Ameripolitan Comes Into Its Own in 2024, Offers a Better Way Forward

In 2014 after Dale Watson got angry about some stuff Blake Shelton said about classic country fans and decided to haul off and start his own awards show, few people gave it any chance of surviving. And if we’re being honest, after certain years of Ameripolitan and especially during the pandemic, whether the awards would survive was definitely up for debate.

But in 2023 when the awards returned after the pandemic and the event was held in Memphis, something seemed to click that had never clicked before. And in 2024, everything that Dale Watson must have dreamed up as his ideal fantasy of what the Ameripolitan Awards could become was finally realized when it returned to Austin where it was originally held, and took place in the prestigious Moody Theater where Austin City Limits is taped.

Sure, there were a couple of technical glitches with a few of the multimedia presentations on the big screens. But overall, the scale, the importance, the production value, the performers, presenters, speeches, moments, winners, and everything else wasn’t just on par with other independent, grassroots award shows, it exceeded them. In 2024, Ameripolitan arrived as a major force in country and roots music.

Even going into the awards, you had to wonder if booking Austin’s massive Moody Theater for the event was biting off way more than Ameripolitan could chew. Apparently, they were up to the task. The entire floor of the iconic space was full, as was the 2nd floor mezzanine. Attendance in the top balcony was sparse, but you get the sense it won’t be next year as the stories and moments of 2024’s Ameripolitan gathering are shared across social media.

To see a full report and photos from the 2024 Ameripolitan Awards, CLICK HERE.

Attending something such as the Ameripolitan gathering really helps to put things into perspective. All the talk in the greater country music realm ahead of this year’s event was Beyoncé’s move into country with her new songs and album, which eventually devolved into contentious arguments over race, gender, and how the country genre is exclusionary. The culture war was raging online even more so than normal. But in the real world where Ameripolitan was taking place, it was an entirely different reality.

One of the first Ameripolitan events of the week was a performance at Austin’s legendary Waterloo Records on Thursday afternoon (2-15), where Gabe Lee was scheduled to perform a few songs from Saving Country Music’s 2023 Album of the Year, Drink The River. In the front row of the show was an Asian family with two little kids who sat attentively and watched someone who looked like them performing country (or Ameripolitan) music. It really helped put into perspective the idea of representation in roots music music.

Gabe Lee at Waterloo Records

This is what Kaitlin Butts talked about in her incredible acceptance speech after she won the 2024 Ameripolitan Award for Best Honky Tonk Female on Sunday night (2-18). She said from the podium in part,

To all the folks that have children here in the audience tonight, please go buy a ticket and see these women after this weekend. When I was a girl, my first concert was The Wreckers at Cain’s Ballroom. I saw those women on stage playing their own instruments, and singing their own songs about life as they saw it. As soon as I saw them, I knew that was what I wanted to be. And most importantly, I knew that it was possible because I saw it with my own eyes. And I believe that if you can see it you can be it.

Also at that same Thursday in-store show at Waterloo Records, The Wonder Women of Country played their first official performance. The trio consists of Brennen Leigh, Kelly Willis, and also Melissa Carper who happens to be a member of the LGBT community. She was also a nominee for the Ameripolitan Best Western Swing Female, and has been considered a vital member of the traditional roots community for many years.

Melissa Carper performing at the Saxon Pub as part of Ameripolitan

The Wonder Women of Country also performed on the Ameripolitan Awards show itself, and Brennen Leigh won for Best Western Swing Female. One of the things about Ameripolitan is that since all of its awards are divided into male and female categories, it ensures equal representation for all the awards it hands out. In other words, there is no “why do all the males hog the awards?” issues like we’ve seen from the CMAs, ACMs, Grammy Awards, and even the Americana Music Awards.

Ameripolitan also has a “group” category in each of it’s four genres: Honky Tonk, Western Swing, Outlaw, and Rockabilly. Often women are also represented in those groups. For example, in 2024 it was the Carolyn Sill Combo who won for Western Swing Group, and the woman-fronted Messer Chups originally from Russia won for Best Rockabilly Group.

When it comes to the performances on the 2024 Ameripolitan Awards, once again it spoke to the strong representation of the awards. People will be talking for years about witnessing the frail and wheelchair-bound Flaco Jimenez rising from his wheelchair to triumphantly accept his Founder of the Sound Award with his fellow Texas Tornados member, Augie Myers. This is like a Lifetime Achievement Award for Ameripolitan.

The two legends then took the stage to plays classic Texas Tornados songs, including “(Hey Baby), Que Paso,” which also served as the Grand Finale song of the presentation.

2024 wasn’t the first time Ameripolitan has presented a high distinction to a Black or Brown artist. 2023’s Master Award was handed out to Johnny Rodriguez, and as photo ops placed around Ameripolitan events throughout the week reminded you, Charley Pride won the Master Award in 2016.

Almost since the start, Chicago-based throwback singer Tammi Savoy has been a strong part of the Ameripolitan community. And though Kaitlin Butts may have had the best speech, and watching Flaco Jimenez and Augie Myers may have been the most memorable performance, it was Savoy who arguably gave the greatest performance of the night. Far and away, the person that gave the most energetic and entertaining performance of the night was the winner of the 2024 Ameripolitan Rockabilly Male category, Les Greene.

Les Greene

The point here is to not make a big deal about how diverse the 2024 Ameripolitan Awards were. The Ameripolitan Awards don’t seem to put any sort of concerted emphasis on diversity. Dale Watson and his wife Celine Lee aren’t “woke.” If anything, Dale Watson might be based, and Ameripolitan represents some of country and roots music’s most ardent traditionalists, purists, and radical preservationists.

But when you get away from country radio and mainstream country music, the actual world of country music happens to be incredibly diverse, and in a natural manner. You also see this when you attend independent country festivals, including megafestivals that now boast crowds of 25,000-30,000 people.

If there is any strong bias at Ameripolitan, it’s against bad music. You have to come with a strong adherence to the roots of American music, and you also have to be really, really good to be accepted into Ameripolitan. This is a merit-based institution. Nobody at Ameripolitan is going to get a nomination, and certainly not a win solely off their identity. The talent and competition is too stiff for that.

There’s also no tolerance for closed-mindedness in the community either, including against artists from other countries. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, and Ameripolitan might represent the most international community that can be found in the country realm. You could be previous Ameripolitan winners The Country Side of Harmonica Sam from Sweden, or Messer Chups from St. Petersburg, Russia. The only question is if you are good, and if you are true to the roots.

Ultimately, it’s the performers who care about the roots of American music, who put their integrity over commercial applicability, and who play actual country over the last 20 years that have been the most overlooked, under-supported, and outright oppressed individuals in country music, regardless of race, gender, creed, orientation, or country of origin. Ameripolitan was founded for these performers.

Of course like everything else, Ameripolitan is far from perfect. But if you’re an artist and you get your fan base excited about nominating and voting for you, you can become part of the Ameripolitan process, and find new support and fans through it.

Another motivation by Dale Watson to start the Ameripolitan Awards was it also felt like Americana was being exclusionary to certain types of roots performers, and was also more apt to use politics as a curation point. Ironically the Americana Music Association and the Americana Music Awards bend over backwards to try and appease identitarian activists, yet seem to take even more flack from these individuals than the CMAs.

In 2023 the Americana Music Awards had literal politicians show up and make political speeches from the Ryman Auditorium stage in the Tennessee Three. And even still, multiple performers and journalists roundly criticized the organization for it’s insensitivity to their communities. You want to feel bad for Americana because they seem to be stuck in a lose/lose situation, but it’s almost like Americana brings it on itself.

Americana goes so far out of its way to overcompensate for diversity concerns, they come across as insincere, and ironically, this opens them up for even more criticism as opposed to satisfying the concerns of activist musicians and journalists. The awards show feels forced and coerced. Where in previous years you had to beg to get a seat in the Ryman Auditorium for the awards, last year they had to conscript seat fillers from the local colleges to make the balcony look full.

The Americana system also results in the same artists being nominated and winning over and over, and often based on personality and political persuasion as opposed to merit. The AMAs are still industry awards, which naturally locks out certain performers, where Ameripolitan is open to the public, and anyone can be nominated and win if they put the effort out.

Make no mistake about it, after having attended the 2023 Americana Music Awards at the Ryman, and the 2024 Ameripolitan Awards at The Moody, Ameripolitan had the more sincere presentation. AmericanaFest is still a much larger event overall. But who knows what Ameripolitan can grow into in the coming years if it continues its momentum from the last two.

Ultimately though, this isn’t about Ameripolitan beating Americana. Both are important organizations help to support artists outside the mainstream country industry, and perhaps having a rival can help both organizations improve.

The big observation from the 2024 Ameripolitan event is that you can’t just use mainstream country radio or the Music Row major labels to gauge what country music or American roots music is. When you get off the internet and into the field, it’s an entirely different world. And the world of Ameripolitan feels like the place where truly everyone is welcome, merit is truly rewarded, and the future is bright. For everyone.

Additional photos from Ameripolitan 2024

All photos by Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos. Photos from The Saxon Pub in Austin, or the Windham Garden Inn unless otherwise noted. Apologies to any performer or nominee not pictured or mentioned.

Dale Watson at the Broken Spoke on Saturday Night
Honky Tonk nominee Christina Vane
Honky Tonk nominee Hannah Juanita
Comedian, voice actor, and songwriter Grey DeLisle
Outlaw Nominee Taylor Hunnicutt
Outlaw Nominee Stefanie Joyce
Outlaw nominee Willy “Tea” Taylor
Riley Downing of Honky Tonk Group nominees The Deslondes
Kyle Nix and Bill Corbin of the Outlaw Group nominees Kyle Nix and the 38’s
Outlaw Group nominees, Banditos
Mary Beth Richardson of the Banditos
Outlaw nominee Dallas Burrow
Honky Tonk nominee Johnny Falstaff
Jake Penrod (steel guitar showcase)
Rose Sinclair (steel guitar showcase)
Caleb Lindley playing the #19 Emmons steel guitar at the steel guitar showcase
Noah Faulkner is known for his steel guitar cover songs on YouTube and social media. He played the steel guitar showcase, as well as opened he Ameripolitan Awards playing the National Anthem.
Vintage vendors were set up throughout the Windham Garden Inn hotel in Austin
Years from now, folks will be talking about the epic songwriting round at the Saxon Pub on Saturday, February 17th as part of the 2024 Ameripolitan Awards—who performed, where they are now, and what all happened.

All I have is words and images to attempt to convey the weight of moments that was wrought on the souls that attended, but even an unabridged video feed would never convey it properly.

Having two of the greatest songwriters of our generation sitting side by side in Willy “Tea” Taylor and Gable Lee was an extremely rare treat all unto itself, and just the banter between the two was priceless.

Then you had the host of the round Dallas Burrow who is quickly shaping up into a great purveyor of great songs, either his own, or the ones he shares a stage with.

Taylor Hunnicutt is headed to the very highest reaches of roots music sooner than later, and though she’s thought of more as a performer than a songwriter, she proved she was both.

Similarly, Johnny Falstaff is someone whose voice and presence is too big for a listening room, but like Hunnicutt, he took the challenge and excelled.

On a stage of killers, Ameripolitan Outlaw nominee Stefanie Joyce rose to the occasion, and sang a song about not wearing pink (while wearing a pink dress) that folks will not soon forget.

Nothing about this songwriting round should have worked. It was too long, with too many people who didn’t really know each other to play off each other’s songs. Willy Tea started the party a little too early and couldn’t finish his last song, tagging Gabe Lee in like in a wrestling match.

But it was all getting thrown into the frying pan together that made for an uncommon, and ultimately incredible chemistry that will be remembered in the annals of Ameripolitan, The Saxon Pub, and the careers of these respective performers. They each were forced to bring out their best songs and best performances to best the one before them, until you saw the very pinnacle of what each performer was capable of.

Willy Tea also taught us a new word: Nut meat.
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