BonnieRaitt #TheWarandTreaty #SistaStrings #NickelCreek #McCrarySisters #LoganLedger #RufusWainwright #Music #Art #Arts #MusicCityArts 9-22-23 

Text and photos by MCAU Editor Chuck Whiting

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook @Chuck.Whiting or @MusicCityArts

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

AmericanaFest 2023: Missing a Show Ain’t So Bad (or Is it?) Hire a Driver!

By Wil Comstock

MCAU Contributing Writer

Sept. 20 (Wednesday)

AMERICANAFEST Day Stage presented by NPR Music, World Cafe and WMOT

Featuring Bobby Rush, Dom Flemons, Eileen Jewel, 

Maggie Rose, and Tommy Emmanuel

     I was really looking forward to this show. Two legends, a Flemons, Jewell, and a Rose. I left early, hit some heavy traffic on the way in, I found a parking spot near Monroe and Fourth Avenue.  It was getting a little warm out, but I didn’t mind the five-block hike to the Bowl to see such a star-studded show.  

     Approaching the venue, I noticed there didn’t seem to be much activity. I pulled on the door, and it was locked.  I opened my AmericanaFest app only to find the event was at Eastside Bowl. I was at Brooklyn Bowl! And I live here! But then again, the only time I cross the river is to go to the Tomato Fest once a year.

     So, I turned around, walked back to the car, by then it was 12 p.m. (starting time). I made the decision not to go. I had a meeting on the other side of town at 2 p.m. Eastside Bowl was 5 -½ miles in the opposite direction, on a street with multiple stop lights.

     But never fear. My contacts told me it was the best show they ever saw. The waiters were shirtless, the waitresses wore bikinis, and the concert goers were told to leave their shoes at the door. All drinks were half price, and the pizza was free. To top it off, there was a special guest appearance by Dolly Parton and Paul McCartney singing their new release “Let it Be.” 

     Yeah, “Let It Be” all right. Next time I’m hiring a driver!

     At least I made my meeting on time… Ugh!

AmericanaFest 2023: Concord Records Puts on Incredible Party and Show at The Optimist

By Wil Comstock

MCAU Contributing Writer

Sept. 19, 7 p.m. show at the Optimist:

     Concord Records sure knows how to throw a listening party!  Oysters on the half shell, jumbo shrimp, delectable hors d’oeuvres, and the best coconut pie, hands down. And lets not forget about the music!

     Shooter Jennings hosted this incredible lineup that kicked off with John R Miller.  John is a native of West Virginia near the Potomac River. He combineelements of country, folk, blues, and rock to make his unique sound.  Check out “Lookin’ Over My Shoulder” to get a taste of what this guy is all about.

     Korean-AmericanNat Myers grew up in Kansas, West Tennessee, and Northern Kentucky. He claims he always had an itinerant heart. His mom bought him a left-handed starter guitar, trying to keep him away from the riffraff he was hanging out with, but he still hung out with them.  His father listened to the blues.  It dawned on Myers “ The real American epics were being told by these itinerant musicians from the ‘30s and ‘40s.” Nat sounds like a throw back to that time

     He finger picks a National guitar in a style all his own. His vocals are smooth and his lyrics poetic. I loved “Pray for Rain,” an analogy for continued endurance and blessing on a four-year relationship.

     Afie Jurvanen, known by his stage name BAHAMAS, calls Nova Scotia home where he lives with his wife and children.  His ballads were simple yet powerful as he accompanied himself on acoustic guitar.  On the crowd favorite, “Take My Time,” you could have heard a pin drop.

     How could you not like Calgary native Bella White?  Her sincerity and honesty seeps through every one of her songs.  This is nowhere more apparent than on “Break My Heart.” Introducing the number, she proclaimed, “I’m a cry baby, and that is that!”  Take a listen to “Fire on the Bedsheet.”

     Logan Ledger stepped out with a full band. Hailing from Californina, Logan settled in Nashville and paid his dues songwriting and playing around town. This skinny guy can sing a lonesome, yearning song like no other!  Audience favorites “Golden State” and “There Goes My Mind” are pure gems.  I only wish some of the band members provided background vocals.

      Four-time, Grammy Award-winner Sarah Jarosz played a show of all unreleased material.  Who does that?  She had a full band who loved being on stage with her. Their joy became our joy!   I particularly enjoyed “Movie of My Life” and “Worst Case Scenario.”

     Thank you Concord Records for a wonderful and memorable evening!


AmericanaFest 2023: Concord Records Kickoff Party at The Optimist

AMERICANAFEST 2023: “The coolest music scene today.” — The New York Times (Concord Records and The Optimist joined forces Tuesday night to help kick off the AmericanaFest, the “coolest” music festival on the planet. The music, the food, and the atmosphere were primo at the big Concord celebration, with festival goers wining, appetizing and mingling in the restaurant’s spacious dining area before heading down for live performances in the concert hall. It’s my favorite party of the year bar none. The food at The Optimist was absolutely delicious with a wide assortment of seafood, including jumbo boiled shrimp, oysters on the half shell, and lobster rolls (with hush puppies and out-of-this-world sauces). Desserts ranged from gourmet brownies to coconut pie. Chef Ford Fry’s dining concept has become a big hit in Music City, and Concord Records goes all out (even providing free drinks for attendees.) But the highlight is the live music of course. Taking the stage were the talented Bahamas, Bella White, John R. Miller, Katie Pruitt, Logan Ledger, Nat Myers, and Sarah Jarosz… all introduced by emcee Scooter Jennings. Events like this always delight with the unexpected. It was great to run into singer-songwriter Frankie Staton and her son. And MCAU contributing writer Wil Comstock forced me to pose with a younger lookalike (i.e. the same shirt syndrome). Tonight marks the official start of the festival with the annual Americana Honors & Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium. Then everything revs up with concerts and parties at a host of venues around town. I can’t wait… More reports to come!) #ChuckWhiting #ChucksDiary #AmericanaFest #AmericanaMusicFest #AmericanaMusic #Americana #ConcordRecords #TheOptimist #MusicCityArtsUpdate #MCAU #Music #LiveMusic #Festival #Bahamas #BellaWhite #JohnRMiller #KatiePruitt # LoganLedger #NatMyers #SarahJarosz #ScooterJennings #FordFry #Art #Arts #MusicCityArts 9-20-23

Follow Chuck Whiting and Music City Arts Update on Facebook and Twitter @Chuck.Whiting and @MusicCityArts

Photos and text by MCAU Editor Chuck Whiting 


Friday, August 25, 2023

A Heavenly Close to the Americana Fest in Nashville

 By Wil Comstock

MCAU Contributing Writing

Saturday, 9/17

Thirty Tigers Gospel Brunch


     There were several options for late Saturday morning. Usually the Gospel Brunch is packed out. This year there was a little elbow room. There were generous portions of chicken and waffles, and DJ Tim Hibbs provided classic gospel sounds as we dove into our meals.  


     Host Henry Wagons warmed up the crowd before introducing Stephany LambringHer vocals and guitar work were perfect on the haunting Gillian Welch song“By the Mark.” Bostonian, Alisa Amador, captured our attention with the beautiful “Milonga Accidental.” She weaves many styles of music to come up with her own unique voice, as she demonstrated on “Together.” We were treated to songs from the upcoming album “Built on Bones” by Emily Scott Ross. Emily was joined by friends Lizzy Ross and Alisa Amador. Their voices blended superbly as they smiled and swayed through “Hearing My Prayer” and “Men and Moons.” The album is a modern adaption of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

The Shindellas stood out in their matching pink lamé outfits and orchestrated moves. But what really floored me was their intricate harmony and sense of melody on songs like “Fear Has No Place” and “I Will Be Myself Today.” Their website says “The Shindellas are a band formed under the belief that when women come together, powerful change can happen. Amen!  

     Georgia singer songwriter Brent Cobb took the stage sat down and sang “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” Along with “Closer Walk,” he performed the stirring “We Shall Rise” and the self-penned “When It’s My Time” from his new gospel album “And Now, Let’s Turn to Page.”  Cobb said he had always wanted to make an album like this and after a near death auto accident, he figured it was time

     Last up was the McCrary Sisters minus Deborah who passed in early June from her third stroke. Everyone was clapping hands and singing as the sisters tore into Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” Between strokes, Deborah wrote the uplifting “Let it Go.” It took on new meaning as the McCrarys invited us to join them on this rousing number.  Alfreda McCrary asked all of the performers to come back to the stage as the sisters led the way on “I’ll Fly Away.” The audience was on their feet singing praises and lifting their hands. Praising Jesus for the fortification of the chicken and waffles!



Riverside Revival:


     I got excited when I first noticed Watkins Family Hour was going to be at Americana Fest. They were first slotted for the Thirty Tigers Gospel Brunch. But I had confidence that the powers that be would find a place for them to give a full show. Siblings Sara and Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek fame, have hosted a monthly show at LA’s Largo for the last 20 years.  They have invited Willie Watson, Fiona Apple, Lucius, Jackson Browne, Madison Cunnigham, and others to join them onstage. Out of these musical relationships came Watson Family Hour and three recordings. Their opening song of the evening, “The Way I Feel Inside,” is a reworking of the old Zombies songPete Harper is part of the Family on this tour providing keys, bass, guitar, backing vocals and lead vocals on “Take Me Down Easy.” One of the lighter moments was the fun reworking of Ernest Tubb’s “Thanks a Lot.”  Thank you Riverside Revival for providing the space for this concert! 


     Canadian, Amanda Rheaumereally impressed me. This heartland rocker had some great songs both musically and lyrically. She brought along an ace band with the guitarist and fiddle player supporting her on back ground vocals. She started with “100 Years,” inspired by words attributed to Métis tribal leader Louis Riel, who led the North-West Resistance in 1885: “My people will sleep for a hundred years but when they awake, it will be the artists that give them back their spirit.” Rheaume is a citizen of the Métis Nation and a First Nation activist. 

     Recently, Amanda traveled five hours above Thunder Bay, where she is from, to Lac Seul, Ontario, where her Métisancestors lived. Standing by the lake for the first time, she felt like she had returned homeThis is the inspiration for her powerful song “Return to the Water. Introducing her closing song, “The Skin I’m In,” she said, “As humans, we don't have to look, sound, act or be like anyone but our unique and beautiful selves. Amanda found a new fan in me. What an inspiring show!