Lives Of The Party: Eight Exciting Acts To Catch At This Year’s AmericanaFest

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Aaron Lee Tasjan. Photo by Curtis Wayne Millard

For this year’s 17th annual AmericanaFest, artists from all over the country will descend upon Nashville for six days of live music in September. This year’s lineup has tons of big name attractions, from solo heavyweights John Prine and Lee Ann Womack to high-profile singing duos like Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle and Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, to tried-and-true veteran roots bands like the Bottle Rockets, the Indigo Girls, and the Handsome Family.

“Anything and everything can fit under the [Americana] umbrella,” says Kaia Kater, who’ll be performing at this year’s festival. “It can be plugged in, unplugged, a capella, full band, no band, no rhythm, full rhythm. I’ve always been a little puzzled by the genre, but that’s what makes it so fluid and malleable.”

With nearly 200 acts on the six-day bill, it can be nearly impossible to pick and choose between each day’s countless showcases and performances. So for this year’s AmericanaFest, American Songwriter decided to profile a few of the best and brightest rising artists who will be performing throughout the week.

Aaron Lee Tasjan

Thirty-year-old Aaron Lee Tasjan has already lived several musical lives: as the guitarist of glam rock outfit Semi Precious Weapons; as the fill-in lead guitar for the reincarnated New York Dolls; and, most recently, as a roots singer-songwriter who made splashes with last year’s “E.N.S.A.A.T” (East Nashville Song About A Train), his razor-sharp critique, aimed equally at himself and his peers, of the burgeoning East Nashville musical community (“The kids in this town don’t have a clue/ They’re as white as the collar that they’ve painted blue,” he sings in the opening couplet).

This October, Tasjan will be releasing Silver Tears, his second solo album that expands on the acoustic instrumentation of his debut with rich production flourishes that nod to Roy Orbison and The Traveling Wilburys. The primary songwriting influences, however — John Prine, Tom Petty, Guy Clark — remain the same. Tasjan fell hard for Prine as a teenager, and has been deeply influenced by the songwriter’s uncanny combination of complexity, melody, depth and humor ever since.

Tasjan sees the Americana music community as a useful way to group like-minded artists in an era where consumers are increasingly being given too many options to choose from. “You’ve got to have some sort of foothold for people to get on board with what you do,” he says. “At the end of the day, people need a way to relate to you as an artist.”

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Ruby Boots. Photo by Rachael Barrett

Ruby Boots

Ever since Bex Chilcott, who goes by Ruby Boots, released Solitude, her full-length debut last year, the Perth-based singer has experienced several “bucket list moments.” Chilcott has opened for Kris Kristofferson and toured with artists like Nikki Lane, Shovels & Rope and Shakey Graves, introducing her blend of lush, melodic country-folk to audiences throughout the United States as well as her native Australia. Chilcott grew up adoring Madonna as a child and, after falling hard for grunge as a young teenager, her life was forever changed when she first heard three records as a 16 year-old: Pearl by Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan’s Desire and Joan Baez’s Greatest Hits.

Chilcott began writing songs during long stretches of alone time living out at sea as a pearl farmer in Western Australia, and within a couple of years had devoted herself to music full-time. Chilcott, who is already writing material for a follow-up record, finds herself at home in the Americana community, a term that’s just starting to catch on back in Australia. “So many genre meanings have been skewed over time and represent something vastly different to what they meant 40 years ago,” Chilcott says. “It’s important to have a genre and more so, a community, where artists that write within a range of roots-based genres can live.”

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Molly Parden. Photo by Kelsey Cherry

Molly Parden

For the last few years, Molly Parden has established herself as one of the most in-demand backup vocalists in Nashville, earning gigs singing and playing guitar for artists like Andrew Combs, Erin Rae, and Sam Outlaw. “I try to let my voice match the artist I’m singing with,” she says. “I try to metaphorically wrap my voice around theirs so it sounds like one voice.”

But Parden is also a commanding singer-songwriter in her own right, having just released With Me In The Summer in July. The four song EP, which includes the arresting single “Kentucky, I,” marks Parden’s first release since her 2011 debut Time Is Medicine. Parden moved to Nashville three years ago from Atlanta, where she had begun garnering acclaim for her work with Matthew Perryman Jones. “I literally just tweeted at home and was like, ‘Can I open for you?” Parden says of her first encounter with Jones. “He just responded, ‘Yeah you should totally play.’”

Parden, who says she’s “not the type of songwriter who just churns stuff out all the time,” spends time crafting her atmospheric folk-rock, drawing influences from inspirations like Radiohead, War on Drugs and Kathleen Edwards. She displays her omnivorous tastes on Instagram, where she can be found covering everyone from Mario to Kate Bush to Toby Keith. With her mix of surging folk-rock craftsmanship and tender balladry on her latest release, Parden is destined to break out at AmericanaFest.

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Ryan Beaver. Photo by Katie Kauss

Ryan Beaver

Texas-bred singer Ryan Beaver has resided in Nashville for three years after moving to town from Austin. Earlier this year, Beaver released his third album Rx, which blends Beaver’s traditional country roots with his more rock-based approach on highlights like “Dark” and “Kristofferson,” an ode to Beaver’s hero that he says is about “anybody who’s ever moved to town to chase a dream.”

That blend of music reflects Beaver’s musical appetites growing up in small-town Texas, where he listened to everything from early Jimmy Buffett to Jackson Browne and Bob Dylan to ’70s country stalwarts like Willie and Waylon. As such, Beaver has developed an impressive versatility in both roots rock and classic country circles; he’s one of the only artists to both be playing 2016’s CMA Fest and AmericanaFest. “It can be tough for fans to get into your music or for music business folks to understand you if you’ve got some gray and your music isn’t completely black and white,” Beaver says of his straddling of the country/Americana worlds. “But you’ve got to be yourself. I’m never going to be just one thing. You can be a watered down version of somebody else, but the moment you are completely you, nobody can touch that.”

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