The genre known as Americana encompasses a wide range of music, and that was evidenced in a few Thursday night performances.
But a few performances from Thursday night at Nashville’s Americana Music Festival proved that the style of music that luminaries such as Hank Williams helped to pioneer knows no bounds.
Such is the case with Louisiana rootsy rockers Dash Rip Rock. It is nearly impossible to pin the band into one specific category, whether it is impassioned rock and roll, swaggering rockabilly, or punk. And during their 8 p.m. showcase at the Rutelidge in Nashville, Dash Rip Rock gave their early audience a taste of them all.
Performing as part of a Louisiana-themed showcase, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame members ripped through a set that included several of their original hard-charging tracks mixed in with gems from their 2013 album honoring the country outlaw Billy Joe Shaver.
For those that remember Shaver’s style as a crooning cowboy, Dash Rip Rock’s versions offered a refreshing punch-up, as frontman Bill Davis added his share of screaming solos to songs like “Amtrak (Ain’t Coming Back),” giving it more of a hot-rodded feel.
One that stayed true to its plaintive roots was the Shaver gem “Light a Candle for Me,” which was a solid moment to catch one’s breath amidst the fast-paced show.
As for Dash Rip Rock’s own catalog, they dove all the way back to their 1987 self-titled album for the heartbreaking ballad “Endeavor,” which Davis noted was featured on the MTV show Cutting Edge.
For more current material, the trio brought out the pop-influenced track called “Meet Me at the River,” which boasts a memorable riff that drives things along. That one came from the 2012 record Black Liquor, as did the title track from that album a few songs later.
Dash Rip Rock might have been the first band on the bill for Louisiana night at the Rutelidge – a lineup that also included Susan Cowsill and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, but their bayou boogies and stalwart sense of rock and roll made them an apt act to kick off the evening.
But as Dash Rip Rock was winding down their set, fans were lining up at 3rd and Lindsley about a mile away from the Rutelidge to see a few icons of Americana’s British invasion.
At 9 p.m., Billy Bragg packed the house and had a capacity crowd laughing and applauding with his quick wit and songs about politics and heartbreak.
Bragg explained that an article was coming out on Friday in the Guardian in which he explains how English songwriters took over Americana. The main reason? Bragg cites revered skiffle musician Lonnie Donegan, who influenced acts such as the Beatles and the Who.
Bragg playfully refuted claims by his fans that he had “gone country,” despite his Kenny Rogers-esque beard and pearl-snap shirt, but he had no problem pulling out a countrified version of “You Woke Up My Neighbourhood” to the delight of the masses.
And a slide guitar on stage was really highlighted on “Chasing Roses,” a somber tune about relationships and the struggles of them from his 2013 album Tooth and Nail.
Following Bragg was the legendary Richard Thompson.
There were no slide guitars, nor a roaring electric guitar that he typically wields. This show was just Thompson and his acoustic, with a guest singer added at several points during the set. It’s amazing, then, that even with just an acoustic guitar, Thompson did not sound stripped-down by any means.
His hybrid picking style allows him to play bass notes and rhythm with a pick and add melody with his lower three fingers, creating lush landscapes for his witty and often cutting lyrics.
The Americana Festival Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting winner pulled heavily from his 2013 album Electric, which was produced by Buddy Miller.
But, there were also other familiar tunes sprinkled in, like 2002’s “Valerie” and the Irish pub ballad “Johnny’s Far Away” from 2007’s Sweet Warrior.
Thompson closed with the timeless “Persuasion,” a song that was requested by a woman who had been enjoying her wine. Still, she should be thanked, as Thompson’s gentle picking and unmistakable voice made it impossible to not stare at the stage in admiration and disbelief.