Duos ruled the night at Wednesday’s (Sept. 18) 2013 Americana Music Honors and Awards as the husband-and-wife team of Shovels & Rope and the pairing of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell each took home two awards.
Held at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, the show serves as the official kickoff of the 2013 Americana Music Festival , a five-day event featuring hundreds of performances scattered across the city’s many venues.
Newcomers Shovels & Rope earned the award for emerging artist as well as song of the year for “Birmingham,” a track off their album O’ Be Joyful. The Charleston, S.C.-based duo was up for four awards in total but looked stunned as they took the stage both times, struggling to find words to convey their appreciation.
“The mind that we share is blown,” laughed Cary Ann Hearst.
“We hadn’t planned on being in a band together,” added husband Michael Trent. “Everything else was falling apart, and we just decided to put it all aside and give it a try.”
Harris and Crowell won awards for duo of the year and album of the year for their collaboration on Old Yellow Moon. The veteran performers used their time onstage to congratulate all the other nominees and talk about their 40-year friendship.
Other winners at the 12th annual event include Dwight Yoakam for artist of the year, who was not in attendance, and the multi-talented Larry Campbell for instrumentalist.
Along with the awards, a sizable portion of the show was devoted to bestowing lifetime achievement honors in various categories, then allowing each recipient ample time to speak and perform a song. It resulted in a few once-in-a-lifetime moments.
Hank Williams was posthumously given the Americana Music Association’s President’s Award, which his granddaughter Holly Williams accepted on his behalf before performing a rendition of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Had he lived, she remarked, Williams would have turned 90 the day before.
Robert Hunter was awarded for his lifetime achievement in songwriting, owing to a body of work stretching back to the Grateful Dead and a more recent collaboration with the show’s host, Jim Lauderdale.
“I accept this award for all those that labor in anonymity,” he said before standing solo for his first performance in almost 10 years.
New Orleans pianist, singer and songwriter Dr. John was honored with a lifetime achievement award for performance before gracing the audience with a characteristically swampy rendition of “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys.
Old Crow Medicine Show, recently inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, received the Trailblazer Award for the success of their song “Wagon Wheel.” Despite its old-time sound and a complete lack of mainstream radio airplay, the band’s recording of the song has sold more than 1 million copies. (Darius Rucker’s cover version of the song reached No. 1 on Billlboard’s country airplay chart.)
“We didn’t blaze any trails,” remarked bandleader Ketch Secor. “We just went wandering up some old ones that hadn’t been walked in a while.”
Other honorees included guitarist Duane Eddy (lifetime achievement award for instrumentalist), Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (Spirit of Americana Freedom of Speech Award) and Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz (Jack Emerson lifetime achievement award for executive).
Eddy advised artists to “find your own sound, do it with authority and put your whole being into it” before leading his classic instrumental “Rebel Rouser,” while Stills let his music do the talking for him. Joined by Buffalo Springfield’s Richie Furay and guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Stills delivered his still-poignant protest anthem “For What It’s Worth” with youthful abandon.
Along with honoring standout artists past and present, the show also featured exciting performances from each of the four emerging artist nominees.
Backed by the crack house band of Buddy Miller, Don Was, Larry Campbell, John Deaderick, Macro Giovino, Jim Hoke and the McCrary Sisters, John Fullbright started things off with his pseudo-gospel screamer “Jericho.”
Shovels & Rope offered their eventual song of the year winner “Birmingham,” rockabilly and Chicago-blues influenced JD McPherson led a howling “North Side Gal,” and the Milk Carton Kids stunned the crowd and earned a huge response with the lightning-fast picking and sweet harmonies of “Hope of a Lifetime.”
Also performing were Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis (“Border Radio”), Richard Thompson (“Good Things Happen to Bad People”), Nashville TV show actresses the Stellas (who performed The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” ), Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale (“The Train That Carried My Gal From Town”) and Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell (“Chase the Feeling”).
To cap the night — and highlight the community spirit of the awards show and festival as a whole — almost all of the performers returned to the stage for a group sing-along of Crowell’s “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight.”
The Americana Music Festival continues through Sunday (Sept. 22).