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COLUMN SEVENTY-EIGHT, NOVEMBER 1, 2002
(Copyright 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)

LETTER FROM NASHVILLE:
THE 2002 AMERICANA MUSIC CONVENTION

Nashville, TN, 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.

"Sure," 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.

THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 12

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.

"Uh, I'm here under my alias. Try 'Finley, Sarasota Herald Tribune', I say, striking a square-jawed, intrepid journalist pose.

"Oh, here 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 Americana buddies, over here for the event. Alex Tobin, now heading up Americana-Europe.com, Louis Jay Meyers of SXSW and A2A fame, and notable Gourds producer Texas Mike Stewart. The stately silver Volvo is double-parked out front, however, so I gotta go.

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 the Hilton.

"Get in, man," I say.

"Nah, man, 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 SEPTEMBER 13

Next evening, 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.

Deborah has 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:

"It would 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 concur.

Shaver 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 Mountain Boys.

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 night.

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 upward.

"Now," 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.

SEPTEMBER 14

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. Phil is a font of memories of the old days and of old friends long since disappeared.

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.

"Goodnight, Patty. You're a good little woman," I say.

"Thank you, Papa. You're a good little woman yourself," she replies,  

We go to sleep.  ##

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