Allison Russell, Billy Strings and Brandi Carlile were among those receiving the highest honors on Wednesday (September 14) as the Americana Honors & Awards ceremony returned home to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Over the course of the evening, nearly a dozen accolades were handed out, dotted with a lineup of artists who showcased the breadth of Americana’s evolving sound.
Ace guitarist Billy Strings won the most coveted honor of the night, artist of the year, following the release of his third album, Renewal, in 2021. Strings, however, was not in attendance at The Ryman on Wednesday night, as he was touring New England. In his place, legendary dobro and steel guitar master Jerry Douglas both presented and accepted the honor on behalf of Strings.
One of the most emotional moments of the night was undoubtedly Russell and Carlile teaming up for “You’re Not Alone”, backed by a band of aces of musicians.
“Our circle is unbroken. Our circle is complete. None above, none below, we are all equal under listening heaven,” Russell said, a cheerful summary of the love in the room that night.
“You’re Not Alone” seemed well placed as the evening’s theme, whether hinted at in acceptance speeches and introductions, or expressed musically through the night’s plethora of collaborations and band performances.
Russell, who earned three nominations ahead of the ceremony, received album of the year honors for outdoor childproduced by Dan Knobler.
“Time and time again tonight I heard two things: community, family, union, belonging. To be edified, to be inspired. I feel so honored to be a part of this community,” Russell said. Russell thanked many of her team members and offered a special moment of gratitude to Carlile, who she says played a key role in helping Russell sign a contract with Fantasy Records. “[She] made phone calls and stood up for this record and stood up for me and lifted me and my family out of poverty during the pandemic,” an increasingly emotional Russell added. “That’s what she did and that’s what this family does, this chosen family. I haven’t been lucky with the family I was born into, nurtured by, adopted into, but I’ve been incredibly lucky with music.
Larissa Maestro was named Instrumentalist of the Year and thanked others who have already been nominated and won the honor for breaking down barriers in the category.
“I want to talk about doors opening for a second, because I didn’t think that kind of thing was a possibility for me…I’m 39 and I haven’t seen people who look like me in this category for a lot of years and I got to see it last year and they were my friends and it’s so exciting,” said Maestro.
JP Harris has paid tribute to his friend and fellow musician, the late Luke Bell, who was found dead last month after a long battle with mental illness.
“Luke never got the chance to sing that song himself from that scene, like he should have, so I’m going to do my [best] in your place, little bro,” Harris said before performing “The Bullfighter.”
Carlile then had a second performance, joining Lucius, Tim and Phil Hanseroth for “You and Me on the Rock”, while Song of the Year went to Carlile’s “Right on Time”, written by Carlile, Dave Cobb , Phil Hanseroth and Tim Hanseroth. .
“What an honor to have this song seen by you guys,” said Carlile, thanking his co-writers. “This song is basically saying that sometimes the s— just gotta hit the fan,” she said, adding, “There were so many Songs of the Year in that category and it’s amazing to be by your side.”
Two gender-blur acts who are currently signed to mainstream country labels made ace screenings at the Americana Honors.
The War and Treaty, who signed with Universal Music Group Nashville earlier this year, delivered a searing vocal masterclass as they performed their latest release, the intimate “That’s How Love Is Made,” drawing the Ryman crowd to its feet. Later that evening, they were named Duo/Group of the Year, having won Emerging Artist of the Year in 2019.
“It’s been a long road, it’s been tough but it’s been worth it,” said Tanya Trotter, who accepted the honor with her husband and teammate Michael Trotter, Jr.
Morgan Wade, currently signed to Sony Music Nashville, and an Emerging Artist of the Year nominee who broke through last year with her album Recklessperformed a cool and passionate version of the album track “Run”.
Sierra Ferrell, who just released a new album, Long time aheadwas named Emerging Actor of the Year, shortly after delivering one of the night’s most gripping performances with “At the End of the Rainbow.”
“I never thought I’d be here to accept this…I love you all, thank you so much,” Ferrell said.
Several lifetime achievement awards were presented during the evening, such as Lyle Lovett honoring Chris Isaak with the Performance Award, Garth Fundis honoring the late Don Williams with the President’s Award, Carlile honoring the Indigo Girls with the Spirit of Americana Award, the Fairfield Four were honored with the Legacy of Americana Award, and Al Bell received the Executive Award.
Robert Plant surprised audiences by appearing to honor All-Star Band musical director Buddy Miller with a lifetime achievement award, for his work with a range of artists including Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley and Tom T. Hall . Miller also performed “Wide River to Cross”.
“I don’t know why I’m getting this…it’s overwhelming,” Miller said. “Everyone who gave me a chance, my dear friend Jim Lauderdale…it means so much to me.”
Last year’s legacy honor went to Dr. Paul T. Kwami and the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Dr Kwami, who served as musical director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers for 28 years, died this week, and BMI executive director, designer Shannon Sanders, led the crowd in a moment of remembrance before honoring the Fairfield Four .
The quartet originally formed as a trio in 1921 in the basement of Fairfield Baptist Church in Nashville. Before the Grand Ole Opry found a longtime home at the Ryman in 1943, the Ryman Auditorium hosted many musicians, celebrities and political figures, including performances from the Fairfield Four. The band’s current iteration performed “Rock My Soul” and received the 2022 Legacy of Americana award.
At the end of the evening, the McCrary Sisters paid tribute to their late sister and teammate Deborah McCrary, performing the classic hymn “Amazing Grace”, intertwined with the melody of another classic, “The House of the Rising Sun “.
The denouement of the evening came with an all-singing of “I’ll Take You There,” the Staple Singers classic, a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972, written by award winner Al Bell. Americana Lifetime Achievement.