COLUMN SEVENTY-EIGHT, NOVEMBER 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)
LETTER FROM NASHVILLE:
THE 2002 AMERICANA MUSIC CONVENTION
Sept 12, 13, 14, 2002---This saga began when my good friend Deborah Orazi,
eagle-eyed, golden-eared ace music reporter for the Sarasota Herald Tribune,
asked me if I wanted to be her official photographer for the 2002 Americana
Music Association Conference here this week in Gnashville. This would, she said,
thus qualify me for press credentials, avoid messy entanglements and get me into
all kinds of events from which I otherwise might be excluded.
I said, "I'll bring my Instamatic."
I go out and
buy a trout-fishing vest so I'll look like those guys on CNN.
When I check in
at the Hilton, ordinarily a place I can't enter without attracting unfriendly
security, to get my credentials, the reception babe, the only volunteer at the
whole affair who will recognize me, and much to the delight of my boosted ego,
starts thumbing through the "P" section, then the "R" before
I can give her my name.
here under my alias. Try 'Finley, Sarasota Herald Tribune', I say,
striking a square-jawed, intrepid journalist pose.
it is. Golly, Panama, I didn't know you were a REPORTER."
"I is a
Pho-to-journalist, please," I reply, picking up my laminate and my bag of
free samples of other peoples' CDs.
In the atrium I
immediately encounter my Amsterdam
Later in the
night I set out again. I-24 into town. There are three venues this night, the
Station Inn, the Slow (or Slo) Bar and 12th and Porter. I hit 'em all, finding
nothing new or old...an endless cruise the high point of which was encountering
Mike Stewart navigating his way a few sheets to the wind back down Broadway to
man," I say.
I gotta get to bed. But you might wanna watch that truck in front of you. He
don't seem to be able to find the clutch."
I cruise 12th
and Porter again. I run into my ostensible journalistic leader, the Debster
herself. We hang out. I drink. Then we set out to the Station Inn, a notorious
bluegrass hangout here in The Vile. I get my heartstrings tugged for the hills
of home for awhile, then I say goodnight to Deborah and drink up and head home
to the Phoenix.
Friday, is the central event of the whole shebang, really, the presentation of
the 2002 Americana Music Association Awards. So 6:30 finds me at the Hilton
guzzling complimentary Shiner bock beer. It ain't Laphroaig or even Lagavullin,
but it ain't bad for free American beer. I am sitting on the third-floor terrace
where I can keep an eye on the Volvo, parked illegally on the soon-to-be site of
the Gnashville Symphony Hall. There are quite a few thousand-dollar hats here
this evening. I see a Tom Mix number that is to die for.
As I say, the
real reason I am slumming here at the Awards tonight is to see my friend Shaver
present, and, it is rumored, receive an award. These conventions are usually
pay-to-play showcase affairs, with only a few getting fees to lend their names
and thereby some credence to the event. And Shaver rightfully so. Along with
Townes, Guy Clark, David Olney, Steve Earle and just maybe a couple of lesser
lights, Billy Joe midwifed the baby we call Americana. I was in the room, or at
least the room next door, at the time the baby was being born, and so I know.
promised to save me a seat inside the banquet room at her table, and, as it
turns out, it is the best seat in the house. I am sitting down front stage
right, where I can see everthang. The PA was a little heavy in the 800h
range, so the footsteps boomed a bit. Or maybe it was simply the walking of
giants across the stage.
Because of O
Brother, Where Art Thou? the Americana scene this year has taken a decidedly
bluegrass turn. So much so that I am thinking of starting a bluegrass band of
oldsters called the Saggy Bottom Boys. But I have to abandon my usual droll
cynical attitude here and say that, as far as I'm concerned, all the right
people were nominated and all the right people won.
The Awards are
in the form of a Gibson guitar headstock complete with strings and tuners,
mounted on a horizontal piece of Nice Wood. Billy Joe won the songwriters'
Lifetime Achievement Award. The only person surprised was, of course, Billy Joe.
Receiving his award, the first thing Shaver had to say is typical Shaver:
be nicer if they gave you the whole guitar."
I first met
Johnny Cash at the House of Cash studios when I got the chance to play on Billy
Joe's first record. I was standing on a step leading down to the orchestra pit,
and I was still looking UP at him. And, though years have gone by and I've
gotten a little taller, I guess(cause he could never get shorter), he is still
an imposing presence. Johnny Cash received the Spirit of Americana Award
presented by the First Amendment Center, for...well, for everything about which
Cash has spoken up forever. And that's a lot of stuff. I will not confess to
tears. I will just move on.
Years ago, the
Texas Jewboys played a gig at Hofheinz Pavilion in Houston. It was a kinda Texas
Music Fest thang. Appearing there also was, among other notables, Sir Douglas
Sahm. Later that day or next I flew back to Austin on the same plane with Doug.
And for some reason, two great banties meet or something, we nearly came to
blows. Had to be separated by a couple of anorexic stewardesses. The President's
Award, presented posthumously to those who have moved on too soon to get their
just recognition on this particular flight, was presented to Doug Sahm Friday
night, for his vast contributions to what we are now I guess all calling
Americana. Chet Flippo, the dean of American Music journalism, accepted. I
presented the Song of the Year Award to Jim Lauderdale for his tune She's
Lookin at Me, from his collaborative album with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch
There was a lot
of music, mostly as I say, bluegrass, between presentations. It was wonderful.
The evening ended with a finale by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, rendering a
Lonzo and Oscaresque version of Temptation.
It was a grand
Later, I am
sittin on a couch at Douglas Corner, a non-AMA venue this year, waitin to hear
David Olney. I've just returned from a walk with Louis Jay Meyers, a good
picker, and that's all that needs to be said. I like the guy. I tell him my
Volvo story. We share an Amsterdam moment.
I have earlier
arrived twice, once to drop Mike Stewart here, and again after taking my Dutch
friend Bas to the Basement, where they do not permit you to smoke. Bas is a
Dutch music maven entrepreneur looking for talent to book here at the Fest. Alex
Tobin and I have returned here to wherever it is I am to hear Dave.
I have known
David Olney for 30 years, since the old days before we had won our spurs on the
hard streets of Music Row. I am always overjoyed to see him again, because I can
rely on some quirky take on the working musician's life to pass from his lips.
Let me be the next guy in a long string to tell you that Olney has the real shit
and presents it uncompromisingly. If you haven't heard his work, you owe it to
yourself to do so, because I wouldn't lie about this stuff. He is, quite simply,
the best at what he does. Buy his records.
What we talk
about tonight is getting older. Dave says for a while he wondered about maybe
fudging his age downward. Finally, he says, he just started revising his age
he says, "I just tell 'em I'm 68, and people say, "wow, that old guy
looks good for his age. He's gotta be cool." That makes me about 71, as I am
three years older than Olney.
I stick for
most of Dave's set, then drink up an go home.
Next day, I am
pretty much Americana'd out. I take some time to go visit my old friend Phil
Larson, whom I've known since the coffeehouse days at Beaux Arts in Pinellas
Park Florida. That's thirty-five years. Phil is in town for the Americana thang,
being a shill for the Waybacks, Kathy Chiavola, and the three surviving members
of Bethlehem Asylum: myself, Charlie Dechant, and Buddy Helm.
I had the
opportunity to go see Billy Joe at the Belcourt tonight, but he doesn't need me
there, and I am, as I say, whupped. Besides, I know his tunes. Very well.
I come back to
the Phoenix, and as I'm lying in bed with Patty I am overcome with love for and
gratitude to her for continuing to endure.
Patty. You're a good little woman," I say.
you, Papa. You're a good little woman yourself," she replies,
We go to sleep.
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