Americana music is a term people have a little trouble defining.
After watching PBS Arts Fall Festival’s “Nashville 2.0: The Rise of Americana,” airing Friday, Nov. 22 (check local listings), try to focus on this, viewers may have the same issue.
However, as long as people watch to learn a little and not expect a definitive view, they can have a great time enjoying fun performances.
“I define it as roots music, with a heavy emphasis on real songwriting and literate songwriting,” she says, leaning back into a couch and sipping a glass of wine. “It is authentic, connecting, not just assaulting your sense. Whether bluegrass or folk, it is rooted in something real about songwriting.”
The hourlong documentary features interviews with artists, producers and music journalists. People say they know Americana when they hear it.
The genre includes bluegrass, hillbilly, neo-rock, Cajun, rhythm and blues, and a willingness to accept different sounds into the folds of Americana.
“I think that a big part of the appeal of the category is that it’s embracing as opposed to limiting,” co-director Susan Wittenberg says at a press conference.
Many credit Emmylou Harris with being the godmother of the style.
“We were doing it for a long time; we just didn’t know what it was called,” Harris says in the film.
There are clips of exquisite performances. As PBS so often does, this introduces artists viewers might not otherwise encounter. Carolina Chocolate Drops fit this bill and are so engaging, viewers will want to attend their concerts.
Some concert clips are of more famous groups such as Mumford & Sons. During the film, Cash is shown in a photo with her dad, Johnny Cash.
The superstar never pushed her to become a performer, but he realized she needed a better grounding in music education when he would mention a famous song, and she didn’t know it. So Cash wrote a list of 100 essential songs for her. About the same time, when Rosanne was 18, she learned how to play guitar.
“I learned from Carl Perkins,” Cash says.
Consider that statement for a moment – learning to play guitar from Perkins, who wrote “Blue Suede Shoes” and was part of that magical, one-day recording session, the Million Dollar Quartet, with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.
“He taught me a little bit,” Cash says. “He and Helen and Maybelle Carter. That’s wild. It didn’t mean anything to me then.”
“My dad was always on tour,” Cash says. “There was an epiphany of what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to write songs. I was obsessed. I was ready for it.”
As country as her roots are, Cash has lived in New York for 22 years. And that, says Terry Stewart, the film’s executive producer and past CEO and president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, proves the wide reach of Americana.
“A lot of these groups and these bands come out of music schools in places like New York City,” Stewart says. “Who would have thought that this would be their inspiration, that they go down that road? It’s always been rock and jazz, and now you’ve got kids actually studying this.
“It would seem that this field is going to be replete with more and more new artists,” he continues. “And, again, if you look at the cycle, how music changes and remains the same, it suggests that we’ve got a long run to look forward to of some great new artists.”