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United States of Americana: Backyard Chickens, Burlesque Beauties, and Handmade Bitters: A Field Guide to the New American Roots Movement Paperback – August 31, 2010

3.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For any American who's ever thought about playing a vinyl record, making some jam, or ordering a pair of custom-made boots, this semi-encyclopedia to the new age of "essential pragmatism" and craftsmanship is a delight. Philosophy of the movement is scattered loosely through the book, along with a reasonable set of ideas as to what started us on this self-sufficient path, but the book is mostly a collection of Reighley's finds. He visits urban dwellers who keep chickens in their backyards, cooks who love to can, and folks who make their own bitters. He pokes into classic merchants (the Pendleton Company and Hatch Show Print, for example) and spends much of the book on significant American music. The writing is oddly composed according to gender (women get crafts, canning, and burlesque; men get music, custom-made clothing, and shaving), and Reighley relies on the same core group of interviewees again and again, whereas digging a little deeper for new voices would have been a treat. But, overall, the book is comprehensive, well-written, and enjoyable. It's sure to find a home next to the record player or shaving strap in many a new pioneer home. Illustrations.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“I love it! Kurt conveys the irresistable charm of the roots movement, showing that a taste for the details of the past can blend playfully with the amenities of the present. Independent circus and neo-burlesque are just a couple of the cultural movements he brings to life.” (Jo Weldon, author of The Burlesque Handbook)

“Reighley’s book is your magical wardrobe into the Narnia of Americana. If it isn’t in here, it isn’t part of the heritage. Always fun, fully informed, astutely researched, and extremely generous in scope, United States of Americana is the lexicon of a laudable way of life.” (Wesley Stace, also known as John Wesley Harding)

“Encompassing, engaging, and definitive. . . . Reighley shows us the Americana movement from the inside. . . . Perfect bedside reading for anyone seeking to inch their way toward a more enriched and rewarding lifestyle.” (John Roderick, from The Long Winters)

“United States of Americana reminds us of many things we need reminding of. . . . This book will hopefully show the reader that while our hands have perhaps softened they are not just for eating, typing, and tying our shoes.” (Chris Bray, co-founder of Billykirk)

“A fantastically thorough handbook. . . . Reighley proves that old is the new new and that fringe interests will blend into the future, making the mash-up of the now.” (Faythe Levine, author of Handmade Nation: The Rise of D.I.Y. Art, Craft & Design)

“United States of Americana is Foxfire magazine for the Hipster Handbook audience.” (Lance Ledbetter, founder of Dust-to-Digital)

“Capturing that “old weird America” with a decidedly 21st century spin, Reighley guides his audience through the intricacies of cocktails and canning parties, where to pick up a good pair of boots, and why Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music is essential listening.” (Justin Gage, of Aquarium Drunkard)

“Reighley’s tome is a font of knowledge. . . . [We have an] affection for this call to reclaim our scrappy American individualism.” (Modern Tonic)

“[Takes] us back to the place where we knew how to make things that would last, how to take care of them — and even knew the people who made them. . . . His entertaining, informed chapter on music is a micro field guide in itself.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“It’s hard to imagine a simpler, slower time—but plenty of us are trying to make a return. . . . [United States of Americana] can help you recapture a bit of America as it used to be, before the days of Internets and iPhones. (Uncrate.com)

“[An] exploration of an idiosyncratic but undeniable right-now culture movement. . . . Reighley’s like a wool-shirted, moonshine-sipping uncle tying up trends and connecting the return-to-the-good-olde-days dots from his post on some picturesque porch. It’s a really fun read.” (Seattle Metropolitan Magazine)

“For any American who’s ever thought about playing a vinyl record, making some jam, or ordering a pair of custom-made boots, this semi-encyclopedia to the new age of ‘essential pragmatism’ and craftsmanship is a delight. . . . Comprehensive, well-written, and enjoyable.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Reighley shows how working a little to find the tried and true can feel more deeply satisfying than buying into today’s fast-paced consumer culture.” (The Oregonian (Portland))

“A comprehensive guide to young America’s return to the ways of generations past, with immersive chapters on such activities as raising chickens, facial hair grooming, and burlesque.” (Portland Mercury)

“The resurgence in old-school Americana is part of a national trend, one thoroughly and captivatingly mapped [in United States of Americana]. . . . Reighley’s chronicle flows with...ease and enticement.” (Seattle Magazine)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Original edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061946494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061946493
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #568,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kurt B. Reighley is a Seattle-based writer, DJ, and entertainer. Raised in Virginia, educated in Indiana, and schooled by New York City, he has been writing about pop culture since 1989, during the course of which time he has interviewed such diverse icons as Mel Tormé, Kylie Minogue, Loretta Lynn, Isaac Hayes, and Marilyn Manson. He is the author of three books, including "United States of Americana: Backyard Chickens, Burlesque Beauties & Handmade Bitters - A Field Guide to the New American Roots Movement," as well as the Kindle Single "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye: The Fleeting Fame and Lasting Legacy of Soft Cell." Under the alter-ego DJ El Toro, he spins a wide variety of music, from Antony & the Johnsons to Zumpano, every Wednesday night on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. In his spare time, he is currently reproducing a series of classic LP covers, full-scale, in 18 gauge needlepoint; his current subject is Primal Scream's "Screamadelica."

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Instead of reading as a "Guide," The United States of Americana reads more like a Who's Who reference list of where you should be shopping and what music to listen to if you want to jump on the new American roots movement bandwagon. Many chapters (most notably the clothes, leather working, and part of the food, and music sections) is a list of "cool" young hipsters "doing their thing". Reading it, I feel less guided and more pushed (with their blogs and websites listed so you can go check them out).

Lack of Gender

While I thoroughly enjoyed reading about men's facial hair, the different types of mustaches (really!), the origins of each liquor, and almost every sidebar, I was disappointed to see there was little, if no, female influence on any of these topics. Sure, knitting and crafts scream "the woman's job," but regarding clothes, grooming, leather work, and even music, historical influences and subsequent revelations were male-oriented. Where are the women's trends? Hats, fascinators and headpieces are all making enormous resurgences in women's fashion; it would have fit nicely between straight razors and bowler hats. It would have been nice to read how today's movement is affecting the "other" gender, since I consider myself a woman participating in this new American roots movement. Gender's not even mentioned facetiously until the crafts chapter. Mentioning Martha Stewart doesn't count, and boiling women down to crafts and burlesque is predictable.


It is clear that Reighley is a music lover. The passion (albeit, a bit of snootiness) that shines through in his chapter "Songs of Pioneers" is obvious. But it leaks a little into other chapters, such as "Design and Décor.
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Format: Paperback
In a lesser journalist's hands, this book could've easily gotten lost - after all, what do chickens, boots and burlesque all have in common? Luckily Reighley isn't just a veteran music journalist, he's both a skilled interviewer and a seasoned critic of popular culture in general, able to show you what unifying strands connect the current popularity of knitting to both punk rock's DIY culture and the current state of feminism. As an interviewer Reighley finds the choicest insights from a wide range of truly fascinating characters, but it's his ability to weave these ingredients together into one grand narrative that makes this book really rock.

There's a paradox in all this: what's the big Story in a bunch of people doing old stuff? As the answers unfold, it becomes clear that all of these quirky old-fashioned hobbies (some of which have turned into lucrative professions) are a vivid (and mostly authentic) search of meaning, intimacy and a sense of realness against the backdrop of Facebook America (where your friends literally are electric). Even as Walmart and other huge corporations own more and more of our commerce, our government, our time and our culture, the underground of DIY artisans is burgeoning too, from your local farmer's market to Etsy.com, and even as YouTube and Pandora transform what it means to consume music, odds are there are more and more artists in your community finding greater satisfaction busking blues, bluegrass or old-time music, or trading in their turntables for belly dance and burlesque costumes.
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The struggling economy, planned obsolescence, and the never-ending cycle of new generations rediscovering the cool stuff discarded by their elders has led to a rebirth of the "Americana" movement, and Kurt B. Reighley explores this phenomenon through its many fascinating strands, from roots music, to homemade crafts and canned foods, to the burlesque revival, to the renewed popularity of brands that make clothes and shoes that are designed to last. It's a fun and informative guide that provides both insight and specific how-to information that will delight dilettantes and the hardcore homespun alike.
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Format: Paperback
Ultimately, I can't deny that this was a very interesting concept for a book, especially with North American's current mindset and economic factors. More people every day are turning to green alternatives, and looking back on how things used to be done before we became a throwaway society. The author clearly did a large amount of research before putting pen to paper, so to speak, and for that, I commend him.

It was, however, not what I was hoping for in a book. While some parts were definitely interesting, with a focus on the history behind things and an aspect of DIY, long portions of it were devoted to nothing more than profiles of companies that have weathered the blast and are still going strong after 100 years or more. Which is fine... if you don't mind reading chapter after chapter of company profiles. I would have rather seen a few more profiles of up-and-comers, people or small companies who were really getting into the DIY spirit and making their own clothes, perhaps, instead of relying on other people to do it for them. Reighley acknowledges that DIY is an essential part of the movement, but ignores a golden opportunity to showcase that.

Certainly, "buy American" is part of the culture as well, but if you actually get down to the grass roots, you'll see a great number of people who are more interested in doing for themselves instead of letting others do for them. It's a fine line to walk, but I wish Reighley had looked a little deeper into that instead of presenting a few food vendors and letting that be the end of it.

That being said, I did learn quite a bit, not just from the various and sundry pieces of trivial commentary that Reighley throws in but also from the sections not devoted to CEO interviews and product reviews.
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