Two of the most talked-about roots music artists of the past year — Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton — highlighted the eclectic mix of honorees, presenters and performers at the 15th Annual Americana Music Association Honors & Awards show Wednesday night at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium.
Isbell took home two trophies, one for Album of the Year for his 2015 release “Something More Than Free” and one for Song of the Year for “24 Frames,” while Stapleton was awarded Artist of the Year honors for the overall impact made via his 2015 solo debut “Traveller.”
Isbell, now a six-time Americana Award winner, noted a key to keeping an artist grounded if success comes one’s way while accepting the Song of the Year award. “If you can, keep people around you who will tell you when you’ve done something awful, whether it’s in a song or in your personal life, and listen to them if at all possible,” Isbell said, thanking wife and fellow artist Amanda Shires as that key.
“Thank you to all the Americana radio stations out there, it’s been a big part of what we’ve been doing,” Chris Stapleton said, genuinely touched by the Artist of the Year award. “I’m nervous, there’s so many heroes out here in audience and up here on the stage, this is a remarkable thing.”
Each year, the Honors and Awards show celebrates current Americana projects, a slate of Lifetime Achievement awards, and a set of unique, unforgettable performances. Musical legends such as Grateful Dead founder Bob Weir and country music megastar George Strait graced the fabled Ryman stage alongside buzzed-about newcomers such as Margo Price, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats and The Lumineers.
Price picked up this year’s Emerging Artist of the Year, while longtime musical collaborators Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell earned Group/Duo of the Year (their second win in this category), and fiddler Sara Watkins was named Instrumentalist of the Year (the first female to win this award).
Lifetime Achievement Awards went to Shawn Colvin (Trailblazer), William Bell (Songwriting), Bob Weir (Performance), Jim Lauderdale (WagonMaster), Woody Guthrie (President’s Award), and Billy Bragg (Spirit of Americana/Free Speech In Music, co-presented by the First Amendment Center) with the posthumous President’s Award Presented In Honor of Woody Guthrie to Lucinda Williams on behalf of the family.
Bob Weir, who helped open the show playing the Merle Haggard classic “Mama Tried,” part of the tribute to recently departed musical giants including Haggard, Allen Toussaint, Ralph Stanley and Guy Clark, took note of the synthesis of musical traditions that shaped not only his own experience, but encapsulates modern-day American roots music.
“You take musical traditions from England, Ireland, Scotland, Spain a little bit, a little bit from France, and blend them together with a rich variety of African musical traditions, and stir it up,” Weir said. “You let it simmer for 200 or 300 years and see what happens. This could only happen in a new land. Physically, culturally, and spiritually. That place was and is America. It could only have happened here.”
Americana Music Honors & Awards 2016 Winners:
Album of the Year: Something More Than Free, Jason Isbell, Produced by Dave Cobb
Artist of the Year: Chris Stapleton
Group/Duo of the Year: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
Song of the Year: “24 Frames” Jason Isbell; Written by Jason Isbell
Emerging Artist of the Year: Margo Price
Instrumentalist of the Year: Sara Watkins
Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award co-presented by the Americana Music
Association and the First Amendment Center: Billy Bragg
Lifetime Achievement Award, Trailblazer: Shawn Colvin
Lifetime Achievement Award, Songwriting: William Bell
Lifetime Achievement Award, Performance: Bob Weir
Lifetime Achievement Award, WagonMaster: Jim Lauderdale
President’s Award: Woody Guthrie