Allison Russell, Billy Strings, Brandi Carlile earn top trophies at Americana Music Awards

Allison Russell, Billy Strings and Brandi Carlile were among those who bagged top honors on Wednesday (September 14) as Americana Honors & Awards ceremony returned to its home in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Over the course of the evening, nearly a dozen honors were handed out, peppered through a lineup of artists that showcased the breadth of Americana’s evolving sound.

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Ace guitarist Billy Strings took home the night’s most coveted honor, artist of the year, following the release of his third album, Renewal, in 2021. However, Strings was not in attendance at the Ryman Wednesday night as he was on tour in New England. In his place, legendary dobro and steel guitar master Jerry Douglas presented and accepted the honor on Strings’ behalf.

One of the most memorable, soul-lifting moments of the night was undoubtedly Russell and Carlile teaming up for “You’re Not Alone,” backed by a group of accomplished musicians.

“Our circle is unbroken. Our circle is whole. No one above, no one below, we’re all just under the listening sky,” Russell said, a joyous summation of the love in the room that night.

“You are not alone” seemed well placed as a theme for the evening, whether it was talked about in acceptance speeches and introductions, or expressed musically through the evening’s multitude of collaborations and group performances.

Russell, who earned three nominations heading into the ceremony, was awarded Album of the Year for Outside childwhich is produced by Dan Knobler.

“Over and over tonight, I’ve heard two things: Community, family, unity, belonging. To be uplifted, to be inspired. I feel so honored to be a part of this community,” Russell said. Russell thanked many members of her team and offered a special moment of gratitude to Carlile, who she said played a key role in helping Russell land a label deal with Fantasy Records.”[She] made phone calls and fought for this record and championed me and lifted my family and I out of poverty during the pandemic,” Russell added, becoming emotional.

“That’s what she did and that’s what this family, this chosen family does. I wasn’t lucky with the family I was born into, raised by, adopted by, but I’ve been incredibly lucky because of music .”

Larissa Maestro was named Instrumentalist of the Year, thanking others who have previously been nominated and won the honor for breaking down barriers in the category.

“I want to talk about doors opening for a moment because I didn’t think that kind of thing was an option for me… I’m 39 years old and I haven’t seen people who look like me in this category for years , and I saw it last year, and they were my friends, and it’s so exciting.” said Maestro.

JP Harris 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 this song himself from this scene that he should have, so I’m going to do my part [best] in your place, little brother,” Harris said before performing “The Bullfighter.”

Carlile later had another performance, joining Lucius, Tim and Phil Hanseroth for “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,” Carlile said, thanking his co-writers. “This song basically says that sometimes the s— just needs to hit the tab,” she said, adding, “There were so many songs of the year in this category and it’s incredible to be with you guys.”

Two genre-bending acts currently signed to mainstream country labels made ace showings at the Americana Honors.

The War and Treaty, who signed with Universal Music Group Nashville earlier this year, offered a fiery vocal masterclass during their rendition of their latest release, the intimate “That’s How Love Is Made,” which brought the Ryman crowd to its feet. Later in the evening they were named duo/group of the year, after winning new artist of the year in 2019.

“Our road has been long, it’s been hard, but it’s been worth it,” said Tanya Trotter, who accepted the honor with her husband and bandmate Michael Trotter, Jr.

Morgan Wade, currently signed to Sony Music Nashville and a new Artist of the Year nominee who broke through last year with her album Reckless, delivered a coolly passionate take on the album’s “Run.”

Sierra Ferrell, who recently released a new album, Long on the waywas named new act of the year, not long after offering one of the most engaging performances of the evening with “Rainbows”.

“I never thought I’d be up here accepting this… I love you guys, thank you so much,” Ferrell said.

Several lifetime achievement honors were presented throughout the evening as Lyle Lovett honored Chris Isaak with the Achievement Award, Garth Fundis honored the late Don Williams with the President’s Award, Carlile honored the Indigo Girls with the Spirit of Americana Award, the Fairfield Four were honored. with the Legacy of Americana award and Al Bell was honored with the executive award.

Robert Plant surprised the crowd by appearing to honor All-Star Band musical director Buddy Miller with a lifetime achievement award for his work with a variety of artists including Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, Tom T. Hall and numerous others. 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 heritage honor went to Dr. Paul T. Kwami and the Fish Jubilee Singers. Dr. Kwami, who served as the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ music director for 28 years, died last week, and Sanders led the audience in a moment of remembrance before honoring the Fairfield Four.

The quartet was originally formed as a trio in 1921 in the basement of the Fairfield Baptist Church in Nashville. Before the Grand Ole Opry found a long-term home at the Ryman in 1943, the Ryman Auditorium was home to performances by the gospel group The Fairfield Four. The current iteration of the group performed “Rock My Soul” and was presented with the 2022 Legacy of Americana award.

As the night ended, the McCrary Sisters honored their late sister and bandmate Deborah McCrary, performing the classic hymn “Amazing Grace,” fused with the melody of “House of the Rising Sun.”

The night ended with a sing-along of “I’ll Take You There,” the Staple Singers classic written by Americana Lifetime Achievement honoree Al Bell.


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