The 17th annual Americana Honors & Awards exhibited its power to unify music folks of all tastes together for one night at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium to celebrate what a blessing it is to give voice to the truths of the world through song.
An all-star house band led by Buddy Miller and comprising of revered musicians Don Was, Jerry Pentecost, Joe Pisapia, Ian Fitchuk, Lillie Mae, Joshua Grange, Jim Hoke and the McCrary Sisters kicked off the night with a dynamic instrumental cover of “Chain of Fools” in tribute to the late Aretha Franklin. A series of electric performances by nominees Tyler Childers, Anderson East, Margo Price, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats and more followed before wrapping with an ultimate show of female empowerment.
CMT filmed the all-star concert event and award ceremony for a special premiere on Nov. 28 at 9 p.m. ET. Here are our Top 5 highlights from the night.
Empowering Female Moments
When women see other women making waves in music, it shows them they can do it, too. The Americana Music Association put this empowerment on full display with a series of inspiring performances, including Courtney Marie Andrews’ “May Your Kindness Remain” in her Ryman performance debut. New Orleans’ Queen of Soul Irma Thomas (Lifetime Achievement Award, Performance) was elegance and power personified when she delivered two rousing renditions of “Time Is On My Side.” The sound system went out in her first performance, but after a reboot, she lit up the stage again like nothing ever happened.
Rosanne Cash received the Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award and said women should never be considered inferior versions of men. She received the honor on the 15th anniversary of her late father Johnny Cash’s death. He was the inaugural recipient of the award in 2002.
Before she took home Instrumentalist of the Year, Molly Tuttle told CMT.com, “I just hope to inspire younger girls to play their instruments and get out there and do whatever they want to do. There’s a whole group of girls I’ve gotten to meet and just talk to who are playing lead on guitar, which I think I didn’t have that many female role models who are lead guitarists. I had a couple awesome ones, but I think the more women start getting out there and doing it, I think it will just grow and grow.”
Brandi Carlile, a three-time 2018 nominee, was an indomitable force when she lit up the stage with “The Joke” with twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth. Before the show, she spoke with CMT.com about what an honor it is to be an inspiration to other females with a passion for music. “I almost can’t fathom it,” she said on the red carpet. “Just like when I tell Sheryl [Crow], she’s that person for me, she can’t fathom it. She almost doesn’t want to hear it. And same with the Indigo Girls and Sinead O’Connor. I think it’s an incredible honor and duty to be that for other women, young women, especially LGBTQ women in my community because gay artists and LGBT artists for me were a pillar of light and hope in my life.” The whole show ended with a grand finale of “Chain of Fools” performed by Carlile, Thomas, Andrews, the McCrary Sisters and the War and Treaty. Other female acts seen onstage included Mae, Lilly Hiatt and I’m With Her.
Multiple honors for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and John Prine.
Prine put it best when he accepted his third artist of the year win, joking “It's kind of like 'Groundhog Day.'" Isbell was the lead winner, taking home three honors including album of the year for The Nashville Sound, duo/group of the year and song of the year for “If We Were Vampires.” Isbell told CMT.com on the red carpet that it was an honor to be part of the Americana genre for its ability to bring fans of all kinds of music together who normally wouldn’t get to hang out with one another. “I like it because everybody’s united under the banner of making honest roots-based music and that’s a pretty broad thing,” he said. “That can include a whole lot of different kinds of music, and I think it should. I don’t just listen to one type of music. I don’t really know anybody who does anymore. It makes sense that we would have a lot in common with people who might sound a little bit different from us on a record.”
A side of snarky comments from Tyler Childers.
Kentucky native Tyler Childers took home his first Americana Music Award for Emerging Artist of the Year and accepted his award by making a snarky comment about being a country singer in the Americana genre. He claimed that he felt it was a "distraction from the issues we are facing on a bigger level as country music singers. It kind of feels like ‘Purgatory.'" His latest album Purgatory was released in 2017.
Performances that reflected the times we’re living in today.
Mary Gauthier and Beth Nielsen Chapman gave voice to the plight of wives of U.S. military veterans and active soldiers with “War After the War,” from Gauthier’s Rifles & Rosary Beads. Isbell and the 400 Unit’s “White Man’s World” painted a clear reflection of the gender and racial inequalities in today’s society. Anyone who walked out in discomfort over Isbell’s blatantly honest lyrics couldn’t handle the truth.
The Milk Carton Kids’ First Hosting Gig
The Milk Carton Kids’ Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan have for a long time hosted the annual nominees’ announcement each spring. But this year marked their first time hosting the show. On the red carpet, Pattengale described what it means to be an Americana fan best when he said, “It’s a testament to the way people really appreciate art, which is not separated by genre, geography or class.”