I had the pleasure of attending the Americana Music Association’s Award nominee announcement event yesterday at the Grammy Museum.
It marks one of those times when the question “What is Americana?” arises. The list of nominees doesn’t really provide simple answers. While it might not have been the most diverse year of nominees, the nominees are certainly a strong set of musicians, who hail from Nashville and Texas as well as Oklahoma and Colorado.
Perhaps most telling is that the Album of Year nominees includes long-time favorites, like Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell and Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison along with a pair of newcomers who also are also up for Emerging Artist of the Year: John Fullbright and Shovels & Rope.
Shovels & Rope (Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent) had the most nominations (4) and also represented part of the trend of successful duos. In fact, all of the Group of the Year nominees are duos (Emmylou & Rodney, Shovels & Rope, Kelly & Bruce and Buddy & Jim).
Miller and Lauderdale also served as ringmasters for this nomination celebration, which was very fitting. Not only are both integral parts of the Americana movement but Lauderdale will again be serving as the emcee of the AMA’s award show, while Miller returns at the show’s band-leader. Lauderdale jokingly avoided giving his answer to the question, “What Is Americana?” his song choices with Miller included George Jones’ “The Race Is One” and the traditional “A Train To Carry My Gal From Town.”
T Bone Burnett, before introducing the Milk Carton Kids, spoke about how American music (not just Americana) has been the nation’s “greatest cultural export,” and remarked how encouraged he has been by how many young performers have drawn inspiration from America’s rich musical history.
Joey Ryan of the Milk Carton Kids (whose music evokes the folk and country duos of the Sixties, Fifties and even earlier) mentioned how Americana fans actually listen to performers and appreciate songs with nuances. However, it was Lisa Marie Presley who got the closest to articulating what Americana music is when she described it as “good music that is ignored by the mainstream for the most part.”
It actually doesn’t really matter how you define Americana as long as those labeled Americana make the good music that Presley (who also sang a couple songs from her Burnett-produced album as well as announced the nominees with singer Elisabeth Cook) spoke of.
A complete list of nominees can be found at americanamusic.org, and the winner will be announced at the annual Americana Honors and Awards, which will take place on September 18th at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium. The show will be broadcast live, as was the nominee announcement show by AXS TV.