Ryan Bingham came away surprised as the night’s big winner Thursday (Sept. 9) at the Americana Honors and Awards show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. He earned the top honor of the night — artist of the year — and also shared song of the year honors with T Bone Burnett for “The Weary Kind (Theme From Crazy Heart).”
The composition from the film soundtrack gained widespread acclaim earlier this year after scoring best original song trophies at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, but Bingham seemed like his two wins from the Americana Music Association were anything but expected. In accepting his award for artist of the year, the stunned singer-songwriter struggled a bit to find his words.
“Man, I don’t know if I really deserve this,” he said. “Everyone on the list [of nominees] are all people I’ve looked up to and admired for a long time, so it feels strange accepting this.” Those other names were Patty Griffin, Levon Helm, Steve Earle and Ray Wylie Hubbard.
Each year, AMA members vote in six categories based on innovation and artistry in the Americana genre, which is loosely defined by the association as music that honors and is derived from the traditions of American roots music. This was the ninth year of the awards ceremony and was once again emceed by singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale.
Cash remarked that the album — a collection of songs her father, Johnny Cash, recommended studying — represented the wide, full circle of her life.
“As hard as I pushed away from the legacy I was given, that’s as much as I embraced it as I made this record,” she said during her acceptance speech. “That’s what happens when you get older.” She was overcome by emotion as she tearfully announced her final thank you. It went out to her father for “making this list for an 18-year-old girl.”
Lifetime achievement awards were also handed out to John Mellencamp for songwriting, Greg Leisz as instrumentalist (pedal and lap steel), Lost Highway Records founder Luke Lewis as executive, Brian Ahern as producer (Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, Anne Murray, George Jones and many others) and Wanda Jackson as performer.
Jackson, known as the queen of rockabilly for her pioneering work in the ’50s and ’60s, affectionately accepted her honor and stayed on to deliver a rousing preview of her upcoming album, The Party Ain’t Over, produced by Jack White. She showed that her trademark vocal growl is still very much in force on a rendition of “Shakin’ All Over,” complete with a full rock band and horn section.
She’s admittedly had a roller coaster career with success and trials in many different genres, but she seemed genuinely excited about where White is taking her music now.
“When you think about a lifetime, for me that’s 72 years,” she said. “The great thing is I’ve been able to sing, perform, entertain people all over the world for a lot of those years. … I’ve been able to make my living doing the things that I love most. But out of all those years, the last five have been some of the most exciting of my life … other than working with Elvis, of course.”
There were many other outstanding performances during the three-hour ceremony, most backed by the house band and their perennial leader, Buddy Miller. The musicians started the show off with the Rolling Stones’ “Tumblin’ Dice,” then went on with Sarah Jarosz for “Song Up in Her Head,” Corb Lund on “Devil’s Best Dress” and Lucinda Williams with “Born to Be Loved.” The band accompanied Minton Sparks for her reading of “Giddy Up Gibson,” Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell on “Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” Bingham on “Hallelujah” and Ray Wylie Hubbard on “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” which was also nominated in the song of the year category.
A number of performers chose to keep the stage to themselves, including Mellencamp on “Save Some Time to Dream,” the Carolina Chocolate Drops with “Hit ’Em Up Style,” Joe Pug with his “Bury Me Far From My Uniform,” Cash and her husband, guitarist John Leventhal, covering Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe” and the Avett Brothers with a stirring performance of “I and Love and You.”
Following the presentation of the artist of the year award, the house band again kicked in to back Lauderdale on “Patchwork River.” Lauderdale then announced that a special surprise guest was ready to take the stage, even though the show had actually ended and this extra part would not be included in the radio broadcast.
After a short break, Plant appeared for a 40-minute set of tunes from his new project, Band of Joy. Due to his success with Alison Krauss on their 2007 album, Raising Sand, the former Led Zeppelin frontman has become one of Americana’s most visible proponents. He and his touring group — Miller, Griffin, Darrell Scott, Byron House and Marco Giovino — effectively stole the show and thrilled audience members with the unexpected bonus set. Including haunting, airy versions of Richard Thompson’s “House of Cards”, Townes Van Zandt’s “Harm’s Swift Way” and the traditional songs “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down” and “Cindy I’ll Marry You Someday,” they fittingly closed the night with “I Bid You Goodnight,” which Plant described as a old song that caught his attention on one of the Incredible String Band’s albums of the late ’60s.View photos from the 2010 Americana Honors and Awards presentation.