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What is Americana Music?

According to the Americana Music Association, Americana is “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band.”

Americana evangelist Peter Knapp has a more philosophical definition, describing it as an amalgam of roots music fused by the confluence of the shared and varied traditions that categorically make up the American musical ethos; specifically those sounds that are merged from folk, country, rhythm & blues, rock & roll and other external influential styles.

Definitions aside, the need to name the genre grew out of radio. While the musical model can be traced back to the Elvis Presley marriage of “hillbilly music” and R&B that birthed rock ‘n roll, Americana as a radio format developed during the 1990s as a reaction to the highly polished sound that defined the mainstream music of that decade. Because of listener interest in the artists who did not fit as comfortably in the country or rock genres, a radio format called “Americana” was developed by the Americana Music Association.  A professional trade organization whose mission is to advocate for the authentic voice of American roots music around the world, the AMA hosts an annual Americana Music Festival & Conference, publishes a weekly Americana Airplay Chart, and produces the annual Americana Music Honors & Awards show.

Some of the most significant artists in the genre are Johnny Cash, Lucinda Williams, Soloman Burke, Mavis Staples, John Prine, The Band, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Presley, Alison Krauss, Loretta Lynn, Joe Ely, Neil Young, The Gourds, Lyle Lovett, Ricky Scaggs, Bruce Hornsby, Avett Brothers, Bob Dylan, Buddy Miller, Corb Lund, Dale Watson, Ruthie Foster, Porter Wagoner, Stoll Vaughan, Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Derailers, and hundreds more. You’ve probably been listening to Americana music and didn’t even know it!

Here’s a radio interview with AMA’s Executive Director Jed Hilly discussing his thoughts on Americana and some of the key artists of the genre.  While you’re at it, listen to a music video by Americana artist David Luning, performing at the Power House on July 15.

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