The Americana Music Association has anointed The Recording Academy’s controversial decision to award Song of the Year to Bonnie Raitt’s “Just Like That” at the 2023 Grammy Awards by giving the same honor to Raitt at the AMA’s annual awards in Nashville.
The decision last February to give the Grammy to Raitt’s heart-warming real-life tale of a mother tracing the transplanted heart of her dead son, caused an outcry in the populist music media, with Rolling Stone reporting the award under the headline “WTF: Bonnie Raitt Wins Song of the Year”.
Rolling Stone added: “We thought the Grammys had moved beyond such bizarrely out-of-touch choices, but apparently not.”
But for many purists in the song-writing industry, the Grammy was the triumph of the seemingly-lost art of crafted song-writing which reflects the trials and tribulations of ordinary life. And, as might be expected, AMA voters took exactly the same view.
Unlike at the Grammys, the AMA award appeared to come as no surprise to Raitt who, as she did at the Grammy Awards, said her old friend and collaborator the late John Prine had inspired her to write “Just Like That.” She penned the song after watching a television news story about a mother who met up with the recipient of her dead son’s transplanted heart and how she was able to hear her child’s heart beating again.
She confidently told a packed Ryman Auditorium: “It is a story of grace and redemption in these times of such cruelty and stupidity and suffering. And just to have a good story like this meant so much to me.”
The other big winner at the 22nd Annual Americana Honors & Awards was whizz bluegrass guitarist Billy Strings who won Artist of the Year for the second successive year. Strings took a decidedly casual approach to his latest triumph. “Three hours ago I was sitting on my couch until my manager suggested it would be better if I hang out down at the Ryman,” he quipped.
Strings beat out finalists Charley Crockett, Sierra Ferrell, Margo Price and Allison Russell.
One winner who did not turn up was Tyler Childers who won the prestigious Album of the Year Award for Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?, an album of eight songs each recorded three times in different styles. The award was accepted on his behalf by Kentucky poet laureate Silas House.
Tyler’s no show may have had something to do with his controversial acceptance of the Emerging Artist of the Year Award in 2018 when he declared: “I feel Americana ain’t no part of nothin’. It is a distraction from the issues that we are facing as country music singers.”
Childers triumphed over albums by Crockett, Hermanos Gutierrez, Angel Olsen and Price.
The War and Treaty (husband and wife Michael Trotter and Tanya Blount Trotter) won Duo/Group of the Year for a second successive time. Other major-category winners were S. G. Goodman for Emerging Act of the Year and SistaStrings (Chauntee and Monique Ross) for Instrumentalist of the Year.
The political connotations which have surfaced at formal AMA events in recent years continued when the controversial Democratic Tennessee legislators Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson – known as the “Tennessee Three” – were invited to present Allison Russell with the Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award.
The annual awards show began with a performance of “Come Monday” by Logan Ledger as a tribute to Jimmy Buffett who died on September 1, aged 76. And for the finale, an all-star cast joined Buddy Miller’s house band to honor Robbie Robertson, who died in August, with a rousing, improvised rendition of The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek.”
2023 American Honours and Awards Winners:
Artist of the Year: Billy Strings
Song of the year: “Just Like That” Bonnie Raitt. Written by Bonnie Raitt
Album of the Year: Can I take My Hounds to Heaven? Tyler Childers. Produced by Tyler Childers
Duo/Group of the Year: The War and Treaty
Emerging Act of the Year: S. G. Goodman
Instrumentalist of the Year: SistaStrings
Trailblazer Awards: The Avett Brothers and Nickel Creek
Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting: Patty Griffin
Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award: Allison Russell
Legacy of Americana Award (National Museum of African American Music): Bettye Lavette
Jack Emerson Lifetime Achievement for Executive: George Fontaine Sr.