Valerie June and Carla Thomas speak onstage at the 20th Annual Americana Honors & Awards at Ryman Auditorium on September 22, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for Americana Music Association)

8 Unforgettable Moments From the 2021 AmericanaFest

AmericanaFest, a music festival held in various venues across Nashville, Tennessee, is a true dream for music fans. With over 200 artists playing at events — from the Mother Church of Country music to intimate clubs and house shows — attendees have ample chances to check off entries on their musical bucket list while discovering new favorites along the way.

Here are a few of our favorite performances from this year's festival.

Allison Russell

Jacqueline Justice

Allison Russell wowed the crowd at the intimate Luck Mansion Sessions with her stirring, stripped-down performances of "Persephone," "Nightflyer" and "Poison Arrow." Russell, a member of the band Birds of Chicago and the group Our Native Daughters released Outside Child, her first solo album, earlier this year.

— Bobbie Jean Sawyer


Practical strangers Jade Jackson and Aubrie Sellers brought punk rock edge as separate acts to a 2019 AmericanaFest showcase at Cannery Row. Two years and one digital-only fest in 2020 later, they returned to the same festival and venue as close friends for a live preview of their first album as a duo, Breaking Point (out Oct. 22 via ANTI- Records).

— Bobby Moore

Valerie June and Carla Thomas

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - SEPTEMBER 22: (L-R) Valerie June, Carla Thomas and Vaneese Thomas perform onstage at the 20th Annual Americana Honors & Awards at Ryman Auditorium on September 22, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Americana Music Association )

The annual Americana Music Honors & Awards ceremony always promises unforgettable collaborations. This year was no different — from the pairing of Brandi Carlile, Margo Price and Amanda Shires for a John Prine tribute to Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell's closing number. Another of the night's most powerful performances came courtesy of Valerie June and the Queen of Memphis Soul, Carla Thomas. June and Thomas reigned with a show-stopping performance of "Call Me a Fool," from June's The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers. Thomas, who was honored with the Inspiration Award during the ceremony, kept the energy up with a performance of her 1966 hit "B-A-B-Y."

— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

The Georgia Thunderbolts

AmericanaFest offers new discoveries beyond acts of the country, bluegrass and folk varieties. It's also a chance to catch sets by rock 'n' rollers way more grounded in tradition than the handful of metalcore bands and pop-oriented guitar slingers in the mainstream. Case in point: Friday night highlight the Georgia Thunderbolts joins home state forerunners Blackberry Smoke as beacons in a world that doesn't seem to know that it needs rock stars.

— Bobby Moore

Fisk Jubilee Singers

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - SEPTEMBER 22: Fisk Jubilee Singers perform onstage at the 20th Annual Americana Honors & Awards at Ryman Auditorium on September 22, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for Americana Music Association)

The Ryman Auditorium was truly the Mother Church when Legacy Award recipients the Fisk Jubilee singers took the stage with Leon Timbo to perform "I Believe." Even musical director Buddy Miller was rattled (in the best way), saying "I'm supposed to follow that."

Watch the full Americana Music Honors & Awards ceremony below.

— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Caleb Lee Hutchinson

If Brent Cobb-produced EP Slot Machine Syndrome didn't fully sell you on Caleb Lee Hutchinson as a country star in the making, be sure to catch him live. Indeed, Hutchinson's fearless on-stage prowess and hilarious between-song banter on Friday night at the 5 Spot would've forced even the most stubborn cynic to crack a smile.

— Bobby Moore

Natalie Hemby Previews 'Pins and Needles'

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - SEPTEMBER 24: Natalie Hemby of The Highwoman speaks on stage during the panel Change The Conversation Presents Exploring Natalie Hemby's Path To "Pins and Needles" on September 24, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Mickey Bernal/Getty Images)

The day after her stellar set at Cannery Ballroom, Natalie Hemby took part in a conversation with CMT's Leslie Fram about her illustrious career — co-writing with frequent collaborator Miranda Lambert, joining the supergroup The Highwomen, penning songs for A Star is Born and discussing tracks from her forthcoming album Pins and Needles. But while there's no shortage of high points to look back on, the one hour conversation proved that, for Hemby, the best is yet to come.

— Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Joshua Ray Walker

If you missed seeing Joshua Ray Walker during AmericanaFest, you can't blame your loss on a lack of opportunities. The Texas-based singer-songwriter performed at least nine times across four days, including an appearance on Thursday night at Cannery Row. Walker taught established fans new songs from forthcoming album See You Next Time (out Oct. 8 via State Fair Records)—and surely wowed first-time listeners— during his breakneck string of live appearances.

—Bobby Moore