AmericanaFest 2023: Honors & Awards
Wednesday, the first full day of AmericanaFest, is really all about the Americana Music Association Honors & Awards. The very best in Americana music show up and show out, complete with a red carpet and its accompanying fuss, but the music that happens inside the Ryman Auditorium is what separates this show from any other awards you’ve seen. Here are just a few of the highlights from the three-and-a-half hour ceremony:
SistaStrings won the evening’s first award – Instrumentalist of the Year. The win was a crowd favorite, likely because Chauntee and Monique Ross have seemingly worked with half the people in the room! The sisters made an effort to thank all of them, singling out Allison Russell for being one of the first to give them work. It was just the first sign of the effect that Russell’s had on the Americana community.
Adeem the Artist’s performance of their gutwrencher “Middle of a Heart” was made even more memorable by their resplendent white suit, perhaps a nod to past Emerging Artist winner Tyler Childers (the spectacular dark lipstick, however, was all Adeem).
Emerging Artist nominee William Prince was joined by upstart Jobi Riccio for a sublime performance of his “When You Miss Someone.” Seeing nearly all of the Emerging nominees perform is a smart movie by the AMA – past winners have a proven track record of long-term success.
Kentucky has been a chosen focus of this year’s AmericanaFest, and the Poet Laureate of Kentucky, Silas House, was on hand to introduce his fellow Commonwealther (and Emerging Artists nominee) S.G. Goodman as she performed “Space and Time.” Goodman would return shortly to collect that award, my only correct pick of the evening.
None other than Kacey Musgraves showed up to honor Nickel Creek with the Trailblazer Award. One of the best parts of this ceremony is giving younger artists a chance to acknowledge their influences.
The biggest ovation of the evening may have been for the vaunted Tennessee Three, the state lawmakers who were punished by Tennessee’s conservative legislature for participating in a pro-gun control protest inside the capitol building. After the raucous welcome died down, Reps. Justin Pearson, Justin Jones and Gloria Johnson presented Allison Russell with the Spirit of Americana Award. This woman is doing amazing things, not only in music, but for her community, and the night really belonged to her.
Jessi Colter was there to introduce the producer of her new album, Margo Price, who then proceeded to light up the Mother Church with an appropriately revival-ish version of her “Been to the Mountain.” Price has zoomed through country and Americana to become a full-fledged rock star.
Sarah Silverman stopped by and had a ball introducing Lifetime Achievement Award winner Patty Griffin.
Bonnie Raitt, a Lifetime Achievement Award winner herself, showed up to perform her Grammy-winning (and, eventually, Americana-winning) song “Just Like That,” a tune that, as she noted, was partially inspired by John Prine. It wasn’t the first time his name came up during the evening, and his presence will always be felt in this building.
My personal favorite, Angel Olsen, showed up to play the title track from her nominated album Big Time. This year alone, I’ve seen Olsen’s debut at Red Rocks, and now her performance at the Ryman.
Anthony Mason (my favorite culture reporter, and Person I Want to Be When I Grow Up) had a moment of redemption as he presented the Album of the Year Award to Tyler Childers (in 2018, Mason mispronounced Childers’ name while presenting the Emerging Artist Award). Childers was one of the few nominees who wasn’t present.
After performing “Dear Insecurity” with Brandy Clark, Brandi Carlile returned to the stage to present The Avett Brothers with a Lifetime Achievement Award, who then performed “I Wish I Was,” a master class in songwriting.
Jim Lauderdale presented the final award of the night. Artists of the Year went to Billy Strings, who, surprisingly, WAS in the building to accept! (He seemed a bit surprised to be there himself).
The night opened with a tribute to Jimmy Buffett, and it closed with an all-hands-on-deck remembrance of Robbie Robertson, via The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek.” After that, the crowd spilled out into the warm, loud Nashville night in search of a showcase and, hopefully, a winner or two at next year’s Honors and Awards.
Bonus performance – Lyft-sprinting across town to the Exit/In and catching the second half of Bella White’s gorgeous set, including the debut of her new single, Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend.” Judging from the packed house, Ms. White is becoming VERY known.
Enjoy our previous coverage here: AmericanaFest 2023 Day 1
Check out the festival website here: https://americanamusic.org/about-americanafest