This year, the Americana Music Association has selected the state of Arkansas as the regional music focus for its 22nd annual AMERICANAFEST, Sept. 13-17 in Nashville, Tenn. In partnership with Arkansas Tourism and Visit Bentonville, the destination music festival and conference event previews this special programming today that features multiple panels, special events and a music showcase over four days. Highlights include a panel focusing on the life and legacy of Johnny Cash; a special event with the brightest, upcoming Arkansan artists that are pushing the Americana genre forward; and an evening showcase of music with a star-studded tribute to Levon Helm.
“We’re beyond thrilled to spotlight the state of Arkansas at this year’s festival and celebrate its rich musical heritage,” said Jed Hilly, Executive Director of the Americana Music Association. “Through this programming, attendees will be able to experience the sounds of delta blues, rockabilly and Ozark folk, as we welcome our friends from the Arkansas tourism, music and creative industries who have built and are expanding the tradition of Americana.”
The Natural State has produced some of the most diverse and iconic pioneers of American music and contributors to the American songbook. From Sister Rosetta Tharpe, considered to be the birthmother of rock and roll, to Louis Jordan who ignited the move from rhythm and blues to rock and roll. Directly influenced by these local pioneers, Arkansas gave the world Johnny Cash, Charlie Rich, Al Green, Levon Helm, Ronnie Hawkins, Glen Campbell, Albert King, Howlin’ Wolf and many more. Two of the most significant artists mentioned in any of the writing about the roots of Americana music are Levon Helm (and The Band) and Johnny Cash, both Arkansas natives.
The Arkansas spotlight begins at the three-day conference portion of AMERICANAFEST on Wednesday, September 14, with music executive, visionary and Arkansas native Al Bell as a featured panelist for “Wattstax Now And Then: Celebrating 50 Years of Wattstax and Americana Music by Black Artists.” Bell, the former owner and CEO of the historic Stax Records, was born and raised in Brinkley, Arkansas before he became a disc jockey in Little Rock. He then propelled his Sunday morning DJ shifts into a lifelong career in the industry, working in promotions and producing records before making his way to the top of Stax Records. Hear from Bell and other contemporaries about the historic ’72 Wattstax festival that restored the Watts community spirit following the neighborhood rebellions outside of Los Angeles, California.
Additionally, Wednesday will include Arkansas musician Rev. Greg Spradlin moderating “Arkansas Creatives,” a discussion on creative influences that developed the Americana sound in The Natural State, with panelists Bonnie Montgomery, Jason Weinheimer (Fellowship Hall Sound) and Arkansas music historian Stephen Koch. The session will focus on how the Arkansas culture spawned the musical creativity that led to multiple influential artists carving a distinct Americana sound.
Peering into the past, industry veteran Sharon Corbitt will lead a history lesson during “Arkansas’ Delta Roots” on the innovators and originators of the southern delta sound. From gospel to country to blues, Larry McCray, Munnie Jordan (King Biscuit Blues Festival) and more panelists to be announced will discuss the artists that had a direct impact on the foundation of Americana.
Thursday is full of musical performances at 3rd and Lindsley. Sponsored by Arkansas Tourism and Visit Bentonville, the day begins with a special day party hosted by The House of Songs. The “Arkansas Extravaganza” will have appearances from Dylan Earl, David Starr, Shannon Wurst and more.
Following a glimpse into the future of Americana, the festivities continue in the evening with Arkansas showcasing acts taking the stage, which includes Willi Carlisle, Erin Enderlin, Larry McCray, Rev. Greg Spradlin and Bonnie Montgomery. The night closes with a special tribute honoring the career of Arkansas native Levon Helm. Backed by an Arkansas All-Star house band, Mike Farris, Allison Moorer, Autumn Nicholas, Webb Wilder, Oliver Wood and more will salute the legendary artist.
Kicking off the festivities on Friday, musician, writer and performer Robert Burke Warren will lead the charge on “Johnny Cash: An Arkansan Icon Endures,” with a deep dive into Cash’s historic career. Nearly 20 years after his passing, the Man in Black’s impact and influence still crosses genres, backgrounds and generations. His legacy as an Arkansan lives on through film, books and social media. AMERICANAFEST brings together Beverly Keel (MTSU), Adam Long (A-State Heritage Sites) and Robert K. Oermann to look at how his legacy has stood the test of time.
Returning on Saturday, September 17, The House of Songs hosts the “Arkansas Explorer Day Party” that will wrap up the week-long celebration and highlight the very best that The Natural State has to offer. Sponsored by Arkansas Tourism and Visit Bentonville, songwriters and Arkansas natives spotlight the sights, sounds and more with performances at InDo Nashville.