The Avett Brothers at the Americana Awards show
By Ken Paulson
Television is a very big deal to the Americana music community.
For years, the Americana Music Association has worked to establish the genre with the general public, and TV is the key.
Any medium that can make Snooki a household name should do wonders for Buddy Miller.
That’s why news that WNPT, Nashville’s public television station, would broadcast the 2011 Americana Music Festival Honors and Awards show , and that Austin City Limits would do a show of highlights, was so welcome. A broader audience would finally see what Americana music was all about.
Yet the early results were discouraging. That initial live broadcast from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville showed large expanses of empty seats early on, due to a late-arriving crowd. Unbelievably, the opening graphic noted that the evening was dedicated to the memory of “Jim” Hartford rather than John Hartford. And then early in the show, transmission difficulties meant audio and video drop-outs during performances by Justin Townes Earle and Elizabeth Cook. Ouch.
Things were better for a rebroadcast two days later, although the length of the show was apparently longer than the original estimate. If you have a TiVo, you didn’t see a dazzling finale.
But the good news is that the music overall was stunning, the performances passionate and even the presentations were well-paced. Austin City Limits should find it relatively easy to mine the two-plus hour show for an hour’s worth of great music, drawing on performances by Robert Plant, the Avett Brothers, Jim Lauderdale, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Miller, Cook, Earle and more.
That kind of quality exposure will build awareness of Americana, but will also amplify the sales pitch to prospective music festival sponsors.
My guess is that Austin City Limits, scheduled for Nov. 19, will edit out acceptance speeches, which may be just as well. The message relayed by Mumford and Sons thanked “the Nashville community,” which is exactly what the Americana Music Association doesn’t need. Americana needs to be seen as a vibrant worldwide genre, which just happens to have an office in Nashville. National television exposure is critical to making that happen.