"Can I get an amen?"
So asked host Jim Lauderdale at last night's 14th Annual Americana Honors and Awards at Nashville's Mother Church, the Ryman Auditorium. For an evening dedicated to a genre most often associated with banjo strums and folky guitar, he was referring to the show's opening act, Robert Randolph, who took the stage with the Fairfield Four and the McCrary Sisters to confirm that there's plenty of room for soul, gospel and R&B in there too.
Kicking off the 16th annual Americana Music Festival, which officially began last night, the awards, airing as a special future episode of Austin City Limits, "ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival," honored acts from not only all sides of the genre but all generations, too. Lucinda William's LP Down Where The Spirit Meets the Bone took top honors for the night, beating out the likes of Sturgill Simpson and Shakey Graves for Album of the Year. But neither man went home empty — Simpson snagged Artist of the Year and Song of the Year (for Metamodern Sounds in Country Music's thinking-man's country song "Turtles All the Way Down"), while Graves, the nom de plume of Alejandro Rose-Garcia, took Emerging Artist.
Simpson was a no-show — he's currently on the road in the middle of his Living the Dream Tour, so producer Dave Cobb accepted one of his awards. Simpson later released a statement about his victories: "It was either attend the awards or make up a string of shows that were cancelled due to illness back in February for some very disappointed fans. It’s very nice to be recognized by our peers. All the awards in the world are worth nothing without the people who support us," he said, thanking the Americana Association for the recognition.
Elsewhere, Graves, joined by co-writer Esme Patterson, was one of the many performances of the night, ditching his usual hat and white tank top for a tailored suit to offer a rather jovial rendition of his nominated single "Dearly Departed." "This is just a continuous, massive, semi-religious experience for me," he told the crowd. Graves would make a surprise appearance at local club Mercy Lounge later in the night for festival attendees — still in his formalwear.
Other standout performances included emerging artist nominee Nikki Lane, who brought a much-needed moment of twangy fire to the evening with "Right Time"; Keb' Mo', who paid tribute to B.B King (with the late legend's own guitar "Lucille" displayed onstage) with "How Blue Can You Get"; and Lifetime Achievement in Songwriting winners Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch, who gave a taste of the upcoming Dave Rawlings Machine LP, Nashville Obsolete, with "Short Haired Women Blues." Jason Isbell and wife Amanda Shires also left their two-week-old daughter at home (or, perhaps, backstage) to play the title song from his LP, Something More Than Free — a warm up for his sold-out, upcoming four-night Ryman stand in October.
Also taking the stage were the electric Tejano-tinged country outfit the Mavericks, who won for Group/Duo of the Year — and leader Raul Malo was more than a little surprised. "Holy shit, we've won something," he said.
Overall, the night was decidedly more about honoring the genre's forefathers than spotlighting its best up-and-coming talent: other performer-winners included Don Henley, Buffy Sainte-Marie (introduced by Steppenwolf's John Kay in a leather vest and bolo tie), Lee Ann Womack and big winner Williams. Perhaps that's because it's the festival itself that is dedicated to discovering the newest, most promising voices in Americana: with 180 showcases at venues across Nashville through Sunday, there's a good possibility that one of the artists could be a future Lifetime Achievement award honoree — or at least next year's Emerging Artist.
Here's the complete list of winners at the 14th Annual Americana Honors and Awards:
Album of the Year: Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, Lucinda Williams
Artist of the Year: Sturgill Simpson
Group/Duo of the Year: The Mavericks
Song of the Year: "Turtles All the Way Down," Sturgill Simpson
Emerging Artist of the Year: Shakey Graves
Instrumentalist of the Year: John Leventhal
Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award: Buffy Sainte-Marie
Lifetime Achievement Award, Trailblazer: Don Henley
Lifetime Achievement Award, Songwriting: Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
Lifetime Achievement Award, Instrumentalist: Ricky Skaggs
Lifetime Achievement Award, Performance: Los Lobos
President's Award: B.B. King