AMERICANA: Digging Down To Our Country’s Roots
Nostalgia can be a wonderful thing. It lets us escape to an idyllic place and time, colored by memories and created by imagination and impressions. Whether such a picture perfect world ever truly existed is hardly the point.
Nostalgia gives us nothing but the good ‘ole days. A simpler time of dirt country roads, quaint Main streets, picket fences and drug stores that had counter service and ice-cream floats. The American Dream was simple, concrete, and realized.
Nostalgia for this America of yesterday is embodied in Americana, a broad term covering everything from kitchy accessories, weathered antiques and radio formats. The one thing that ties them all together? Roots.
From Folk Art to Cigarette Tins,
Americana Tells Our Story
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Americana are “materials concerning or characteristic of America, its civilization, or its culture; broadly: things typical of America.”
The category is wide and vague, but Americana has a style instantly recognizable to anyone interested in archiving textbook American culture. Folk art. Flags. Antique sports equipment. Vintage magazines and advertisements. Needlepoint pillows and handmade quilts. Old Licenses Plates. Heck, entire (classic) cars, trucks and trailers.
Stars, spangles and if it’s colored red, white and blue, all the better.
Americana as a Sound: How the Roots of
American Music Launched an Entire Genre
The term Americana extends to music as well. Like the objects full of charm and nostalgia that create Americana artifacts, Americana music is tied deeply to its American roots. In this case, however, there is a distinct expiration date on what is NOT considered Americana.
Blues, folk and country artists who were picking and singing generations ago don’t fall into this category. Johnny Cash? Classic country. Joan Baez? Folk. Robert Johnson? Blues. The new wave of artists inspired by them and creating their own sound? Americana. The Americana Music Association was formed in 1999, the Recording Academy added the “Best Americana Album” category in 2009, and Merriam-Webster made the musical term official in 2011. The music isn’t nostalgic, it’s innovative.
They’ve All Gone to Look for America(na)
Americana pieces and style can be found in a lot of places, including over at 50ROOTS and other Made In America websites. While it’s not a requirement that Americana be old, there is a better chance of stumbling across the proverbial slice of American cultural pie in vintage friendly places.
Yard sales, roadshows and antique shops are a hotbed for our country’s artifacts. Often the best treasures are the ones we stumble upon, but if you’re serious about finding Americana you may consider seeking out spots likely to have what you’re looking for. (Plus, it’s no secret we love a good road trip.) There are famous meccas like The Original Round Top Antiques Fair and Brimfield Antique Flea Market. Or if you want a shopping experience that crosses state lines, check out the 127 Yard Sale. It’s America’s biggest yard sale, stretching 690 miles and covering 5 states from Addison, Michigan to Gadsden, Alabama.
Roadtripping toward Americana 101:
You Need a Playlist
Our gal Betsy Ross, the Airstream we’re loving renovationing as 50ROOTS’ traveling headquarters, is a bit of ole Americana herself. Just looking at an Airstream evokes nostalgia for a more simple time. Family road trips to the Grand Canyon were a rite of passage, Route 66 lead to kicks and the open road echoed the freedom America was built on. You know what is a must on every road trip? Good music, of course.
If Americana music is completely new to you, there are a lot of ways to discover new artists. The Americana Music Association holds an annual conference, Americanafest, that “brings together legendary artists, the next generation of rising stars, fans, and industry professionals for six days of music and education”. Or head over to www.americanaradio.org and see which Americana artists are topping the charts. Currently it’s Margo Price’s new record All American Made, a title we here at 50ROOTS can rally behind. Want to take the musical Americana roadtrip up a notch? There’s a whole site dedicated to road tripping to the meccas of America’s musical roots.
Is It Really Nostalgia if it’s Relevant Today?
Okay, we’re not even going to try to answer that. But we are pretty sure that America’s past cultural aesthetic is alive and well today. Whether the term Americana conjures up images of vintage coke bottle collections or sounds of the fiddle, the common denominator is deep reaching roots into American culture. With a nod to the past and an eye on the future, Americana links our country’s history to today’s art, fashion and decor.