The Americana Music Association’s Honors and Awards gala celebrated its 10th anniversary on Thursday night (10/13) by taking a big step forward.
For the first time, the event was telecast. And although the WNPT-TV live coverage was plagued by technical glitches, the vibe inside the Ryman Auditorium was toasty warm. The show will be edited for rebroadcast on PBS nationally. For a complete list of winners CLICK HERE.
Buddy Miller was the big winner. He led the house band, triumphed again as Instrumentalist of the Year and, in a surprise, walked off with Artist of the Year instead of the favored Robert Plant.
“This is not right, and thank-you,” he exclaimed in accepting the Artist trophy. “Just to be mentioned in the same sentence with all those other folks means a lot to me.” In addition to Miller and Plant, the other nominees were Elizabeth Cook and Hayes Carll.
“I feel like I get away with murder,” Miller said when he accepted his Instrumentalist prize. “I’m really, really not that good. But I get to play with some really incredible people.”
The Miller love continued when Plant accepted the Album of the Year award for Band of Joy. “I have to thank, really, especially, Buddy Miller….the consummate player,” said Plant. “I’ve been welcomed by some spectacular people, especially in this town.”
Among the show’s highlights were the presentations of five Lifetime Achievement Awards. First up was Lucinda Williams, honored for her Songwriter accomplishments.
“She loves language as much as she loves music,” said presenter Luke Lewis. “Her thoughts are golden arrows….She is a poet. She has created 10 albums, all of which will endure.”
“I’ve just been all a-pitter-patter backstage,” Williams told the cheering crowd. “I want this honor to stand for the perseverance and heart it takes to make it all come true….a life in music.” She then performed the title tune to her CD, “Blessed.”
Jerry Douglas was given his Lifetime Award for his work as an Instrumentalist. “He has made a life of communicating emotions to people all over the world,” said presenter Alison Krauss. “He has been my co-worker for 15 years. It couldn’t go to a more perfect guy. This is so right.” Douglas received one of the evening’s many standing ovations.
“Thirty-eight years ago, I climbed aboard my first tour bus,” he recalled of joining The Country Gentlemen as a teen. “They told me, ‘Our bathroom doesn’t work. Here’s your plastic jug.’ It has gotten better since then.
“The Dobro guitar has always been my voice,” he added on a more serious note. To him, the award was, “more than a decoration. It’s a big ‘Yeah!’ from people like you.”
Keb’ Mo’ presented a Performer Lifetime Achievement honor to Gregg Allman. “Every time he opens his mouth to sing, we are given a glimpse into his soul,” Keb’ said. “He has held a torch for the traditions of soul and the blues.”
“You are too kind,” responded Allman. “I’ve always said I can sing to you, but I can’t talk to you.” He thanked his 94-year-old mother, The Allman Brothers and Rounder Records, which handled his excellent Low Country Blues CD this year. “I was born in this city, and it’s good to be back. God bless you.”
Later in the show, Allman returned to perform a stately, plaintive version of his 1972 classic “Melissa.”
The Executive Lifetime honor went to Muscle Shoals producer/publisher Rick Hall. Soul star Candi Staton said that, “Working with Rick was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had in music. The music I made in Muscle Shoals has taken me all over the world.”
Hall recalled, “When I was 16 years old, I was sitting in the Ryman Auditorium, and I saw Hank Williams sing the ‘Lovesick Blues.’ And I knew I wanted to be in music.
“My son said, ‘Dad, be humble, and make it short.’ So, thank you.” Staton and The McCrary Sisters sang “Heart on a String” to salute her producer.
British radio and TV broadcaster Bob Harris was given the Trailblazer Lifetime Achievement Award. “It’s a bit of a dream come true to walk out on this stage,” he said. “The level of musicianship here [in Nashville] I truly believe is the best in the world. You are the warmest people and the friendliest. I really believe in you, and I believe in this music.”
The Americana convention has grown by 15% each year for the past four years. This year’s awards show was the first to become a sold-out event.
Musically, Emmylou Harris kicked things off with “I’ll Fly Away” with vocal harmonies by Miller and Krauss. The song was on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, which is also celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Amos Lee and The McCrary Sisters were soulful and inspiring on “Cup of Sorrow” from his Mission Bell CD. Elizabeth Cook turned in a rollicking “El Camino.” Justin Townes Earle and the McCrarys offered a punchy “Harlem River Blues,” which won Song of the Year. Jessica Lee Mayfield was winsome; Group of the Year winners The Avett Brothers were rootsy; and show host Jim Lauderdale was honky tonking.
A massive shout of acclamation and a standing ovation followed The Civil Wars haunting, ethereal performance of “Barton Hollow.” Hayes Carll rocked hard on his CD title tune “KMAG YOYO.” Buddy Miller and Regina McCrary teamed up on the bluesy “Gasoline and Matches.” Robert Plant, Patty Griffin and the Band of Joy were throbbing and mysterious on “Monkey.”
After The Secret Sisters sang “Why Don’t You Love Me,” Lauderdale said, “I think Hank would be proud of them. And he used to stand right there.”
The finale was “Glory, Glory Hallelujah,” sung by the M.V.P. McCrarys, Plant, Allman, Lauderdale, Griffin and Lee. The McCrary Sisters, by the way, will issue their new CD, Our Journey, on Tuesday.
Whooping it up in the crowd were Garth Fundis, Tim McFadden, Michael Martin Murphey, Mary Martin, Tim Fink, Michael McCall, John Lomax III, Charlie Feldman, Charlie Stefl, John Beiter, Nancy Shapiro, Fletcher Foster, Ron Cox, Webb Wilder, Susan Stewart, Carrie Rodriguez, Raul Malo, John Oates, Mindy Smith, The Greencards, Dan Auerbach, Marshall Chapman, Nina Miller and, natch, Jed Hilly.
“This has been a night of great magic,” concluded Jim Lauderdale. “Thank y’all so much for coming out.”