Nashville, TN -- With arguably the best house band of any awards show backing them, some of the finest American roots artists in the world took the stage tonight at the Ryman Auditorium to celebrate the Americana Music Association’s 11th Americana Honors & Awards presented by Nissan. Multiple generations of artists were honored ranging from legends such as Booker T. Jones, Bonnie Raitt, Richard Thompson and Guy Clark, favorites Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and up-and-comers Alabama Shakes, Jason Isbell and The Civil Wars. The night opened with a performance of the Booker T. and the MG’s classic “Green Onions,” led by Jones with guitarists Thompson, Buddy Miller, Larry Campbell, Darrell Scott and Kenny Vaughn.
In perhaps the night’s biggest nod to Americana’s tradition of honoring its roots, Album of the Year honors went to “This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark,” produced by Tamara Saviano and Shawn Camp. The award was made further poignant coming just moments after Clark performed his own, “My Favorite Picture of You,” taking the stage to a standing ovation.
Welch and Rawlings, though both unable to attend, picked up two of the night’s biggest awards, with Welch scoring the Artist of the Year honor, and Rawlings picking up the Instrumentalist of the Year award. Amy Helm and Sam Bush announced Rawlings’ win; Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis presented the award for Welch.
Two other major awards of the night went to what some might consider a new generation of roots artists, though none are strangers to the awards show or the Ryman stage. With original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and former R.E.M. member Mike Mills presenting, Duo/Group of the Year honors went to The Civil Wars, who just last year were an Emerging Artist nominee and captivated the audience with a stripped down version of “Barton Hallow.” Before picking up the award, The Civil Wars’ Joy Williams and John Paul White also acted as presenters, handing Song of the Year honors to “Alabama Pines,” written by Isbell and performed by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Isbell was formerly of roots-rock workhorse Drive-By Truckers. He also performed the song on the show.
Eliciting a roar of approval from the sold-out audience at the Ryman, The Alabama Shakes snagged the Emerging Artist award, an honor awarded the band by Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers and Sara Watkins. The win capped off a thrilling night for the band, which earlier owned the Ryman stage with guest Jones for a raucous performance of its song, “Be Mine.”
“Tonight was a perfect example of why I love Americana,” said Jed Hilly, executive director of the Americana Music Association. “>From the rock and soul of Alabama Shakes to the perfection of Gill and Dave, all of our winners honor the traditions of American roots music while pushing the form forward.”
Hosted by Jim Lauderdale, the Americana Honors & Awards presented by Nissan also paid tribute to a number of the genre’s progenitors with Lifetime Achievement Awards. Hiatt, himself a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree in 2008 for songwriting, presented the Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance to Raitt. The two then joined forces toward the end of the show for the Hiatt-penned, Raitt hit “Thing Called Love.” Raitt was also joined by Al Anderson on “Not Cause We Wanted To,” a song from her last album, Slipstream, written by Anderson and Nashville’s Bonnie Bishop.
Patterson Hood, whose father David Hood is a legendary session instrumentalist, presented the Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist to Jones, honoring the musician’s contributions to Booker T. and the M.G's and the singular sound of Stax Records and Memphis soul music, among other storied roles in music production and performance. Raitt presented the Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting to artist Thompson. While Thompson is often best known as a genre defying guitar player, his songwriting has made an indelible mark on roots music artists. The Del McCoury Band, Raitt, Robert Plant, Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, Blind Boys of Alabama, REM, Linda Ronstadt and Buddy & Julie Miller and many others have all recorded his songs. His “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” is a bona fide classic. Thompson later in the night took the stage to perform his own “Vincent.”
In a surprise announcement, Allison Moorer presented the Lifetime Achievement Award for an Executive to Dennis Lord, General Manager of SESAC and president of the first Americana Music Association board of directors.
The Americana Honors & Awards house band, called “amazing” last year in Paste Magazine and “incredible” by Gregg Allman in his 2011 autobiography My Cross to Bear, consisted of Miller and Campbell on guitar, Don Was on bass, Brady Blade on drums and Rami Jaffe on keyboard. They moved effortless from artist to artist, from the opening Americana twist on “Green Onions,” to the finale on The Band classic “The Weight.” Played as a tribute to the late Levon Helm, who died earlier this year, Levon’s daughter Amy Helm started the song with Levon Helm Band members Campbell and Teresa Williams before being joined by the full house band and guest vocalists Raitt, Hiatt, Thompson, Emmylou Harris and Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes trading off on vocals.
In between opening and closing numbers, the show also included performances by Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson; The Mavericks; Lee Ann Womack, Tom T. Hall and Peter Cooper, who together performed song-of-the-year nominee “I Love;” The Punch Brothers; Robert Ellis; Hayes Carll and Cary Ann Hearst; the Carolina Chocolate Drops; Sarah Jarosz; Deep Dark Woods; Earle; and Miller and Lauderdale.
“Having Australian artists Kasey and Shane on the show indicates the breadth of Americana and that the music shines all over the world; that you don’t have to be from the United States to play the style of music called Americana,” said Hilly. “And it was a treat to welcome back The Mavericks. Now reunited, the band is instrumental in expanding the sound and boundaries of the genre.”
The Americana Honors & Awards presented by Nissan aired live on AXS TV, NPR.org, Sirius/XM and WSM (7pm CT/8pm ET). On November 10, Austin City Limits on PBS will broadcast an abridged version of the show. Voice of America and Bob Harris of BBC2 will broadcast overseas in the following weeks.
Americana Music Awards and Honors 2012 Award Winners:
Instrumentalist of the Year: Dave Rawlings
Album of the Year: This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark; produced by Tamara Saviano and Shawn Camp
Song Of The Year Award : “Alabama Pines;” Written by Jason Isbell and performed by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Emerging Artist of the Year: Alabama Shakes
Artist of the Year: Gillian Welch
Duo/group of the Year: The Civil Wars
Lifetime Achievement for Performance: Bonnie Raitt
Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist: Booker T. Jones
Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting: Richard Thompson
Lifetime Achievement Award for Executive: Dennis Lord
The Americana Music Association is a professional non-profit trade organization whose mission is to promote awareness, provide a forum, and advocate for the creative and economic vitality of the Americana music genre. The Association produces events throughout the year including the annual Americana Music Festival and Conference.