Best Instrumentation: Ben Miller Band It took more than a shared beard enthusiasm for a built-for-busking trio like the Ben Miller Band to go over as a tour opener for ZZ Top, though it probably didn’t hurt. During a midnight slot at the High Watt, Ben Miller and his band mates Doug Dicharry and Scott Leeper proved it was their strapping musicality and pop sensibilities (charismatic vocal interplay, red-blooded arrangements etc.) applied to their eccentrically old-timey instrumentation (spoons through distortion pedal, amplified washboard, washtub bass, rotary phone receiver mic and such) that won over fans of hooky blues-rock. It works pretty much the same way when they get in front of any crowd in search of a great, sweaty show.
Best Garden Party: Spotify's Supper and SongSlick, stovepipe denim isn’t exactly a rare sight at anything Americana-centric, which is why it was so appropriate that one of the best events of the festival took place in the whimsical backyard of local clothier Imogene + Willie. Tank-topped Texan Shakey Graves played an emotive solo set with all the swagger of a haunted cowboy, while Robert Ellis, the Devil Makes Three and Ben Miller band shook the barnyard-chic stage. A highlight at the Spotify-sponsored event was genre-darlings Hurray for the Riff Raff, who strummed as passionately to the twinkling string bulbs overhead as they did the stage lights of the Ryman the night before. —Marissa R. Moss