TJWest’s 2019 AmericanaFEST Highlights

By Kim Grant

I came to Los Angeles by way of Chicago 18 years ago.  At the time, I could count on one hand the amount of people I knew in L.A.  One of those people, who remains a good friend to this day, introduced me to The Cinema Bar. The Cinema Bar was the gateway drug (for me, anyway) to the L.A. roots music scene.  Lots of late nights watching Tony Gilkyson, Randy Weeks, Ramsey Midwood and Mike Stinson do their thing with occasional drop-ins by Lucinda Williams, Dave Alvin and Rosie Flores, to name a few.

Ramsey, Randy and Mike have all moved on from L.A. to Texas, and I now live in the mountain foothills, so I don’t make it to The Cinema Bar much, anymore.  But The Cinema Bar keeps on trucking, and the roots music scene keeps evolving, and now more than ever you can catch roots music act on any side of town, any given night of the week.  Local music journalist, Bliss Bowen just wrote a fantastic piece on the “scene” for PBS SoCal.

Our scene is small but growing larger.  And it’s a tight, yet all-inclusive community.  I am a music publicist by trade and for many years a music booker and promoter.  Full disclosure, I’ve worked with many people mentioned in this article in one or both capacities.  I’ve been attending the Americana Music Association festival held in Nashville since 2010, and I’ve watched our Southern California participant numbers for attendance grow larger each year.

This year several SoCal artists showcased officially–Alice Wallace, Leslie Stevens, Amilia K. Spicer, Mapache, Jason Hawk Harris, Garrison Starr, Janiva Mangess, The Record Company, Shawn James, Jonathan Wilson, and recent ex-pats, Jaime Wyatt and Rod Melancon. One of the most-highly anticipated showcases was Tanya Tucker, who brought the producer of her new record, Brandi Carlisle, up on stage with her.  Shooter Jennings was co-producer for While I’m Living, and enlisted local LA players Ted Russell Kamp, Chris Masterson and Elaine Whitmore for the album alongside Chris Powell, Tom and Phil Hanseroth.

There were also several official events that celebrated California. Local producers, Rebelle Roadshow (KP Hawthorn, Adrienne Cohen-Isom, Karen Rappaport McHugh) took over the American Legion Post 82 on Thursday the 12th to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of LA’s famed Palomino nightclub with “The Palomino Rides Again.” There were stories and songs from Janiva Magness, Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, Rosie Flores, Jim Lauderdale and James Intveld with performances from Amilia K. Spicer, Greg Felden, Emily Rose Epstein, Alice Wallace, The HawtThorns, Nocona, Andrew Leahy & The Homestead and The Shootouts.

It was a day of camaraderie and great music, with music-lovers and fellow musicians dropping in and out to say hello, show support and just to listen.  A camera crew from Ditty TV set up shop and nabbed musicians for sound bites and small interviews.  During intermission Adrienne Isom and James Intveld showed a film trailer for an upcoming documentary on The Palomino nightclub that is being co-directed.

Acme Feed and Seed hosted “The California Country Show” on Friday the 13th.  The show was billed as a “…social mixer and radio event featuring performances by Americana artists from the West Coast, Nashville and beyond who have a great love for the California Sound.”

The event was co-hosted by Dave Bernal of “The California Country Radio Show,” Americana artist and co-founder of “The California Country Social”, Manda Mosher, and program director for “Acme Radio Live” Justin Hammel, in association with Prickly Pear Presents (who hosts a local LA show at The Highland Park Bowl), Music Executive Eric Craig and Music Supervisor, Annette Conlon.

“The California Country Show” house band included Eli Wulfmeier on guitar, Austin Callender on bass, Matt Lucich on drums and Emily Zuzik on backup vocals.  It was a daylong event that included performances from Lasers Lasers Birmingham, Tawny Ellis, Ted Russell Kamp, Just Dave Band, Manda Mosher, Leroy From The North, Garrison Starr, Brian Wright & the Sneakups, Jaime Wyatt and Jim Lauderdale.  The performances were broadcast live from the Acme Radio Live studio along with interviews of the performers.

Tawny Ellis had famed violinist Scarlet Rivera (Bob Dylan) accompanying her, and Matthew Szlachetka joined several performers on stage with his guitar.   The performances were tight and energetic and included lots of crowd participation.  Towards the end of her performance, Garrison Starr invited anyone up on stage that could sing harmony while Brian Wright encouraged sing-a-longs during his set. Chip Frazier and Shawn Underwood of Twangville hailed the showcase as one of the best at Americanfest with them both highlighting Ted Russell Kamp’s performance.

The party continued into the night with “The California Country Shake-up” at Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge.  Hosted by Bernal and Mosher, the performances included some of the daytime artists with the addition of Pi Jacobs, Morrison and Company, Szlachetka and Sarah Aili. Photographer, Amos Perrine showed up and documented the show for No Depression.  It was more casual and low-key hang than the day show, but definitely highlighted the togetherness of the California community.

I flew back home on Saturday, so I missed the “West Coast Turnaround” hosted by Ted Russell Kamp at The Bowery Vault and presented by The California Country Show & California Country Apparel.  Performers for that show included Andrew Leahey, Pi Jacobs, Emily Zuzik, Szlachetka, Kamp, Greg Felden, Rich Mahan and Manda Mosher.

I did get out that week to see other musicians play.  I went to the Guitartown/14” Fringe kickoff show “Better Together: That Memphis Groove and Grind”. An annual party in its 5th year, it is hosted by Shilah Morrow and Deb Williams, and is always one of the Americanafest highlights. Morrow is deft at bringing together community and finding commonality among music scenes. Standout performances: Nocona (I’m biased, but it’s true), Liz Brasher, Nikki Bluhm, Susan Marshall, Brian Wright and Aaron Beavers (Rolling Stone agreed!).

I was also lucky enough to attend the Awards show with Tawny Ellis, courtesy of Don Was (Thanks, Don!).  It’s always fun to listen to the banter of The Milk Carton Kids and enjoy the stellar musicianship of the house band—Buddy Miller, Brady Blade, Ian Fitchuk, Jim Hoke, The McCrary Sisters, Shannon McNally, Dirk Powell and Don Was.  Great performances from everyone but especially, Jade Bird, Brandi Carlile and Yola.

I attended a party at KP and Johnny Hawthorn’s home (who were also my hosts for the week), and rubbed elbows with friends from Alternate Root Magazine, Don Gallardo, Lee Zimmerman and Julie Christensen.  They set up a small stage where Julie sang few songs, as well as The HawtThorns, Joshua Ray Walker and J. Isaiah Evans of The 40 Acre Mule.  Later that night I saw Joshua Ray Walker play a set with a full band and he blew my mind.  That kid is loaded with talent.

Another late night set I saw was Aaron Lee Tasjan at The Cannery Ballroom.  Over the years I’ve caught a song or two at SXSW and AMAfest, but I had never seen a full set.  It was a thoroughly amazing performance with the whole crowd mesmerized.  Later that night I headed out to Broadway with Liz Garo (LA music booker extraordinaire) and Emily Epstein where we caught a set at Robert’s Western World.  My pals, Noelle McKay and Brennan Leigh were up on stage for JesseLee and friends featuring Greg Garing.

As always, Americanafest was a whirlwind, with me trying to take notes and then just giving up.  It was amazing to see so many Californians representing this year and I hope our numbers continue to grow.  We just have to cross our fingers that they all won’t move to Nashville in the next 12 months. 

Kim Grant

Kim Grant

After growing up listening to Dolly, Merle and Willie, Kim Grant spent the 90’s immersed in the Chicago indie rock scene. Spending many nights at the famed (now-defunct) venue Lounge Ax, bands like Bad Livers, Giant Sand, Handsome Family, Palace Brothers and Wilco turned her on to what was then called Alt-Country. After moving to Los Angeles in 2000, she found this same feeling of musical community at a tiny west side bar called The Cinema Bar where she met artists, Mike Stinson, Randy Weeks, Tony Gilkyson, Ramsay Midwood, and Kip Boardman. These talented folks spurred her enthusiasm for the Southern California roots music scene and the Americana music scene as a whole. Now a music publicist, Grant (alongside Liz Garo and Pam Moore) founded the Los Angeles, weekly roots music series, The Grand Ole Echo in 2005. Also with Garo, Grant helped to curate the Roots Roadhouse American-roots music festival in both 2011 and 2012. Also in 2011 she began co-producing a SXSW day party with Julie Richmond titled, Grand Ole Austin which is still going strong. Visit TJ West on fb and
Kim Grant

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