Last night was the last gig in this year’s Southern Fork Americana Fest at the Tuning Fork. Five shows over ten days with the final show clearly the highlight line-up. Fresh from gigs in Australia came Margo Price and her band (minus husband Jeremy Ivey) and doing her first solo performance in eleven weeks, the diminutive Courtney Marie Andrews, back less than a year since she wowed me opening for Sam Outlaw.
Let’s start with Courtney. Twenty-six years old but more than ten years as an artist, self-releasing four albums before her breakthrough debut Honest Life in 2016, followed by the acclaimed May Your Kindness Remain earlier this year. Courtney may be small, but her voice is large, pristine, evoking Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, and Linda Ronstadt.
This year, the UK Americana Association named her International Artist of the Year, so it was not surprising to see her everywhere at this year’s AmericanaFest in Nashville, getting a slot in the Awards show as a nominated Emerging Artist of the Year, joining Irma Thomas, Brandi Carlisle, The War and Treaty and the McClary Sisters in a tribute to Aretha Franklin at the show’s finale, and doing her own gigs around town with her band. I saw her three times and now the fourth in as many weeks. Can’t get enough of that voice.
I must admit I was surprised to see Courtney supporting Margo instead of headlining, but that became obvious when we heard Margo’s band! Courtney’s band had gone home first while she took a break in New Zealand, doing a couple of gigs, and hiding away next week somewhere down south to get some rest and maybe do some writing.
Courtney’s set was a mix of songs from Honest Life and Kindness with one song from an earlier album. She was noticeably more confident and self- assured since last year (at least to me), but she has had a great year. Opening with Rookie Dreaming, she then introduced Border with an explanation that it was a song she wrote to and about Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the notoriously tough and racist lawman from her home region in Arizona.
Then came Rough Around The Edges, about a guy she used to serve in a bar who would come and have 15 or so whiskeys before driving home. Only in America, she reckoned, but we, of course, know better…… Put The Fire Out was followed by a moment which could have been construed as pretentious as Courtney characterised the songwriter’s privilege as being able to immortalise people... turned out she was talking about her dog Tucker in the song This House... Oh, that’s alright then.
The audience was disappointingly small but appreciative, except for one guy who complained about the photographers getting in the way…. which left Courtney a loss for words, but she could have said we need those guys with cameras to help promote and communicate our music and shows!! At least that’s what I said under my breath, as well as…. even New Zealand has Rednecks.
Courtney Marie Andrews' set-list:
- Rookie Dreaming
- Rough Around the Edges
- Put The Fire Out
- This House
- Guilty ( Georgia Guilt)
- Table For One
- New Song ( as yet unnamed)
- May Your Kindness Remain
A brief ten song show, but one which no doubt captured the audience in the same way I was last year.
Bring the band back next time, Courtney... because I know you can also really rock the stage!
Margo Price also had a long road to stardom, giving many long years in the small bars and clubs of Nashville before catching Jack White’s attention with her 2016 EP and then album: Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, released on Third Man Records. That’s quite an endorsement in Nashville, and the music public quickly caught on.
Margo won Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2016 AmericanaFest, and performed at the Awards evening that year (which was when I first saw her). This year she was up for Artist of the Year, alongside Brandi Carlisle, Jason Isbell and the winner... the legendary John Prine. (Incidentally, this was the one award which Jason didn’t win). So she was up against it this year, but her new album All American Made has been charting successfully.
But I must confess, I remained unconvinced at first... having seen Margo perform in short bursts at the 2016 and 2018 Awards and Honours show in Nashville, and a two song set last week at the Australian Americana Awards show in Melbourne. A bit country, a bit Nashville, a bit perfunctory in performance.
But then, Margo's band came on stage... started to play their “intro” and the earth moved.
This was a real Nashville band... guys who were honed in the southern boogie hybrid rock and country which is the mainstay of Americana... guys who played for tips down Broadway to keep in form and to be seen... guys who came together and lifted a promising singer-songwriter up ten notches and just rocked!
Auckland, I thought, we are in for a treat... where the hell are you tonight?
Margo’s band are the same musicians you will find on her latest album, minus, for this tour, her husband and co-writer Jeremy Ivey. So a five piece with lead, pedal steel and bass guitars, keyboards and drums. And during the on stage jam session, Margo even became the second drummer. These guys could play, they possessed the funk which Garth Hudson noticed was missing in our own music, and they came to rock the Tuning Fork.
All of a sudden, Margo was no longer just a country singer... but true to her roots and her love for rock and soul. Not bad at all when you put her voice on top, with channels to Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.
A 15 song set, taken from both the recent albums, as well as a cut from the EP, Paper Cowboy, one of the two songs which morphed into extended jams where the southern rock and boogie mixed and merged with progressive intermezzos. One new song also, Leftovers and a bunch of covers: Dylan’s Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine), Jessi Colter’s Maybe You Should Have Been Listening and a rousing 9 to 5 as an encore... and did I hear Whiskey River somewhere in amongst this? I’m sure I heard Willie, and not just on the new album!!
Margo Price's set-list:
- Don’t Say It
- Do Right by Me
- Tennessee Song
- A Little Pain
- Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (Dylan cover)
- Cocaine Cowboys
- All American Made
- Hands of Time
- Four Years of Chances
- Maybe You Should Have Been Listening (Jessi Colter cover)
- Paper Cowboy
- Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)
- 9 to 5 (Dolly Parton)
Well, what can I say: come back Margo, all is forgiven?
But then again, Jack White can’t be wrong, he can only be right!
Thanks to Steve Wheadon and the Tuning Fork team for a great festival and great final gig.
Also, to Andy on sound – phenomenal job, they sounded so much better than last week in Melbourne.
And finally, to Radio 13’s very own DJ Victoria Spence for doing the before, after and in between music of the night and photographer Reuben Raj for all the images in this article.
More images can be found in the photo gallery further below.