Bill DeVille's musical postcard from Nashville


nashville, vintage postcard
"Greetings from Nashville, Tennessee" vintage postcard (The Tichnor Brothers Collection; Boston Public Library, Print Department)

I am a full-fledged musichead. My idea of a vacation usually involves music. I'm the guy who loves to explore the legendary music hotbeds, having made several trips to Austin, Texas; Memphis, Tenn.; and New Orleans. But until recently, I'd never been to Nashville, Tenn., country music's ground zero.

Last Wednesday, I arrived at the Americana Music Conference. The first thing I noticed in "Music City" is all the bars, which almost always feature an artist busking. Even when the bars are empty, the talent is always good. In fact, talent seems a dime a dozen around Nashville — everybody is a country singer! This town has such an amazing history. Every bar on the strip makes you wonder if Hank, Johnny, Patsy or Waylon ever dropped in. It makes you wonder what those barroom walls would say, if they could talk!

Performances abound in Nashville, Tenn. (MPR photo/Bill DeVille)

One place Hank Williams has played is the Ryman Auditorium. It's the old home of the Grand Ole Opry. And Hank isn't the only one: Names like Johnny Cash, Porter Wagoner, Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff come to mind, among others. The 12th Annual American Music Association Awards were held there Wednesday night and were broadcast live on AXS TV. Hank's name was mentioned early and often throughout the night. The Awards show even opened with an unannounced Delbert McClinton joining the Buddy Miller-led house band on "Hey Good Lookin'," followed by Hank Williams' granddaughter Holly performing grandpa's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."

The first Americana Music Awards were held in 2002 and featured Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash in one of the duo's final public appearances. Turns out 2013 was a big year for several duos: Shovels and Rope, and Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell both performed and had huge nights, winning several awards each. The show also featured performances from the duos Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis, Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale, and The Milk Carton Kids, who wowed the house with their Everly Brothers-inspired harmonies.

The evening wasn't only duos. Up-and-comer John Fullbright performed; JD McPherson did a swinging rendition of "North Side Gal"; and Old Crow Medicine Show performed their new/old/classic "Wagon Wheel," which Old Crow's Ketch Secor composed from an unfinished lyrical sketch by Bob Dylan. There were also once-in-a-lifetime performances from Dr. John (with Dan Auerbach on guitar), Duane Eddy, Robert Hunter and Stephen Stills — all of whom performed and were given various lifetime achievement awards. It was a big night, and one I won't soon forget!

A trip to Nashville wouldn't be complete without a trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame, where I watched Dr. John sit down with American Routes host Nick Spitzer for an hour-long onstage interview. There was even a piano on stage! It was so cool to see the Dr. performing some of the music that inspired him, playing tunes by artists like Professor Longhair and Huey "Piano" Smith. If you make it to Nashville, The Hall of Fame is must see: Where else can you see Elvis Presley's Cadillac, Hank Williams' suit, Buck Owens red, white and blue guitar, Patsy Cline's dress, or the famous Gram Parsons' Nudie suit? Some of these items can make you a little misty.

Bill DeVille poses with Gram Parsons' famous Nudie Suit at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn.

Over the four-day conference, there was nightly music to check out in the Nashville clubs. A few highlights included Rosanne Cash, who performed her excellent soon to be released album in its entirety; St. Louis hot-jazzer Pokey LaFarge; and Sturgill Simpson, who sounds more like Waylon Jennings than Waylon's son, Shooter. Simpson is heading north to The Triple Rock in Minneapolis on Tuesday, Oct. 22.

I found a little time to visit Jack White's record store. It's tiny and kitschy, and it only features about 100 or so titles on vinyl.

Bill DeVille outside Jack White's Third Man Records in Nashville, Tenn.

I also spread the word about United States of Americana and The Current.

Bill DeVille participates in a panel discussion at the Americana Music Association Conference in Nashville, Tenn.

Nashville has a lot going for it; music is everywhere. But one thing it doesn't have is a station like The Current!

Listen to Bill DeVille present the rootsier side of The Current every Sunday from 8 to 10 a.m. on United States of Americana.

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