Billy Strings Wins Big, Luke Bell Paid Tribute at Americana Music Awards
See full winners list, photos, and video below. And follow Saving Country Music on Instagram for regular updates from AmericanaFest.
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The 2022 Americana Music Awards transpired at the Ryman Auditorium Wednesday Night, September 14th, with Billy Strings, Brandi Carlile, Allison Russell, Sierra Ferrell, and The War and Treaty all walking away with big awards. There were also a few surprises, some excellent performances, and an unannounced, but very sweet tribute to Luke Bell.
Billy Strings was not on hand to accept his Artist of the Year award. He’s currently on the Outlaw Tour with Willie Nelson. But otherwise, all winners were on site, and were also part of the performing lineup, backed up by the excellent house band led by Buddy Miller, with Don Was on bass, Brady Blades on drums, Larry Campbell on guitar and fiddle, a chorus from the great McCray Sisters, and others.
It started off with a rather rocking rendition of the Neil Young song famously redone by Waylon Jennings, “Are You Ready For The Country” performed by Phosphorescent, aka Matthew Houck. The always-entertaining Milk Carton Kids were the first to speak from the podium.
“Even though he is not here and is not nominated for anything, Jason Isbell will still probably win an award tonight,” they joked. Isbell actually was nominated for Artist of the Year, but didn’t win.
Performers included Neil Francis, James McMurtry playing his Song of the year-nominated “Canola Fields,” Morgan Wade, the now major label-signed The War and Treaty who also won Duo/Group of the year, Adia Victoria, Allison Russell, Brandi Carlile, and recent stroke notwithstanding, Lucinda Williams came out and performed “Can’t Let Go” like Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was released yesterday.
In Americana, Artist of the year is not the biggest award. That is reserved for Album of the Year, which went to Montreal native Allison Russell for her album Outside Child. Brandi Carlile won Song of the Year for “Right On Time.” And Sierra Ferrell joins a very impressive roster of previous winners in the Emerging Artist of the year category, speaking to her swelling popularity among the independent music realm.
Lifetime Achievement Awards were also doled out, with Nashville’s legendary Gospel Quintet The Fairfield Four receiving the Legacy of Americana award, Brandi Carlile handed out the Spirit of Americana Award to The Indigo Girls, with a compelling speech about growing up in a time when The Indigo Girls were just as much of a punch line in popular culture as they were a folk duo that took folk music to the top of the popular music charts.
Country Music Hall of Famer Don Williams was also honored with the President’s Award, with legendary music producer Garth Fundis accepting the award on behalf of Don’s Family, and Lukas Nelson singing “Lord I Hope This Day Is Good” in tribute.
Chris Isaak received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance. “It’s got my name on it, but it’s my band,” Isaak said humbly after close friend Lyle Lovett did the tribute honors for Isaak. They then played a hilarious song together about giving each other Covid, then Chris Isaak played an excellent rendition of “Somebody’s Crying.” Later in the presentation Lyle Lovett came out to perform “Willin'” in tribute to Little Feet.
Yes, there were a lot of tributes. That’s what the Americana Music Awards are best at. Robert Plant also came to the podium to give Buddy Miller an honorary award, “I come from the land of ice and snow…” Plant said jokingly, before giving a touching tribute to the Americana House Band leader, and American music legend.
But perhaps the most touching tribute was the one that came unannounced, and unexpected. Country artist Luke Bell passed away a few weeks ago, and JP Harris flew into Nashville while on tour to do the honors. “His talent was unmeasured, his gall unmatched,” JP said, “Luke never got a chance to sing this song from this stage like he should have.”
Then JP Harris performed Luke Bell’s “The Bullfighter” from the Mother Church stage. JP Harris was a friend and mentor to Luke Bell, and his boss on numerous construction jobs.
Of course, the biggest question that always comes up whenever anyone broaches the subject of Americana is, what is it? As Brandi Carlile said while honoring The Indigo Girls, “Is it a genre? Is it a philosophy? Is it country music for liberals? All I know is that it’s me.”
There were a few empty seats at the top of the pews this year, where previously, a ticket to the awards was difficult to get. And by the time the presentation wrapped up just after 10:00 pm, The Ryman was probably 2/3rds full. Folks could also stream it on The Circle Network, and the full presentation will at some point be edited into a television special.
The McCrary Sisters helped wrap up the show with an incredible performance of “Amazing Graze” done to “The House of the Rising Sun” arrangement. Then most all the performers came out on stage for “I’ll Take You There.”
2022 AMERICANA MUSIC AWARD WINNERS
Album of the Year
Brandi Carlile – In These Silent Day
Allison Russell – Outside Child – WINNER
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raise The Roof
Adia Victoria – A Southern Gothic
Yola – Stand For Myself
Artist of the Year
Billy Strings – WINNER
Duo/Group of the Year
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
The War and Treaty – WINNER
Song of the Year
James McMurtry – “Canola Fields”
Yola – “Diamond Studded Shoes”
Sturgill Simpson – “Juanita”
Allison Russell – “Persephone”
Brandi Carlile – “Right On Time” – WINNER
Emerging Artist of the Year
Sierra Ferrell – WINNER
Instrumentalist of the Year
Larissa Maestro – WINNER
All photos by Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos
September 14, 2022 @ 11:37 pm
That´s an award show where you actually want to be in the audience.
September 15, 2022 @ 1:52 am
It didn’t win but Canola Fields is the one song of the last year that has really stuck me. McMurtry has that knack on every album of having at least one song that I can’t get out of my head.
September 15, 2022 @ 2:41 pm
If you like James McMurty, check out Long Haul Paul. Similarly poetic, really dark songwriting about the dark side of working-class life. Might be one of my favorite outlaws country artists alive today
September 15, 2022 @ 4:14 am
Reminds me of a great John Anderson song (on a far more somber theme): Wish I Could’ve Been There. Great pictures. Very happy to hear of the honor to the great Buddy Miller (and btw, what a killer house band!).
September 15, 2022 @ 6:44 am
I am delighted for Billy Strings, an incredible talent. I am even more delighted for War and Treaty. Don’t miss them in concert if they are near you. Thier albums are great, but their shows are even better. Superb entertainers.
September 15, 2022 @ 7:11 am
Who needs the Grammys? This the music of the past present and future. I’d be extremely disappointed if there was a red carpet.
September 15, 2022 @ 8:02 am
So I see McMurtry went with the red shirt last night.
September 15, 2022 @ 11:52 am
lol, it was a little funny when you have Sierra Ferrel, Allison Russell, and others come out dressed to the 9’s, and then James McMurtry and JP Harris show up like they’re doing a deal on Craigslist for a 4-barrel carburetor.
September 15, 2022 @ 2:39 pm
Seems completely in character for all of the artists you just mentioned!
September 16, 2022 @ 5:37 am
Yeah, I think James is a man of few shirts to the point where i recognize specific ones. I think he was wearing that shirt when I saw him about five years ago and I have seen other photos of him wearing that shirt. He went with the gray shirt when I saw him earlier this year.
Hats off to the AMA for a good and proper tribute to Luke Bell. I for one am impressed. Having JP Harris, who I imagine might be fairly unknown to that crowd, come out and play The Bullfighter. Nicely done..
It warms my heart that Robert Plant was there to pay tribute to Buddy Miller. Led Zeppelin was my first deep musical love and he is like Mickey Mantle to me. And I just love Buddy. I do wish that he was still making solo albums every once in a while. I treasure all five of them. And for someone thought of as Americana, they’re pretty damn country.
September 16, 2022 @ 6:15 am
I think in roots music, we are kind of spoiled that the frontman of arguably the biggest rock & roll band of all time (Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones notwithstanding) is just walking among us like it’s no big deal.
September 15, 2022 @ 8:49 am
*And, you butthead.
You got to be there!
Do you just love Sierra’s outfit?!
She kills me
September 15, 2022 @ 9:11 am
I’ll tell ya what it is, Brandi. Made up. Awards have no place in something so subjective. And yes now it’s an us against them thing. They have that, we have this. Dumb. I say get rid of all the awards shows, and just have….shows. Winner this, runner up that. So damn silly. “I used to like this song more, but this other song won song of the year so I like it more now.” Said no one ever. “I used to buy every album by this guy, but this other guy won artist of the year so now I buy his albums instead.” Said same person.
Make the music. Let the people hear it. To hell with your awards and your egos.
September 15, 2022 @ 11:54 am
I completely agree, and vehemently disagree.
With this particular awards show, the awards almost feel like an afterthought. 90% of the time is spent paying tribute to past greats, and the awards aren’t gaudy statuettes, their silly pieces of folk art. The awards are just an excuse to throw a party. At least, that’s how they feel when you’re in the room.
Luke the Drifter
September 15, 2022 @ 11:10 am
Trigger, do you think Tyler Childers’ acceptance speech may have actually helped change the definition of Americana? I initially thought of the term as just a re-branding of alt-country but I feel like even though there are certainly some country artists among the nominees there seems to have been a shift towards using that label for folk and retro-R&B artists. Seven, eight years ago every good country album, even something as stone-cold honky-tonk as High Top Mountain was being called “Americana” and now I notice even in your writing notes that a particular album is “more Americana than country” in such a way that they are more mutually exclusive than they once were. I think political polarization was certainly a part of this but I do wonder if that speech made an impact in pushing those worlds apart.
September 15, 2022 @ 11:59 am
I think there are a couple of things going on here. First, the Americana community is putting significant emphasis on diversity. This is pushing some of the more “country” out, and adding more folk/R&B artists. At the same time, I think many country acts are souring on Americana.
I have mixed feelings about this. Basically, roots music is being split down political lines, and I’m not sure that’s exactly healthy, especially with how both are becoming more distrusting of the other.
There is some great music here at AmericanaFest, including a lot of great country. I hate the idea of folks shying away from it because they don’t feel like they fit the demopgraphic, similar to the NPR listening crowd who may not want to go to something like Born & Raised Fest where I’ll be this weekend. For me, it’s all great music.
Luke the Drifter
September 15, 2022 @ 12:17 pm
It’s a cryin’ shame. Music has been one of the few things that people could all relate to and it would be tragic if that stopped- obviously we’re a little bit down that road already from reading previous comment sections. It’s hard for me to believe that country radio in the late 80’s/early 90’s featured Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett and Mary Chapin-Carpenter right next to Keith Whitley, George Strait, and Alan Jackson. I wish we could get back to that.
As it relates to the Americana label I agree with the central idea that all American roots music, whether country, blues, folk or roots rock does pull on a common thread, and I love all of them largely for similar reasons. I also agree with Childers though that pulling everything out of those categories that doesn’t fit the radio mold and marketing it to a different audience can have a negative impact on all those traditions. It’s complicated.
September 15, 2022 @ 2:45 pm
The other thing that’s happening is that independent country is really coming into its own over the past 10 years, so more country artists are vehemently insisting that they are true country music (as opposed to the stuff on mainstream radio) and not alt- country or Americana.
September 15, 2022 @ 3:24 pm
Good point Stellar. They no longer need that Americana infrastructure for support.
September 15, 2022 @ 5:08 pm
Same thing happened to No Depression.
Wilson Pick It
September 15, 2022 @ 4:18 pm
Here’s my take: Americana is just a fancy way of saying “folk rock.” Billboard, for example, lumps it in with folk for a Folk/Americana chart. Right now the Grammy’s have them as two separate awards but in a few years I bet they’ll be merged.
September 15, 2022 @ 7:06 pm
I enjoyed the caption on Luke Bell
I grew up liking country, rock and heavy metal this guy had something cannot think of the proper description he deserved
more recognition. Also the comments were accurate on how true country has changed. I would venture to say for the worst.
September 16, 2022 @ 1:27 am
I watched the whole show. Still don’t know what Americana is and isn’t. It seems like a club that some are let into and other are not. So it’s Bluegrass and Gospel, some Country and Soul but not Blues?
September 16, 2022 @ 1:13 pm
Yeah I’d say that more than anything Americana denotes a certain “crowd”, and a slightly annoying one at that (though people who hold that Americana means something more than that would count a lot of my favorite musical artists as falling under that term, including, apparently, Big Thief).
September 16, 2022 @ 3:26 am
That’s really strange that Big Thief counts as Americana. Goes to show all the meaninglessness of that “genre”. A “genre” that simultaneously encompasses Big Thief and Chris Isaac is too broad to be descriptive of anything. It’s almost like saying they are both music.
September 16, 2022 @ 6:17 am
It’s an odd pick, for sure. Seems like something the GRAMMYS might do. And it’s not like the group need the exposure. And there were some good and much more rootsier ones they could have went with that put out strong albums during the covered time period. I’m thinking Jason Boland and The Stragglers, The Steel Woods and Blackberry Smoke.
September 16, 2022 @ 6:27 am
The biggest expansion right now in “Americana” is with indie rock bands. I can attest to this, because any indie rock band that releases an album now, I get an email from their publicist looking for coverage since I will cover some country adjacent Americana. This has resulted in a FLOOD of emails not just to me, but to journalists, promoters, radio DJs etc., which is crippling the industry. It would floor people how many emails I get, and the majority of them are for indie rock bands being pushed to Americana, even more than country acts. It’s out of control.
September 16, 2022 @ 8:57 am
Thats interesting but not surprising at all, when you consider where music media is at these days. With the explosion of indie artists, particularly in the rock realm, if you sound remotely throwback or retro, i think by default they sort of end up in a no mans land, where they are effectively invisible to media, so to speak. And in desperation, their PR team markets them to Americana outlets. Meanwhile, the Americana folks remain more concerned about diversity and inclusion, to the end result that most of what should be Americana is summarily overlooked. The days of alt country being the primary focus of Americana are long gone, perhaps to never return.
Wilson Pick It
September 16, 2022 @ 11:29 am
I think I can explain what’s going on here. A significant portion of the audience for Americana are Gen X’ers that listened to punk and indie rock in their 20’s, maybe got into alt country at the time (or maybe not), and are now middle aged and turning to roots music because it resonates with them more at this stage of their lives.
So you’ll see that people compiling release calendar lists for Americana will sometimes throw in a new release for an indie band they liked when they were younger. So you’ll have a list of roots albums and something like Sonic Youth or Beck will be thrown in there.
It makes sense in a way because people who follow Americana will actually probably be interested in some of those releases. And some of those artists, having aged as well, are throwing some rootsy flourishes in to their new stuff too. Dropkick Murphys are a pretty good example. With this latest release they are basically roots/Americana now. Again, it kind of fits and it kind of doesn’t.
It just goes to show that it’s the AUDIENCE that directs what kind of music an artist plays, or what kind of music a genre is made up of. That might seem counterintuitive but it’s actually true. The best definition for Americana is “whatever music the Americana audience listens to when they want to hear Americana music.”
That’s why the Americana Music Association has so far failed to attract people of color to their genre even though they desperately want that. Diversifying who’s on the stage won’t make that happen, because that’s still coming from the demands of the white audience. To really change their audience they would have to figure out what roots music African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, indigenous people, are already listening to, and bring in those artists.
September 16, 2022 @ 1:18 pm
You make a lot of good points, and I have to admit I recognize myself in a few.
Bacon cheese fries and pizza
September 16, 2022 @ 4:46 am
Sierra!!!!! Oh yes!!!
September 17, 2022 @ 8:15 pm
Saw Billy last night at outlaw festival. Billy Strings is really on another level. I sat with a crowd who had know idea who he was and they were stunned. Willie is still putting on an entertaining show. What a great nite. Avette Bros we’re good too. Only three I saw. But Billy Strings is a ongoing growing phenomenon and all the power to him