Artists get acquainted with the second day of the Thriving Roots conference

There are advantages to attending a virtual conference. It’s a lot cheaper, on the one hand. No one cares what you wear for another. But one of the best things about the new Americana Music Association Foundation’s first event, “Thriving Roots: A Virtual Community Music Conference,” is that each session can be viewed as it airs or anytime after.

It eases the stress of having to choose to catch UK expat Yola and Foundation board member Brandi Carlile, both nominated for Americana Honors & Artist of the Year Awards, complaining about their career, where singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier delving into her songwriting process, her SongwritingWith: Soldiers work and her best-known track, “Mercy Now”, in a session with her partner, the singer-songwriter Jaimee Harris.

On Day 2 of this three-day conference, a reconfigured version of what would have been the 21st annual gathering of the Americana Music Association (which became AmericanaFest in 2015), featured several high-profile names offering recorded performances and discussions. or participating in real-time panel discussions, including answering questions from virtual participants.

It started with an interesting juxtaposition: a presentation by Big Machine Label Group artists Ray Wylie Hubbard, the Cadillac Three and Sheryl Crow, who performed “Woman in the White House” and a presentation called “Folk the Vote: Music and Politics In which Deanna McCloud, Executive Director of the Woody Guthrie Center, guided a tour of the centre’s eponymous exhibit and interviewed folk singer and activist Ani DiFranco. One of the clips McCloud showed was of Guthrie’s friend Pete Seeger and his other Guthrie fan Bruce Springsteen singing “This Land is Your Land” on the steps of the United States Capitol at the time. of the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009.

“It’s always interesting to hear artists being said, ‘You’re not supposed to talk about politics. You are here to keep us entertained. And we couldn’t disagree more, ”McCloud said. Even Woody said, ‘I’m not an artist. I am an educator. These artists are there to make us think, and we are here to listen.

Pointing to items representing “Vote Dammit!” From Difranco initiative, noted McCloud, “It takes courage to put yourself forward and make sure you’re using your platform to talk about things you believe in.”

Voting is a topic close to the hearts of many conference attendees – literally; Crow, Gauthier and several others wore T-shirts bearing this message, or expressed it verbally.

“Ani said that voting is not so much an expression of oneself as an act of participating in the greater good,” Gauthier said during his segment, on access to universality in songwriting . “It connects me to all the people who fought and died to give me the right to do so, and it connects me to the future.”

DiFranco, meanwhile, wore a t-shirt designed by the Latinx rockers of Kansas City Making Movies, a group also known for their activism. “We are all immigrants”, one can read.

Immigration, and speaking out, featured in the dialogue between Carlile and Yola, whose father was Ghanaian and mother Barbadian-British; their genes combined to give her an appearance which she described as “more difficult to sell in England”. Her mother tried lightening her daughter’s skin with a discolored cream because life is easier for fair-skinned blacks in their own community as well as in the white world. Yola said people also assume that because of her looks, she sings R&B, gospel or jazz, rather than Americana, in all of her country-rooted glory.

But Carlile observed that tokenism isn’t always bad; it can lead to inclusion and assimilation.

“When people have a festival and I’m asked to be part of the lineup because they realize their lineup isn’t diverse enough… nobody on that lineup. I want to be, “she explained.” Then I’m going to take the stage and say things into the mic about how I’m a mom and I’m gay and I’ve been married before. even that it’s legal and I’m the father on my daughter’s birth certificate and there’s no room for me and I want that to change.

She asked Yola: “How can we continue to leave the door open to different people who have created the eccentricity, the beauty and the diversity of our music… without the people who will help in this assimilation be afraid to symbolize?” ? “

Yola said she sometimes commits to a reservation on the condition that other black performers are added to the roster. “It’s about building up enough influence to say, ‘Now if you want me to get involved, I’m going to put some conditions on it.'”

The couple, already close friends, discussed their impoverished pasts, admitting that they both have the “hangovers of the poor” for being afraid to open envelopes because of the bills that might be there.

“People are nostalgic for their youth. i don’t want second of my youth, ”insisted Carlile. “I don’t miss the pawn shops, I don’t miss the payday loans, I don’t miss the evictions, the blackout – all that. “

Carlile observed that the glitzy appearances at the awards show don’t represent reality for most performers, who return the outfits immediately and then return home for tasks such as checking for jumper cables in the car. . “It’s really important that people understand what it took to get here, and in fact, what really is here,” she added, “as opposed to what we’re giving it to. ‘impression that it is.’

She also advised young artists: “Build a community around you that you can sculpt, mold, leave, reinvent, grow inside, because it is very difficult to do anything substantial on your own.

“Art and music should always strive to change the world, so you’re really trying to do more than just get your songs heard,” Carlile explained. “You are trying to leave a mark that extends beyond your life. And it takes people.

As for writing songs that people want to hear, Gauthier recalled Johnny Cash’s advice to “write simple”.

“Writing simply is difficult,” she noted. “The challenge is to go inward and take out what’s there and show ourselves. It needs courage. So I encourage courage.

Someone once told her that she writes with a powerful “truthometer” – which she now calls the most important contribution she can make to music. Even though the songs are about fictional characters, she added, the best tell stories that contain truths from the heart of the writer.

These are not fancy puns, she said; that just serves the artist’s ego. It’s about tapping into your own emotion and then developing it.

“Guy [Clark] used to say, basically, we all live the same life, ”Gauthier noted. “We’re just hitting the marks at different times.”

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