For Jim Lauderdale, the days leading up to the Americana Music Festival in Nashville are less of a ‘calm before the storm’ than a ‘storm before the storm’.
“I was at Royal Studios in Memphis the Sunday before, working on a new record, which was really intense. It seems like every year I’m pretty crazed til the Tuesday of rehearsal. That’s just the way the Americana business goes.”
The Grammy winning singer-songwriter spent the 90s and 00s as a consistent source of idiosyncratic hits for country’s A-list hitmakers, but these days he’s best known as the prolific pioneer of the Americana genre, often releasing multiple albums in a year in amongst constant touring.
Even by Lauderdale’s standards, the week of the Americana Music Festival is packed - multiple hosting gigs, panels, guest spots and a headline show. I sat down with Jim to get an insight on how he handles his relentless AmericanaFest schedule.
Tuesday 9/12 2PM Americana Honors and Awards, host script rehearsal
6PM Rehearsal for performance
At the first even Americana Honors and Awards in 2002, Jim took out the Artist and Song of the Year trophies. Soon after, the organisers asked him to take over hosting the show, a whole new kind of responsibility.
“The first time I hosted, there were a lot of technical kinks to work out. One year, the teleprompter went on the fritz and I had to improvise.
The first or second year, the Dixie Chicks were nominated for something and I said ‘Now this band has head some controversy over the last few years. There might be split emotions in the audience, but I want to tell you all exactly how I feel.’ And then I pretended my mic had stopped working and I just went on and on mouthing like I was talking. I just remember looking over and Kris Kristofferson was laughing so hard, that made me really feel like I was getting it right.”
Wednesday 9/13 2PM Americana Honors and Awards call time
3:30 PM wardrobe and makeup
4:00 PM Walk red carpet
4:30 PM Shoot pre-tape for show
6:15 PM Kick-off awards show with performance with the McCrary Sisters
6:30 PM Host duties
10:30 PM Shoot show throw-backs and intros
One of the most iconic parts of Jim’s presence as awards host are his custom Western suits, designed by the legendary Manuel, who has designed outfits for clients from George Jones to Jack White.
“I think these last two years Manuel has made some of his best stuff for me. Like a fine wine, he’s getting better with age. There’s been times I haven’t been sure about an outfit, but then when I’ve worn them at the show, those are the ones I’ve had the most compliments about. So I’ve learned his instincts are always right.”
Jim’s love affair with Manuel goes back over thirty years, to when Jim and Manuel were both based in Los Angeles.
“I would say I’ve bought at least 30 suits from him over the years. If I’d kept all the money I’d spent there, I could’ve probably been a major shareholder in this restaurant we’re sitting in or started my own chain of ‘Jim’s Pancake House’.”
Thurs. 9/14 11AM AmericanaFest Conference Panel: Royal Studios
Panelists: Luther Dickinson - North Mississippi Allstars, Rev. Charles Hodges - Hi Rhythm Section, LeRoy “Flick” Hodges - Hi Rhythm Section, Steve Jordan - Jazz Foundation of America, Jim Lauderdale - Artist, Boo Mitchell - Royal Studios, Archie “Hubbie” Turner - Hi Rhythm Section
For most people, the day after hosting a major awards show would be a time for kicking around the house in your pajamas, comfort eating and watching Netflix. For Jim, this is when things really get busy.
“The morning after the awards, that was the only panel I did, because I had to rush over to the Country Music Hall of Fame.”
1:15 PM Rehearsal w/house band and Mandy Barnett
2-5PM Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus Series Premier and Musical Tribute (performed “Near You” with Mandy Barnett as tribute to George Jones & Tammy Wynette)
“[Beavis and Butthead creator] Mike Judge was having a lot of country artists sing George Jones and Johnny Paycheck songs, after he showed two episodes of an animated series he’s got called ‘Tales from the Tour Bus’. They showed the episode about Johnny Paycheck and part one of the George and Tammy episode, and it’s really good. I was thrilled to get to meet Mike, and I got to sing ‘Near You’ with Mandy Barnett, who’s one of my favorite singers. I love performing in that theatre. I always feel like it’s a sacred space in there, kind of like a church, because of the history of the music held in that building.”
Watching Jim sing a George Jones is quite an experience. More than any other artist, Jim seems to have immersed himself totally in the Possum’s music, to the extent that at moments it feels like the late country legend is singing through Jim.
“It’s always a meaningful experience for me, because I’ve listened to him for so much of my life. I got to work with him a bit and having him record one of my songs ‘You Don’t Seem to Miss Me’, with Patty Loveless, was a real career high point for me. I also got to portray him in a play about Tammy Wynette.
One year at the Grand Ole Opry, they were having a birthday celebration for him and I got to sing my song that I wrote as a tribute to him and Gram Parsons, ‘The King of Broken Hearts’, with him watching from the front row. I remember feeling like if I could get through that, nothing in life would be an obstacle.”
5:30 PM Music City Roots Call Time
7-9:00 PM host, Music City Roots
10:00 PM performed 2 songs for Lee Ann Womack & Friends
Music City Roots is sometimes referred to as ‘the Americana Grand Ole Opry’. The weekly radio show features a multi-artist bill of eclectic roots performers, with Jim as the smooth and amiable master of ceremonies, trading banter with announcer Keith Bilbrey and ‘interview guy’, journalist Craig Havighurst. Aside from a handful of episodes, Jim has hosted the show since it’s inception in 2010.
"There’s so much talent out there, and there’s so many young bands and singer/songwriters that deserve to be heard who fall under what is called Americana.”
The artist lineups mix legends and emerging artists, and you’ll usually find Jim perched side of stage, discovering the new talents along with the audience.
Friday 9/15 10AM Taped Buddy & Jim Show w/Larry & Teresa Campbell
12PM Band rehearsal
2-3PM Radio interviews
9:00 PM AmericanaFest show @3rd & Lindsley
“I get pretty tired, but with this festival, there’s a certain amount of adrenaline that kicks in and helps me get through it. It seems like the past several years, my official showcase has been on the Friday night, so it’s challenging to still be able to deliver.”
Lauderdale left any signs of fatigue off-stage this year, ripping through a vibrant set heavy with songs from his new ‘London Southern’ album. Blending country shuffle grooves with a R&B horn section, it was emblematic of the music blend that defines both Jim’s music and Americana in genre.
Sat 9/16 2PM performance for MerleFest-AmericanaFest show @Station Inn
For Jim, a single guest performance slot counted as a light day, so naturally he spent the rest of it jetting around town catching other great performances at various gigs.
“I really enjoyed the Aussie BBQ over at the 5 Spot. I got to catch some of Kasey Chambers’ set and she was great. I spent most of my evening at the Mercy Lounge and was moving between there and the High Watt and the Cannery Ballroom.”
Sun 9/17 1-6PM taping with Bob Harris
“I had a meeting in the morning, then I went and taped a thing with Bob Harris for the BBC. Then the next week was busy and I had gigs the next weekend. I’m getting ready to go to the UK at the end of next week for two weeks, then when I come back I’ve got studio time here for two weeks – but I haven’t finished writing any songs for that yet.”
Does he have any days off coming up amongst his relentless schedule?
“Christmas Eve,” Jim responded, with a chuckle.
“Oh wait,” he said, thinking for a moment. “I think I’m playing the Grand Ole Opry on Christmas Eve.”