Friday, September 10, 2010

The AMA = brand not band, no roots

Last night, I listened to the Americana Music Association’s eighth annual awards ceremony, live from Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Prolific singer and songwriter, Jim Lauderdale, hosted the event. A few months ago, I heard Jim sing at Knucklehead’s. Why he wasn’t playing the Uptown or the Midland says a great deal about the Kansas City music scene…we’re knuckle-heads.

What is Americana Music? I’m not sure.

Right now, it’s a $force$ in the music business. Perhaps the term brandwagon (brand not band) fits this genre which is now an established music type with it’s own Barnes & Noble section. Let the musicologists chime in below. But musicology aside, this is clever branding and smart revisionist musical history that helps us organize our downloadable music databases. Go back a few years to the Coen Brothers film, “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”…that soundtrack, a pretty big seller, started the branding machine. Alison who?

Listen to the digital branding iron hissing all over your music collection.

Thought that was folk? Hiss. Watch out Bobby. Hiss. What about all that British stuff like Fairport Convention? No problem…hiss. I wonder if Ry Cooder has allowed them to categorize his stuff? Hiss…Is he an AMA member? I hope so. It’s so lonely out there.

Let’s hear it for outsiders, though…that’s pretty American, right?

The AMA has managed to create a vibrant musical orphanage for all those outsider, semi-retired, lost but found again artists living and deceased. Outsiders like Robert Plant, of Led Zeppelin, Townes Van Zandt. Even country music legends like Johnny Cash reside in their musical Westminster Abbey, canonized. Tonight his daughter, Rosanne, sang “Ode to Billie Joe”, now I suppose branded with the Americana logo. Jack White, now living in Nashville, was there tonight and presented a lifetime achievement award to Wanda Jackson; his latest recording project artist.

I like a great deal of this music, old and new. The Americana brand has even probably branded my favorite band, The Band.

It’s weird. Weird because much of this music owes its roots to African-American musicians like Mississippi John Hurt and Ray Charles. But tonight, this audience was not a diverse one. But that’s America. Rock and Roll (whatever that is) resides upon the foundation of African-American music geniuses, too. Remember, this isn’t about musicology, this is about sales, downloads, spins, and website hits.

But local musicians should take note. There are many in town playing this great music, writing wonderful songs. The next time Jim Lauderdale comes to town, you should all carry him on your shoulders, up the hill from the river bottom, down Main Street, and plop him on the stage of the Midland Theater. Get with the brandwagon, join the professional association that honors your music; your songs and the songs you honor.

But the AMA should take note of an authentic version of Americana emerging…

AMA, I offer you The Roots; that un-definable, un-categorical group of musical geniuses from Philadelphia, Jimmy Fallon’s house band. AMA, when you bring them to Ryman next year, you may be moving ahead. Right now, you’re becoming a musical museum of revisionist history, a segregated retirement home, a mausoleum.

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