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City Scenes: The Best New Artists Playing AmericanaFest

Jeremy Ivey and Margo Price at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.
Terry Wyatt
Getty Images
Jeremy Ivey and Margo Price at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.

As August wanes, the Americana Music Association — and all of us here at WMOT — will soon welcome AmericanaFest attendees back to Music City. The music festival and conference takes place Sept. 10-15, with lots of performances, panels and special events. The event makes for a great week of music discovery.

On Wednesday, Sept. 11 from 1 to 5 p.m., WMOT will present Wired In, our monthly members show. On Sept. 12-14, NPR Music, World Café and WMOT will team up again for the official AmericanaFest Day Stage each day from 12 to 6 p.m.

Through the week, WMOT will broadcast and stream video of 22 artists, but there are so many others we'd like to mention. We've whittled the list down to these 12 up-and-comers; all are emerging and all are Nashville-based, though most are from somewhere else originally. Be sure not to miss them at AmericanaFest 2019 and beyond.

Sierra Ferrell

There are so many strands of country music that you won't find on country radio these days. That's okay; there's a home for more at Americana and AAA. Meet West Virginia's Sierra Ferrell, now in Nashville and newly signed to Rounder. She's been wandering the country busking and adventuring, and she's got a tremendous voice that's joyously lilting, and at once vintage and contemporary. She sings with abandon, with a huge repertoire that spans jazz, country and cowboy music, with undertones of the blues. —Jessie Scott

Austin Plaine

Austin Plaine is originally from Minnesota, but he relocated to Nashville before the release of his first album. His second, Stratford, sounds fully formed, leading with articulate lyrics and rich instrumentation. He writes autobiographically, but the songs communicate globally, as well. A dusting of gentle optimism and nostalgia runs through his work, with characters bathed in vivid light. —Jessie Scott

Logan Ledger

Logan Ledger is playing this year's AmericanaFest as he celebrates the release of his debut album, date to be announced. A native Californian, he's got pipes for days and an easy way with a lyric. A couple years ago, T Bone Burnett heard a demo and started working with Ledger, classifying his voice as one that contains history. Ledger signed to Burnett's Electromagnetic imprint for Rounder, and Burnett himself produced the singer's forthcoming debut. —Jessie Scott

Darrin Bradbury

Originally from New Jersey, Darrin Bradbury entered Nashville in the thick of the winter, playing open-mic nights at every opportunity. His caustic reflections are delivered with dark humor: He makes everyday life funny, and he makes you smile with the weirder scenarios he brings to life. The Milk Carton Kids' Kenneth Pattengale produced Bradbury's debut, Talking Dogs & Atom Bombs. —Jessie Scott

Jeremy Ivey

Jeremy Ivey has had a big year already, including having a daughter with wife Margo Price and signing a deal with Anti- Records. Album No. 1 comes out Sept. 13, and he's got material for Nos. 2 and 3 already in the works. Modern, indie, super-cool sounds abound in The Dream & The Dreamer, produced by Price. —Jessie Scott

Caroline Spence

Mint Condition is Caroline Spence's third album. She's got a crystalline voice and a clear vision for songs that search out truths. Spence chooses to write about what she doesn't have answers for instead of simply "writing what you know." Dan Knobler produced, and the two enlisted people Spence had already worked with to provide a comfortable and collaborative setting. —Jessie Scott

Kelsey Waldon

Kelsey Waldon has seen her wildest dreams fulfilled in 2019, as she's played both the Grand Ole Opry and Bonnaroo with John Prine — and signed to Prine's Oh Boy! record label. In fact, she's the label's first new signing in 15 years. Waldon has a Kentucky sensibility and an old-school country voice and vibe, bringing refreshing earthiness to her label debut, White Noise/White Lines, which comes out later this year. —Jessie Scott

Brian Wright

Wearing one hat, Brian Wright trades thrilling rock-and-roll guitar leads in the band of his friend Aaron Lee Tasjan. Wearing another, he's co-founder/producer at "Farm To Turntable" label Cafe Rooster Records. But his best-fitting hat is that of songwriting bandleader. His poetic country rock has dropped jaws from his home state of Texas to a stint in Los Angeles to his current Nashville home. He can woo with a lyric and energize with a riff. There are four albums in his catalog, and a new one's on the way. —Craig Havighurst

Leah Blevins

Even amid the current abundance of bracing, hard-edged country singer-songwriters from Kentucky, Leah Blevins stands out for her emotional intensity and complexity. A native of Sandy Hook, the hometown of the late great Keith Whitley, she's rural yet urbane, downhome yet fashion-forward. Her self-searching laments are rich with blues and bravura. With two EPs since 2015, Blevins has taken it slow, developing a sense of herself and her gift for language. —Craig Havighurst

Kirby Brown

Like fellow Texas native Bruce Robison, Kirby Brown graces strong songwriting with an intuitive sense of beauty and laid-back contemplation that makes his country music particularly sophisticated. A passion for Flannery O'Connor and an unblinking eye on his own life's wins and losses further enrich his stories and sound. Lyric and melody dance with a special synergy on his 2018 debut, Uncommon Prayer. —Craig Havighurst


Virtuoso instrumental groups have been a rich sidestream of bluegrass and string-band music for decades, and Hawktail is one of today's best examples. Fiddle, guitar, mandolin and bass weave together with grace and craft, their talents on loan from Punch Brothers, the Live From Here house band and the acoustic music world at large. Hawktail's debut album, recorded in a church, feels devotional and worthy of deep attention. Yet the band's members can break into a feisty hoedown in the blink of an eye. —Craig Havighurst

Adam Chaffins

Adam Chaffins has been such a steady hand on upright bass, performing with a range of interesting artists, that few saw his solo ambitions emerging. When he began releasing singles in 2018, we heard an assertive, soulful voice and the kind of command over a band's energy and phrasing that good bassists know in their bones. He's from an Eastern Kentucky country-music hotbed, but Chaffins brings enough R&B and indie rock to his Americana blend to make an original statement. —Craig Havighurst

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World Cafe Nashville correspondent Jessie Scott is a 50-year radio veteran, and is currently the program director and afternoon drive host at WMOT Roots Radio in Nashville. She has spent the last couple of decades nurturing, curating, writing, and creating audio and video, in an effort to tell the story of American roots music.
Craig Havighurst