The First Annual Australian Americana Honours Night: What Went Down.
The First Annual Australian Americana Honours Night. Wow, what a mouthful. I excitedly told my friend at my casual-support-myself-while-I’m-a-student job about this when it was first announced and she looked at me confused, “How can it be an Australian American night? It’s either Australian or its American music, that doesn’t make sense”. She’s 22, and she doesn’t realise that I was saying Americana not American, and that Americana is a genre of music. I say, “Yeah, I’m not sure exactly what it means”, but I’m lying, I do. I just feel it would be better to save her the embarrassment.
It’s not until about three weeks later, at 7:10PM on Monday October 4. I arrive out the front of the Thornbury Theatre, and excitedly step out of my Uber (my driver was an absolute crackup by the way, five stars) ready for a night of great music. I have a look at the line, it’s a long line and a very punctual crowd, doors open at 7:30 for an 8:30 start. As I walk down the line from start to end to find the back and join, I look at the faces of the queue-goers. I realise there is definitely a certain demographic here for this show, and I am not part of that demographic. Everyone in the line is over 35 I would say, with the majority being 50+. This isn’t an issue for me, its just a shock to see so many older people at a gig, when I’m so used to being part of the the majority. Now I understand why my workmate didn’t know what Americana music was, because as it turns out, I’m the different one for being a 20-year-old in this scene.
About twenty minutes later we pour in to the venue, and everyone gathers to mingle before the show, it’s like a networking event and I’m a fish out of water. I walk to the bar and order a glass of Pinot. Pinot? I am a beer girl, why did I do that. The pressure of the situation got to me and I panicked, did what I could to seem more adult, it seems. I walk through the “mingle room”, into the theatre and find my seat. As I sit down I realise, that although I know what Americana is as a genre, I have absolutely no idea what’s actually in store for the night. I start imagining the different ways it could pan out, and before I know it Old Crow Medicine Show are descending down the stairs at the back of the room in marching band style.
Old Crow Medicine Show gathered on stage and played two songs: “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and “Wagon Wheel”. They tell the story behind the latter song, which they co-wrote with Bob Dylan, without ever meeting the man. They also speak of his important contribution to Americana music. Before hearing “Wagon Wheel” live I always kind of thought of it as being one of those songs that everyone knows and sings along to ironically in country pubs at 3am, a bit like Darryl Braithwaite’s “The Horses”. But, now, hearing the story behind it and listening to it live I realise how much more it is than that, it fills me with a nostalgia that I didn’t even know was within me as I bop along.
Hosting the night is Triple R’s Denise Hylands and Jed Hilly the Executive Producer of the Americana Music Association. The two are very knowledgeable and passionate about the genre (Hilly got Americana put in the dictionary), and they explain what the night will be: a showcase of Australia’s best Americana acts and a few from the USA. As well as this there were to be a couple of awards handed out and the history of Americana explained.
Up next: Jordie Lane & The Sleepers, who play “Black Diamond”, which is one of my favourite songs of theirs. I’m surprised by the way the crowd receives the song and the massive cheer which follows it, because although Jordie was one of my main reasons for coming to this gig, he isn’t that well-known. They only play the one song, and I’m left wanting more. As the night continues, the majority of the artists start a theme of playing one song before being joined by another artist for a duet. Busby Marou, Catherine Britt, Kenneth Branagh, Emily Barker, Kevin Welch, Shane Howard joined by Yirrmal and Valerie June take the stage one or two at a time and deliver inspired and inspiring performances of their most well known Americana songs.
I hadn’t heard of Ruby Boots beforehand, but from the moment she steps on to stage she has a new fan in me. She’s originally a Western Australian, who now calls Nashville TN her home and has just signed with Bloodshot Records. This comes as no surprise to me, she plays great music, and has the sort of charisma and cool (and her 1970s vibes in her flared pantsuit) that makes me think I should start playing guitar. Similarly, Henry Wagons super theatrical rendition of “King Hit” really caught my eye. Henry showed so much personality as he danced and pranced around the stage and his deep voice combined with the comedic elements of his lyrics and body language was a real showstopper.
With each performance I remember thinking, “how could this get any better”? And each time, it did. That was until the absolute highlight of my night: Bernard Fanning and Kasey Chambers singing “Watch Over Me” together. Kasey welcomed Bernard to the stage after singing her own “Ain’t No Little Girl”, saying “we are claiming him as one of us for the night”, and Bernard laughed and thanked the audience for letting him poison the night with his mainstream music. The rendition brought me to tears.
The First Vanguard Award was presented to Brian Taranto for his contribution to the Americana community, and the second to Kasey Chambers. Kasey asked her brother Nash onto stage to accept the award with her, and in an emotional speech thanked Jed Hilly, for helping her to feel like part of something bigger rather than an outcast. I feel like all of us there at this stage felt like part of something bigger, and I forgot the age gap I had noticed earlier.
That was until I stood up to leave and heard a man say “Oh wow, look! A young person!”