The 15th annual Americana Music Awards and Honors were filled with stellar performances, powerful tributes and heartfelt nods to just how far the genre has come.
The event, which kicked off the nearly-week long Americana Music Festival in Nashville, was jam-packed with performances from artists new and established. A haunting a cappella performance of Ralph Stanley’s “Gloryland” started the night off with a somber tone. This was one of four songs selected to honor legends who had passed away the previous year. Joe Henry followed by paying tribute to Allen Toussaint with “Freedom For The Stallion,” Steve Earle tipped his hat to Guy Clark with “Desperadoes Waiting For A Train,” and Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir performed a rousing rendition of Merle Haggard’s hit “Mama Tried.”
This kicked off an incredible night of performances that included songs from Dwight Yoakam, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Jason Isbell, Billy Bragg, John Moreland, Margo Price and many others. Most of the songs featured a superstar backing band, which included Buddy Miller, Dave Cobb and the McCrary Sisters.
When it comes to the awards themselves, Jason Isbell came out on top with two trophies. He followed up his 2013 sweep by picking up Song of the Year for “24 Frames” and Album of the Year for Something More Than Free. A rather shellshocked Chris Stapleton was awarded the Artist of the Year, and reminisced about the days when he and the SteelDrivers would try their hardest to make it into the awards. “We begged and begged and begged to do something, but they didn’t let us in,” Stapleton said with a slight laugh. “Standing here… means a lot.”
Breakthrough artist and hometown hero Margo Price nabbed the coveted Emerging Artist Award. Although she had no speech prepared, she made sure to thank the “people out there who might have passed on my record” before recognizing her husband, Jeremy Ivy. “[He] believed in me and sold our car to be able to do this record,” she told the crowd.
If there was a theme of the night, it was paying tribute to those who brought you. Each of the four chosen for lifetime achievement awards thanked the artists who inspired them to strive for greatness. Jim Lauderdale was only the second person to receive the Wagonmaster Award, named after the late Porter Wagoner, and the honor went far from unnoticed. As he read through the list of those who helped him through his career, he paused as tears welled up in his eyes. Although Lauderdale is known for his bubbly personality and witty jokes, for that moment he was simply an artist humbled to be recognized.
Lauderdale penned multiple hit songs for George Strait, who was on hand to present his award and close out the show with a performance of “The King of Broken Hearts.” Getting to see Strait on the live stage is an increasingly rare treat (as his Las Vegas residency is drawing to a close) and this night was no exception.
Most of the award recipients and honorees then came together on stage with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for a sing-along of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” a song that’s truly the epitome of Americana music.
Since it is a live show, there were also a few unplanned moments during the ceremony. Unapologetically vocal singer-songwriter Billy Bragg slammed actor Tom Hiddleston for his audacity to “stand on this very stage and impersonate Hank Williams,” referring to his role in the flop Hank Williams biopic I Saw The Light. Also, Strait’s longtime producer Tony Brown (who has had some recent run-ins with the law) ran on stage during Strait and Lauderdale’s performance for an impromptu hug.
Still, the overall mind-blowing evening featured incredibly diverse music that encapsulated just how far reaching and influential the Americana genre has grown to be.
2016 Americana Music Awards and Honors Recipients:
Margo Price *WINNER*
Nathaniel Ratliff & The Night Sweats
Sara Watkins *WINNER*
Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award: Billy Bragg
Lifetime Achievement Award, Trailblazer: Shawn Colvin
Lifetime Achievement Award, Songwriting: William Bell
Lifetime Achievement Award, Performance: Bob Weir
Lifetime Achievement Award, Wagonmaster: Jim Lauderdale
President’s Award: The late Woody Guthrie