2021 Americana Honors & Awards: A Night of Mutual Admiration, Bittersweet Moments [Pictures]
In her Artist of the Year acceptance speech at Tuesday night's (Sept. 22) 2021 Americana Honors & Awards, Brandi Carlile praised her peers and friends — Allison Russell, Yola and Joy Oladokun among them — for, during a difficult year, creating "music that has moved me, elevated me beyond where I thought I could go."
"To be Artist of the Year in the one like we've all had," Carlile reflected, "... I think it's profound, and I don't take this for granted, because it was hard to be an artist this year."
Carlile's words capped off a ceremony full of those same sentiments: admiration for fellow creators and bittersweet reflection on the time that has passed since the annual Americana Music Festival brought the genre's community to Nashville. In fact, Carlile opened the ceremony with similar comments, as she noted how receiving her 2020 Americana Honors & Awards trophies (for Song of the Year, Duo/Group of the Year and Album of the Year) in the mail "provided a bright spot" during the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented AmericanaFest from taking place in person last year.
As several presenters and award winners stressed during their time at the mic, the Americana Honors & Awards aren't just a night to get dressed up and schmooze, but a night to recognize talented artists who are making great music that's sometimes overlooked or not part of the mainstream. And while awards shouldn't be everything to an artist, they do serve an important purpose.
"It helps us, it encourages us, it inspires us," Fisk Jubilee Singers musical director Paul T. Kwami noted while accepting the Legacy of Americana Award on behalf of the group.
Tuesday night's festivities, too, "ma[de] me feel like a human again," despite the masks that covered many faces and the COVID protocols in place at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, CBS This Morning host Anthony Mason remarked when presenting the Artist of the Year honor. Throughout the night, an all-star band led by Buddy Miller and featuring Don Was, Jen Gunderman, Jim Hoke, David Mansfield, Jerry Pentecost, Tasjan and the McCrary Sisters backed, among others, standout performances from Russell, the Fisk Jubilee Singers and Leon Timbo, Valerie June and Carla Thomas, Margo Price, and the Highwomen with Yola, all of whom reminded attendees — as well as those listening and watching at home — why we all missed live music.
Those moments also offered other artists the chance to gush over their own favorites when introducing the performances. Russell, for example, praised Price as "a real one" and "an ally," and June as "a true Tennessee treasure," while during her introduction of Carlile's performance, Yola described her fellow artist as someone "who I love so deeply it hurts my whole face."
A number of tributes to the artists who have died throughout 2020 and 2021 added to the bittersweet feel of the evening. Steve Earle's performance of his late son Justin Townes Earle's "Harlem River Blues," in particular, was heart-wrenching, especially when he ended with the message, "See you when I get there, cowboy." A performance of late folk icon John Prine's final song, "I Remember Everything," by Carlile, Price and Amanda Shires also felt extra heavy, as it followed Prine and co-writer Pat McLoughlin's Song of the Year win for that very song.
"I don't think I was ever in this building without John," Prine's wife Fiona noted as she, the couple's three sons and producer Dave Cobb came onstage to accept the trophy, "... but I think he's here."
Despite their three nominations apiece — the most of any act this year — neither Jason Isbell nor Amythyst Kiah walked away a winner on Wednesday night. A full list of 2021 Americana Honors & Awards nominees is below, after a photo gallery from the show.
AmericanaFest 2021 continues through Saturday (Sept. 25) in Nashville. More information about the event is available at AmericanaMusic.org.
PICTURES: The 2021 Americana Honors & Awards
2021 Americana Honors & Awards Winners
Artist of the Year
Brandi Carlile — WINNER
Duo / Group of the Year
Black Pumas — WINNER
Our Native Daughters
The War & Treaty
Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
Album of the Year
Cuttin' Grass, Vol. 1: The Butcher Shoppe Sessions, Sturgill Simpson (produced by David Ferguson and Sturgill Simpson) — WINNER
J.T., Steve Earle & the Dukes (produced by Steve Earle)
The Moon and the Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers, Valerie June (produced by Valerie June, Ben Rice and Jack Splash)
Reunions, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (produced by Dave Cobb)
World on the Ground, Sarah Jarosz (produced by John Leventhal)
Song of the Year
"Black Myself," Amythyst Kiah (written by Amythyst Kiah)
"Call Me a Fool," Valerie June feat. Carla Thomas (written by Valerie June)
"Dreamsicle," Jason Isbell (written by Jason Isbell)
"I Remember Everything," John Prine (written by Pat McLoughlin and John Prine) — WINNER
"Long Violent History," Tyler Childers (written by Tyler Childers)
Emerging Act of the Year
Charlie Crockett — WINNER
Instrumentalist of the Year
Kristin Weber — WINNER
Americana Inspiration Award: Carla Thomas
Americana Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance: Keb' Mo'
Americana Lifetime Achievement Award for Producer/Engineer: Trina Shoemaker
Americana Trailblazer Award: The Mavericks
Legacy of Americana Award: The Fisk Jubilee Singers
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