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Tributes Flow at Americana Music Awards

Brandi Carlile is Americana Music Artist of the Year for the second time in three years

The legacy left behind by recently-departed artists across all genres dominated the 20th Americana Music Association’s annual Honours and Awards ceremony held at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

The show fittingly opened with a tribute to Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts - the biggest name lost to music in the past year. The house band, led by Buddy Miller and featuring Aaron Lee Tasjan on vocals and Jerry Pentecost on drums, performed “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” from the Stone’s 1971 classic album Sticky Fingers.

The largely-masked Ryman audience had little time to pay their respects to Charlie before they were remembering the work of folk legend Nanci Griffith who died in August. Joe Henry & Aoife O' Donovan did her proud with a beautiful rendition of “Gulf Coast Highway,” a song she specifically co-wrote for two voices, as Henry acknowledged.

The next legacy was to country great Tom T. Hall, known as The Storyteller. There was no one better to pay tribute to Hall, who also died in August, than Buddy Miller who performed “That’s How I Got to Memphis.” Miller’s 1995 version is long considered the best cover of a Tom T. song.

The next opportunity to remember a lost Americana star came when Steve Earle sang his late son Justin Townes Earle’s signature song “Harlem River Blues” off Steve’s tribute album JT which was a finalist for Album of the Year. He finished with his now-normal refrain to his lost son: “See you when I get there cowboy.”

And there was a somewhat surprise ending to the show when instead of the annual all-artists-onstage ending, just two appeared – big names Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. They were there to honour The Everly Brothers – Don died in August – with two of their big hits “Let It Be Me” and “Bye Bye Love.”

The audience was told the limited finale was for safety reasons, with a crowded stage posing a health risk during the current pandemic. Some might suggest this was a case of too little too late as the Americana Music Association is facing renewed criticism for going ahead with its annual week-long music festival especially when only last week Tennessee recorded the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in the U.S.

In fact, last year’s Americanafest, and the associated awards concert, was cancelled due to the pandemic.

The 2020 Americana awards were still made a year ago and then the Artist of the Year Award went to John Prine, who had recently died as a result of complications from the COVID virus. And Prine was again a winner this year when his last-recorded song “I remember Everything,” which he co-wrote with Pat McLaughlin, was named Song of the Year.

The 2021 Artist of the Year was Brandi Carlile, herself a habitual Americana honours winner. She also won the big title in 2019 and last year collected two other awards.

For the second time in five years, Sturgill Simpson won the Album of the Year Award for his acclaimed bluegrass transitional work Cuttin’ Grass – Vol 1 (Butcher Shoppe Sessions) which he co-produced with David Ferguson. In 2017, Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth was named best album.

The other two artist categories were won by Texan Charley Crockett (Emerging Artist of the Year), Black Pumas (Duo/Group of the Year) and fiddler Kristin Weber (Instrumentalist of the Year).

As is the tradition in the Americana Music Awards, several Lifetime Achievement Awards were made. These had been previously announced and were in-keeping with the AMA’s recent attempt to be more inclusive in its recognition of all artists. Three of the five recipients were black – Keb Mo (Lifetime Award for Performance), Fisk Jubilee Singers (Legacy Award) and Carla Thomas (Americana Inspiration Award).

A quip by Mo, who will be 70 in October, that he was honoured to get such an award “so early in his career” was probably not lost on the audience!

2021 Americana Honors & Awards Winners

Artist of the Year:

Brandi Carlile

Album of the Year :

“Cuttin' Grass - Vol. 1 (Butcher Shoppe Sessions),” Sturgill Simpson, Produced by David Ferguson & Sturgill Simpson

Song of the Year:

"I Remember Everything," John Prine, Written by Pat McLaughlin & John Prine

Duo/Group of the Year:

Black Pumas

Emerging Act of the Year:

Charley Crockett

Instrumentalist of the Year

Kristin Weber

Lifetime Achievement honorees

(previously announced)

Legacy Award: Fisk Jubilee Singers

Lifetime Award for Performance: Keb' Mo'

Americana Trailblazer Award: The Mavericks

Lifetime Achievement Award for Producer/Engineer: Trina Shoemaker

Americana Inspiration Award: Carla Thomas


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