Allison Russell, Brandi Carlile and Billy Strings were among the winners Wednesday night at the Americana Honors & Awards ceremony in Nashville, where the love was spread around among the genre’s current leading lights.
Six different performers prevailed in the six voted categories, with newcomer Sierra Ferrell, instrumentalist Larissa Maestro and the husband-wife duo the War and Treaty also coming up winners.
The competition can be more inter-familial at the Americana Awards than at other shows, and the three leading nominees — Carlile, Russell and Yola, who had three nominations each — have been particularly tight-knit in supporting and guesting with one another. Carlile was even instrumental in helping get Russell her record deal with Fantasy Records.
In the end, Russell and Carlile split two of the awards they were up for. Russell, a first-time nominee, was honored for album of the year for her debut release as a solo artist, “Outside Child,” which landed atop many critics’ top 10 lists (including Variety‘s) at the end of 2021. Carlile, who had previously won five Americana Awards, picked up her sixth Wednesday night for song of the year, for “Right on Time.” (The singer-songwriter shared the song award with three co-writers, band members Phil and Tim Hanseroth and producer Dave Cobb.)
Those two were both nominated for artist of the year as well. But that went to Billy Strings, a neo-bluegrass touring monster earning his very first Americana Award. He’d been nominated for it last year, but lost then to Carlile, who had won in that category two of the previous three years. (Strings was on tour and absent from the ceremony, with his award being accepted on his behalf by presenter Jerry Douglas.)
The War and Treaty got their second award from the Americana Music Association, coming up as winners for duo/group of the year after previously having claimed the emerging artist trophy three years ago. Their performance of “That’s How Love Is Made” earned a standing ovation earlier in the evening.
The association’s lifetime achievement honors went to the Fairfield Four, the Indigo Girls, Chris Isaak, the late country star Don Williams and legendary Stax executive Al Bell, all previously announced. To their ranks was added a surprise lifetime award for Buddy Miller, who was leading the house band for the show, as he has most of the ceremony’s 21 years.
Tribute was paid to Luke Bell, a cult favorite among traditional country music lovers who died by suicide in August. JP Harris said he’d been called to come in from the road just days earlier to salute Bell in song, and sang “The Bullfighter,” prefacing it with a message about the need for more attention to mental health needs and the message: “Luke never got a chance to sing this song himself from this stage like he should’ve, so I’m going to do my damnedest in your stead, little brother.”
A departed singer who did get his due in his lifetime, Don Williams, was paid homage by Lukas Nelson, who covered “Lord, I Hope This Day is Good.”
A majority of the evening’s nominees performed at some point during the three-hour-plus show, including a joint performance of “You’re Not Alone,” Russell’s new single, with Carlile, who is featured on the record. Carlile sang her own “You and Me on the Rock” with the duo Lucius, who contributed harmonies on the “In These Silent Days” album version. Other nominees to perform included Adia Victoria, James McMurtry, Neal Francis and Morgan Wade along with winners Ferrell and the War and Treaty and honorees the Indigo Girls, Fairfield Five and Isaak, the latter preceded by his award’s presenter, Lyle Lovett.