It’s Brandi Carlile’s world. We’re all just livin’ it.
The Highwomen-singing, Tanya Tucker-producing, ovation-earning songwriter brought home Artist of the Year at the 18th annual Americana Honors & Awards ceremony Wednesday night.
Carlile led an all-women Artist of the Year field that featured prolific old-time player Rhiannon Giddens, country success Kacey Musgraves and soul legend Mavis Staples.
A four-time nominee, it marks Carlile’s first Americana Award.
“I just wanna take a minute and say that Rhiannon Giddens is one of the most important artists in our genre,” Carlile said. “I wanna say that Kacey Musgraves did something new and special and that’s really hard, to do something new anymore. I wanna say that Mavis Staples is not the artist of the year. She is the artist of a lifetime.”
“Mavis took a DNA test, turns out she’s 100% that legend.”
The show — returning to the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, as part of the week-long AmericanaFest — wrapped with beloved songwriter John Prine receiving Album of the Year for his prolific 2018 release, “The Tree of Forgiveness.”
Actor and Americana appreciator John C. Reilly presented Prine with the night’s final award.
“I guess you could say this is my album of the year for about a year-and-a-half now,” Prine quipped. “We had a great time making the record.”
Prine earned two awards Wednesday night, also accepting Song of the Year for his 2018 number “Summer’s End.” It’s the sixth Americana honor received by the songwriter since 2003.
The roughly four-hour show thrived on unforgettable moments for fans of the genre’s faithful songsmiths: A Joe Henry and Rodney Crowell tribute to five decades of Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” album; pensive newcomer J.S. Ondara performing “American Dream” with genre staple Andrew Bird; 2019 Emerging Act of the Year War and Treaty excited the Ryman with the duo’s timely “Love Like There’s No Tomorrow.”
Emerging Act nominees Jade Bird, Yola and Erin Rae showcased the impeccable talent in Americana’s new generation. Show-goers could hear strains in the Mother Church’s pews as Mumford & Sons joined hosts Milk Carton Kids for an eerie, stripped-down take on the former’s “Forever.”
… and that’s not quite half of the show.
Giddens earned the first Legacy of Americana Awards alongside posthumous recipient Frank Johnson.
Giddens spoke poignantly about how Johnson, an esteemed African-American fiddler from the Antebellum era, played his way out of slavery into becoming a celebrated musician with thousands at his funeral.
“I accept this … for the countless legions of unknown, unnamed black musicians who are an inextricable part of American music, without whom none of us — and I mean none of us — would sound like what we do.”
Highwomen bandmates Carlile and Amanda Shires traded introductions (Carlile describing Shires as her “butterfly from outer space,” a term picked up from the former’s husband, Jason Isbell) before exceptional performances of 2018 tracks “The Mother” and “Parking Lot Pirouette,” respectively.
In a show-stopping moment, Prine teamed with Bonnie Raitt for a performance of the timeless “Angel From Montgomery,” which Prine penned and Raitt popularized.
The association honored soul legend Mavis Staples with the inaugural Inspiration Award. Self-described as “not a good talker,” she spoke candidly about the legacy the Staples Singers.
“… the trials and tribulations that we went through back in the day, but we’re still here,” Staples said. “We’re still here and we’re still carryin’ on. We’re still singing our freedom songs. Yes, indeed. It’s more relevant today than ever.”
The tribute to legends continued with Elvis Costello, a British poet capturing the sounds and stories of American rock ‘n’ roll for four decades. He received the honorary Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting.
Performing a “Red Cotton” and “Blame it on Cain” duet with Americana staple Jim Lauderdale, Costello reflected on his journey from new wave fixture to performing George Jones songs on the Ryman stage with the Possum in attendance.
“When I first came to America, all I knew was the dream America that came from songs and from movies,” he said. “Either our dream would be confirmed … or our dreams would be mashed. Every road sign, every girl I tried to kiss or that I shouldn’t have kissed, they all ended up in songs.”
Staples returned to close the show with her 2019 song “Change” before welcoming a smiling ensemble to sing the audience out the door with “I’ll Fly Away.”
2019 Americana Awards winners
- Album of the Year: “The Tree of Forgiveness,” John Prine, produced by Dave Cobb
- Artist of the Year: Brandi Carlile
- Duo/Group of the Year: I’m With Her
- Emerging Act of the Year: The War and Treaty
- Instrumentalist of the Year: Chris Eldridge
- Song of the Year: “Summer’s End,” John Prine, written by Pat McLaughlin and John Prine
- Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance: Delbert McClinton
- Legacy of Americana Award, presented in partnership with the National Museum of African American Music: Rhiannon Giddens and Frank Johnson
- Trailblazer Award: Maria Muldaur
- President’s Award: Felice & Boudleaux Bryant
- Inspiration Award, presented in partnership with the First Amendment Center: Mavis Staples
- Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting: Elvis Costello
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