By Sam Shansky
From sequin-studded performances and skirt flyin' dances to vintage stitches and late night jams, Holler picks 10 of the best moments at the 2023 Ameripolitan weekender in Memphis, TN.
Memphis, TN, once again played host to the Ameripolitan Music Awards Weekender, bringing together honky tonk, western swing, rockabilly and outlaw artists to the Guesthouse at Graceland, a regal hotel located next door to Elvis’ iconic Graceland Mansion.
Co-founded by Dale Watson and Celine Lee, who also own and operate Hernando's Hide-A-Way a few blocks from Graceland, Ameripolitan is a highly embraced event comprised of a fast-growing community of American roots music artists, vintage retailers, custom clothiers and more.
Here are 10 of our favorite moments from the 2023 gathering.
Hosted by 2019 Rockabilly Female of the Year winner Tammi Savoy and 2023 Western Swing Male of the Year winner Wild Earp, the fashion show gave life to one of the most cherished aspects of the Ameripolitan scene: vintage clothing design.
Memphis’ own Lansky Bros., Snake Farm Creative and Jukebox Mama were primary contributors to the vibrant affair. Outstanding crochet work, embroidery and other custom handmade techniques were displayed as models - including Sierra Ferrell, Torrie Blake, Melissa Carper and festival co-founder Celine Lee - got the room sizzlin' hotter than a Waffle House grill at 1:00 A.M. on a Saturday.
Many of us encountered Emily Nenni for the first time via the debut music video for her single ‘On the Ranch’, in which she appears to exude so much natural charisma that she looks to be halfway floating through life, arms just-a-swingin’ (more John Anderson nods to come).
One great discovery from attending Ameripolitan is that Nenni doesn’t actually float but is so well-supported by friends and fans that she’s rather lifted. Her Friday night showcase as part of The Nashville Sounds with Hannah Juanita, Kristina Murray and Timbo Lo dazzled onlookers with well-crafted Honky Tonk tunes, wit and warmheartedness.
Growing more magnetic with each trip 'round the sun, seasoned musician, actor and creative renaissance man James Intveld secured his spot as one of this Ameripolitan's top talents.
The gritty west coast country icon delivered knock-outs left and right, both originals and cover songs, including a trance-inducing, fiery performance of ‘Polk Salad Annie’ and his new single, built on honest and illuminating relationship advice, ‘Let's Talk It Out’.
Attendees were buzzing throughout the weekend about this supergroup's performance, and how it kept them hanging on to every word. Part of what made this set special was the visible love these three friends share for each other and each other's music.
This year's Honky Tonk Female of the Year winner Summer Dean said the trio's Saturday afternoon performance brought her to tears, partly from the inspiration she felt seeing these three strong women following their dreams.
Delivering a prime selection of songs from Carper's latest album Ramblin' Soul, Leigh's raved-about Obsessed with the West (on which Shore played as part of Asleep at the Wheel), and more, it was a joy to see three brilliant women with distinctly different personalities come together to blend their talents in such a seamless and eloquent fashion, despite any evidence of lingering road weariness.
Taking home the award for Western Swing Male of the Year, Chicago’s Wild Earp and his backing band the Free For Alls had everyone moving at their Saturday night showcase; they wouldn’t give the dancers a break. Skirts were flying like Texas twisters while the band fluctuated between a cool hand western swing composure and amped-up rock & roll jamboree, befitting of the (newly constructed) corridors of the King himself.
Canadian artist Bloodshot Bill, brought a belligerence and frenzy to the fest on Saturday night that few could ever replicate.
Well-deserving of the non-existent “Sweatiest Performer” award, Bill and his ongoing collaborators, the Rochester-based and Ray-Ban-clad Televisionaries, gave it all they got, conjuring an old-school cool reminiscent of early garage bands mixed with off-the-rails rockabilly and various psycho-swampy sounds designed to make you flip out.
Icing for this set came in the form of a canine cameo as Becky Lynn Blanca brought her pup Delilah to the stage to jolt the audience with an Eddie Cochran rarity, ‘Jelly Bean’.
The nature of grassroots events like Folk Alliance, AmericanaFest and many others, is that impromptu jam sessions are arguably the purest and most bonding magic of the entire experience – it’s where folks let go of the I’m not so sure what to think about you vibe and instead become radically friendly.
The Guesthouse at Graceland boasts several quality eating establishments (and even offers a complimentary PB&J station each night). But food for the soul was cooked up after hours in the hotel’s lobby, stairwells and beyond, as too many notables to name joined in song, echoing greats like Sam Cooke and Merle Haggard, and innovating on sounds of gospel, blues and country.
Writing about moments like these compares to claiming to have encountered a ghost or a country concert without any drinking songs. You’d just have to see it to believe it.
A treasure-trove of vintage everything, including jewelry and boots, fine art from metal and wood, and vinyl crates from Goner and Dowda's Records, this year's vendors made sure you walked into a welcoming and novel event in art and music.
Tintype photo flashes from Joseph Wyman's mobile unit stirred the air while Jukebox Mama Sarie Gessner stitched the brilliant embroidery she's known for, both renowned artisans satisfying new customers and familiar musician friends with their craft.
Other than the odd pair of HOKAs here and there, clothing-wise at Ameripolitan, you would be hard-pressed not to feel you had stepped back into a parallel universe that began in approx. 1933 (or 1898 for a few cowboys with extra dedication) and ended in 1981, a few years into punk's emergence.
From tooled leather to custom-stitched suits, in the Ameripolitan community, quality in craftsmanship and clothing-design reign, and this year's vendors were expert suppliers.
A towering folk figure in a fringe leather jacket (which he wore till around the 3rd song when he started shedding layers from the spotlights’ heat), Willi Carlisle took the stage Saturday night joined only by a few instruments, including an acoustic guitar, banjo and accordion.
His mission seemed to share meaningful songs and encourage political progress and reform with the least superficiality possible while also working the room with the chops of a standup comic.
One of the starkest moments of the set came when he ditched all instrumentation to deliver an a cappella performance of Steve Goodman’s ‘The Ballad of Penny Evans’, a Vietnam War protest song that Goodman composed using the melody from a 17th-century slaving ballad.
As Carlisle strapped on his accordion to play another politically-fueled tune, ‘Este Mundo’, he spoke of mega-corporations, farmers kicked off their land and the wrongdoings of Nestlé toward the indigenous peoples of the San Bernardino Mountains in California.
Arguably the weekend’s most anticipated experience, on Saturday evening Sierra Ferrell performed with ace accompaniment from Oliver Bates Craven, Joshua Rilko and Geoff Saunders.
She went on Sunday to win Ameripolitan’s Western Swing Female of the Year, but not before electrifying her audience with fan favorites from her debut album Long Time Coming, as well as her vocal masterpiece ‘Years’ from Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson from Easy Eye Sound.
Ferrell, a revered free spirit in the roots music community, jokingly referred to herself at one point as “Little Stinky” as she fretted over an out-of-tune B-string, but the room seemed more to say enchantée to a spotlighted charmer in sequins, who was visibly ecstatic to make music on stage with her pals.