The 'atmospheric Americana' band Celilo headlines Saturday's show, which also will feature singer-songwriter Justin Gordon and Ashland's LEFT. - Photo by Randal Garcia

Americana bands assemble at Alex's

Alex's Plaza Restaurant in Ashland provides a banquet of roots traditions at the 2012 Americana Music Festival.

Nearly a dozen local and regional bands will convene for the four-day event, which began Thursday, Jan. 26, and concludes Sunday, Jan. 29.

The festival was a good excuse to bring in out-of-towners to mix and match with local favorites, says Charles Tobey, owner of Alex's.

Last January, the Ashland eatery hosted a smaller-scale bluegrass festival. This year, as Tobey began enlisting bands to play, he realized the title would have to be more general to encompass the variety of styles represented.

"Americana is kind of a catch phrase for music based on the Great American Songbook, going back to Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Guy Clark — they're not considered country western or folk," Tobey explains.

Shows are set for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 27-28, and for 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29.

"It's a good excuse for beer on Sunday afternoon," Tobey says.

On Friday, Alex's welcomes back Eugene-based singer and songwriter John Shipe, who will play acoustic originals from his recent albums, "Villain" and "Yellow House." Shipe latched onto the radio term "free-form Americana" to describe his music. He says his music embraces the "Great American ideas of song-craft and storytelling" but is sonically flexible.

Shipe will precede Jef Fretwell and The Detractors, who are playing electrified, piano-driven country and honky-tonk. In addition to vintage amplifiers, the band utilizes a 1974 Fender Rhodes electric piano, played by Dal Carver, for a less-Nashville, more-Bakersfield sound.

Portland's Brothers Young will headline Friday. The six-piece band often is billed as folk because it employs banjos and mandolin. However, its droning keyboard arrangements and '80s Flock of Seagulls-style harmonies add elements of experimental rock and indie pop.

Saturday's lineup includes Justin Gordon and his backing band The Wrecking Ball, delivering rootsy, alt-country. Portland's Celilo plays haunting, pedal steel-soaked, atmospheric Americana that lands somewhere between "indie psyche and freak folk," according to guitarist and songwriter Sloan Martin. LEFT, featuring bassist Greg Frederick, drummer Matt Terreri and steel guitarist Bob Evoniuk, will close out the night with an eclectic variety of songs by local songwriter Bret Levick.

Three members from the nomadic Americana troupe Intuitive Compass will put a ragtime twist on traditional bluegrass instrumentation at Sunday's matinee. The more traditional Kites & Crows trio — Mysha Caruso on guitar, Jesse Baldwin on banjo and accordion and Nancy Martin on vibraphonette and cello — will perform acoustic, contemporary folk songs. Ashland's Flat Five String Band will conclude the festival with music heavily influenced by French Gypsy troubadours and vintage swing and jazz.

Cover charges are $3 Thursday, $7 Friday and Saturday and $2 Sunday. Call 541-482-8818 or see www.alexsrestaurantandbar.com.

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