In a city marked by rapid population growth and an ever-changing skyline, one annual tradition has brought some sense of regularity to Nashville’s late summer: the Americana Music Festival and Conference. The festival has ballooned in size over the years, matching Nashville’s own growth with an increasing number of participating venues, day parties and attendees.
The Americana Honors & Awards ceremony is the festival’s centerpiece. While the Grammys unveil their Americana category winners before the actual TV broadcast, this event is a different beast, pushing roots music — and those who make it — into the spotlight. This year’s event brings a mix of change and consistency to the Ryman Auditorium. The genre’s poster children, from Jason Isbell to Brandi Carlile, will be in attendance, both as performers and award-winning hopefuls. Newcomers like Anderson East, Courtney Marie Andrews and Tyler Childers will also take the stage, representing a genre that, while rooted in traditions of the past, is forever moving forward. The show even has a new pair of hosts, with the Milk Carton Kids taking over emcee duties from Jim Lauderdale.
Here’s everything you need to know before the 17th annual Americana Honors & Awards ceremony on Wednesday night.
How to watch and listen: Those who haven’t snagged passes to the 2018 Americana Honors & Awards ceremony can still watch the September 12th show unfold in real time, thanks to a live video stream from NPR. The radio network’s free webcast will be available at NPRMusic.org, with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m./CT. The awards show hits cable TV two months later, with CMT broadcasting an abridged version of the ceremony — think more music and less acceptance speeches — on Wednesday, November 28th, at 8:00 p.m./CT. PBS is condensing the show, too, with a “special broadcast” appearing during the upcoming season of Austin City Limits in February 2019.
Three Nashville-area radio stations will air a live audio simulcast of the shows. Local fans can hear the Americana Honors ceremony on WRLT (100.1 FM), WSM (650 AM) and WMOT (89.5 FM), while those outside middle Tennessee can tune in to SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country channel for a similar simulcast.
Who’s hosting? After a 15-year run as the show’s emcee, Jim Lauderdale is stepping down from his post this year, with the Milk Carton Kids taking his place. The succession feels appropriate, as Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale — the Milk Carton Kids’ harmony-singing, joke-cracking duo — share Lauderdale’s mix of folk-based songwriting and humor. They’ve already become a familiar presence at the annual awards shows, performing “Hope of a Lifetime” during the 2013 Americana Honors & Awards ceremony before returning in 2014 to snag the award for Duo of the Year.
Meanwhile, Buddy Miller reprises his role as the show’s music director, leading a band that includes Kacey Musgraves’ co-producer, Amanda Shires’ drummer and Sheryl Crow’s steel guitarist. Don Was, Jerry Pentecost, Joe Pisapia, Ian Fitchuk, Lillie Mae, Joshua Grange, Jim Hoke and the McCrary Sisters all round out the lineup.
Who’s up for awards? Artist of the Year nominee Jason Isbell leads the pack, with Margo Price and Brandi Carlile following closely behind. Isbell’s The Nashville Sound is up for Album of the Year, with the ballad “If We Were Vampires” receiving its own nomination. Price is nominated in all three of those categories, as well, with All American Made giving The Nashville Sound a run for its money. Brandi Carlile and John Prine round out the Artist of the Year competition, with Carlile also receiving nominations for her newest album, By the Way, I Forgive You, and her single “The Joke.”
Meanwhile, Courtney Marie Andrews faces off against Tyler Childers, Anderson East and Lily Hiatt in the Emerging Act of the Year category, while Isbell — in his fourth nomination of the evening — competes against I’m With Her, Lukas Nelson and Nathan Rateliff in the Duo/Group of the Year pack. The final category, Instrumentalist of the Year, includes Daniel Donato, Brittany Haas, Jerry Pentecost and Molly Tuttle.
Who will take the stage? As always, the show will shine a light on Americana’s mainstays and rookies, offering stage time to more than a dozer songwriters along the way. Some will perform with the all-star house band; others will perform with their own lineups. Included on the evening’s roster is is k.d. lang, who’ll return to the Ryman Auditorium several days later to perform her Ingénue album in its entirety, as well as long-running Americana icons Rosanne Cash, John Prine and Robert Earl Keen.
Perennial award-winner Jason Isbell is back with his 400 Unit, as are 2016 Emerging Artist of the Year Margo Price and reigning International Artist of the Year Courtney Marie Andrews. Buddy Guy, Irma Thomas, Brandi Carlile, I’m With Her, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Mary Gauthier, Anderson East, Lilly Hiatt and Tyler Childers will all make appearances, as well.