Scenes from Ameripolitan 2023 (& Yes, the Waffle House Dress)

Willi Carlisle/Kaitlin Butts/Celine Lee/Sierra Ferrell/James Intveld

There are a lot of country fans and artists who love to complain about the country music of today. Music Row makes that an excessively easy pastime. What’s difficult is making a meaningful effort to try and do something about it. That is what Dale Watson, Celine Lee, and everyone involved with the Ameripolitan organization is doing with their annual awards and the weekend of festivities leading up to them.

One of the themes from the 2023 Ameripolitan Awards were recipients saying, “I have never won an award before.” This is also what the great singer and fiddle player Dawn Sears said when she won the first ever Ameripolitan award on the first ever Ameripolitan Awards presentation in 2014 just months before she passed away.

We never thought we would see artists like Rachel Brooke, and Croy and the Boys win Awards. “The Queen of Underground Country” Rachel Brooke was one of the very first artists Saving Country Music ever featured going back to 2008. The win for Austin mainstays Croy and the Boys was like a win for all of the great Austin honky tonk bands who get summarily overlooked in the national country music conversation. For artists and bands, an Ameripolitan Award is validation. It means that someone is actually paying attention, and appreciative.

To see a full recap and all the winners of the 2023 Ameripolitan Awards, CLICK HERE. But for two days before the awards show transpired, performances took place at the stately Guesthouse at Graceland in Memphis showcasing some of the greatest up-and-coming and independent talent from country, roots, and rockabilly—or “Ameripolitan” as we call it in this instance. There was also a fashion show Sunday afternoon, and yes, a crocheted dress done in the motif of The Waffle House made an appearance. There were also a few legends who appeared over the weekend.

Kinky Friedman is now 77 years old, and not exactly the wild ass he was when he was getting his episode of Austin City Limits banned. But it was cool to see an indisputable country music legend and groundbreaker take to the stage. What Kinky still has in spades is humor, and he used it to his distinct advantage to entertain the crowd. Dale Watson compelled Kinky to read a poem, which he did titled “The Navigator” about his dad. Afterwards Kinky whipped out a cigar and took pictures with anyone and everyone who asked for one like he wasn’t a guy who once mounted a serious campaign for Texas Governor.

Kinky Friedman reads poetry

Ameripolitan is not just about the “Outlaw,” “Honky Tonk,” and “Western Swing” categories. Rockabilly is also strongly represented, both in the performers, and in the population of attendees. Rockabilly Female winner Jane Rose, The Hi-Jivers, Bloodshot Bill, Sean K. Preston, and the Ichi-Bons from Canada were some of the highlights of the rockabilly weekend.

But perhaps the best performers of the weekend came Saturday night when a murderer’s row of incredible songwriters took the stage one after another in the Guesthouse at Graceland’s theater.

Kaitlin Butts put on a performance that is only fair to characterize as a “career moment.” Without her band, and in front of a crowd that’s not exactly the Texas/Red Dirt scene that she’s familiar with, Kaitlin came out with just an acoustic guitar, and stunned. It’s in these kinds of naked moments where an artist either rises, or is exposed. Off the strength of her songs, her voice, and her guitar playing, Kaitlin Butts proved she’s ready for any stage, crowd, or moment.

Kaitlin Butts received a standing ovation at the end of her set, and multiple grown ass men openly professed afterward at getting teary eyed in multiple moments. It felt like one of those performances we’ll still be referencing years from now.

About the only person on the planet that could take the stage after the emotion that was wrought during the Kaitlin Butts performance with any hope at success was one of the last true folk musicians in existence, the surging Willi Carlisle.

Starting off playing bones and harmonica, later playing guitar, banjo, accordion, and reciting spoken work essays in a space where you could hear a pin drop, Willi proved why he currently populates the short list of performers you absolutely have to see now while he’s still playing smaller venues. It’s been years in the coming, but the word about Willi Carlisle and the magic he sows live is out.

At this point, it’s fair to question whether Sierra Ferrell even needs the support of something like Ameripolitan as she sells out theaters coast to coast. But her participation in the 2023 Ameripolitan gathering was voluntary and enthusiastic, and that’s what was so cool about it. In fact, she was one of the most active participants in the entire weekend, not just performing Saturday night and proving somehow she’s even getting better over time.

Sierra Ferrell was also hanging out all weekend, modeled half a dozen or so outfits during Sunday afternoon’s Ameripolitan fashion show (photos below), was there watching her fellow performers play, and the rumor from folks was she was up until darn near morning participating in marathon picking parties.

There were so many excellent performances over the weekend, and apologies to some of the performers who are not mentioned or pictured below. There was just too much good music, moments, conversation, camaraderie, and community happening to take it all in, though holding (mostly) everything under one roof (some events happened at Hernando’s Hideaway down the road), made for a much less hectic event than in previous years.

After going dark during the pandemic, Ameripolitan came out big in 2023, and it feels like the momentum could take it to even bigger places in the coming years.

All photos below by Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos

If this time and place feel foreign to you, and you’d rather be hanging out in the 1950’s, the music of Miss Tammy Savoy can get you there.
The Waymores
Mitch Polzak from northern California also sat in with numerous bands and was a participant in many after hours pickin’ sessions.
“Queen of Outlaw Country” and now Ameripolitan Female Outlaw winner Rachel Brooke. She played a lot of new country songs in her set, and said interestingly during her acceptance speech, “I won’t let you down.”
Texas Queen Summer Dean, who went on to win for Best Honky Tonk Female
Female Rockabilly winner Jane Rose
James Intveld who also produced the 2023 Ameripolitan Awards
Dawna Zahn of the Hi-Jivers
The call Hannah Juanita “The Hardliner” because there’s only one version of country music she will put up with, and it’s the hard Honky Tonk version that country music was built on. Songwriter and performer Mose Wilson also performed with Hannah on the weekend.
If there was one woman, one artist who has worked harder, put in more time over the last few years, paid more dues, perfected every classic country song possible while putting out her own original music, and earned the respect and praise of her peers in Nashville more than Kristina Murray, I couldn’t name them.
Emily Nenni who has a new-ish record out called ‘On The Ranch’
Timbo naturally has the kind of country music voice others try to emulate.
The Rhyolite Sound from Nevada
The Hank Williams legacy in country music continues on. But just like his father, grandfather, and great grandfather, Coleman Williams will do it his own way, and follow his own path, irrespective of expectation, and try to make a legacy from his own name.
Dallas Burrow from New Braunfels
Ameripolitan featured an advantageous congregation of country music, which might have been best illustrated when badass picker and traditional revivalist Brennen Leigh, fiddler extrordinaire and former Asleep At The Wheel member Katie Shore, and surging solo artist Melissa Carper took the stage together to start off Saturday.
Katie Shore
Melissa Carper had people clapping after the first bar of her songs from folks knowing them by heart after her last couple of records.
Jenny Don’t and the Spurs from Portland, Oregon. They won Best Outlaw Group of the Year.
Jenny Don’t was also a model and designer as part of the Ameripolitan fashion show.
Jenny Don’t showing off her Elvis love at Graceland after strumming a closing chord.
Rockabilly Female nominee Saudia Young
Call him the Jimi Hendrix of traditional country, or the Merle Travis/Joe Maphis of our time. Either way, Kyle Eldridge is a guitar phenom of the highest order, who hasn’t just perfected the old ways of country guitar playing, he’s taking them to a new level in the present tense.
Sean Mencher of High Noon
Jerry Zinn of West of Texas who made the trip from California
The Shootouts from Ohio, who release a new album ‘Stampede’ out February 24th. (sorry, bad lighting for photos)
Ryan Humburt of The Shootouts
Mr. Honky Tonk Dallas Moore, who also invited his daughter on stage for a spell.
Jeremy Pinnell (who rips)
Mamo, Hideki, and Paddy of the Ichi-Bons are like a volcanic explosion, and are revitalizing rockabilly, surf, and the twangy vibe of old obscure 45s with an excessive amount of intensity that is illegal in some countries.
The Rockabilly Filly Rosie Flores is still as spunky as ever and hasn’t aged a bit.
When Scott H. Biram starts making funny faces, you know he’s in the zone. He finally won as Best Outlaw Male.
Bloodshot Bill sans the pompadour
Croy and the Boys
Bad Boy Croy
Cullen Fox of Charley Crockett’s Blue Drifters sits in with Croy and the Boys. Fox was also nominated for Musician of the Year.
Austin’s Honky Tonk sweetheart Kathryn Legendre
Garrett T. Capps
Musicians would gather in the lobby of the Guesthouse at Graceland, and have pickin’ parties until the wee hours of the morning. This one was led by Rachel Brooke.

Sierra Ferrell the Runway Model:

Gina Gallina is a songwriter and performer who has recently written songs for Melissa Carper and was in a (semi) famous band called The Camptown Ladies. Now she is a crochet artist, and not only did she crochet Sierra Ferrell’s dress above, she was also selling her other crochet wares, and had a whole line of fashion in the Ameripolitan fashion show.
Melissa Carper in a Gina Gallina crochet suit
Rachel Brooke
Celine Lee in the Waffle House Dress that was all the talk of Ameripolitan 2023.
Tammi Savoy and Wild Earp hosted the fashion show
Third from the right surrounded by her models is designer Sarie Gessner, who has designed many of the Western stage wear worn by prominent independent country artists, including Sierra Ferrell. Gessner was one of numerous designers showcasing at Ameripolitan.
© 2023 Saving Country Music