I’m a couple of days behind, but I always am at this point because I have to try and summarise the Americana Awards and Honors (sic) Show, and THAT’S a daunting task. Anyway – will have a go.
Today the action begins. Folks are streaming into the Sheraton as I wrangle posters and signs and banners to set up the Sounds Australia booth that’ll serve as the focal point to say “howdy”, answer (as best I can) questions about Australia in general and the roots scene in particular. It’ll also be a quiet place for artists and managers to meet and chat with those they’ve hooked up to meet with, and a chance to remind everyone about the Aussie showcase artists and the various gigs we have during the event.
Once that’s done, it’s registration time, and good to bump into a number of familiar faces from previous years. With the Awards tonight, I’m steeling myself for a few phone calls re missing tickets etc. The AMA was prepared to offer us a special registration price provided it was all done through me. That means 25 artists and 9 managers requiring their own rego, but also extra Awards tickets and wristbands (for showcase entry) fo family and friends. There’s a few minor panics, but all eventually sorted (bless the AMA staff), and it’s a rush home to iron the frock for a 7pm Awards start.
As I said before …… Soooo hard to sum up this spectacular show of musical talent. Even though it’s televised, there’s no ad breaks and with only 6 awards (Album, Artist, New/Emerging Artist,Song, Instrumentalist and Duo/Group) and 3 Lifetime Achievement Awards, it’s a real show – seamlessly held together and propelled at breakneck speed by the inimitable Jim Lauderdale – a great host. As Glen Hannah (who’s been in the house band at our annual CMAA Golden Guitar Awards) said, “Did we REALLY see all that in just two and a half hours?” Yes we did.
We saw the night kick off with the ever-youthful Booker T Jones (inducted this year for Lifetime Instrumental Achievement) with a wonderful ‘Green Onions’, featuring Buddy Miller, Richard Thompson, Darrell Scott and Larry Campbell (Dylan, k d Lang, Willie Nelson ….. and everyone else) on guitar – whew!
From then on it’s a procession of greats, but the thing I really like is that the four nominations for Song of the Year are performed, and the nominees for New/Emerging Artist also get a live guernsey.
And so Lee Ann Womack was followed by the legendary Guy Clark, then Hayes Carll, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Justin Townes Earle, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Punch Brothers, Sarah Jarosz, The Mavericks, Robert Ellis, Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller, The Deep Dark Woods and the absolutely stunning Alabama Shakes who got a standing ovation (1st of many for the night) – and rightly took out Group/Duo of the Year later. Richard Thompson (Lifetime Achievement for Songwriting) delivered a wonderful version of his seminal ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’, and Kasey and Shane did us proud with a great ‘Rattlin’ Bones’ backed by the all-star house band. Then it’s Bonnie Raitt’s turn to be inducted for Lifetime Achievement for Performance. A stunning acoustic song and then she straps on the electric and takes over the stage with old mate John Hiatt on ‘Thing Called Love’ – featuring one of American’s immortal lines – “I ain’t no porcupine, take off your kid gloves. Are you ready for a thing called love?”. Just when you think it’s reached THE level, suddenly Emmylou’s on stage with everyone else to deliver a finale tribute to the recently departed Levon Helm. With Levon’s daughter Amy taking the lead, it’s an uplifting 5 minutes of ‘The Weight’ to send us out into the night energised and with joyful hearts. I’ve seen four of these shows now, and they’ve all been magic. I bumped into some of the Aussie crew later and they were all buzzing. I’d tried to explain what an amazing show it is, but you have to be there …
So, deep breath, change of clothes and it’s off to the Station Inn for Kasey and Shane’s showcase.
THis has been the culmination of 3 year’s of work by AMA CEO Jed Hilly and me to get the 2009 nominees for Album of the Year & Group/Duo to perform at Americana, and I know we’re both delighted to be sitting in this wonderfully intimate venue where there’s an air of anticipation. With a new album – ‘Wreck & Ruin’ to be released her next month, this is a perfect place to preview the intimate, duo presentation. A perfect blend of voices and beautifully crafted songs, puts them at the very top of the Americana artists pile, but there’s also an added element that sets them apart. Basically, they’re honest, straightforward, outgoing and – bloody funny! Not things I’ve seen in many American performers over my visits here. They’re usually far more reserved and non-public – maybe it’s easier for a visitor. It’s the same qualities that so endeared Sara Storer to the Station Inn audience two years ago, and it work again in spades tonight – ‘eating out of the hand’…. a wonderful set. They loved it!
And so they should! Caught up after the show to congratulate them, and they’re excited that they’ve been invited by Americana ‘royalty’ – Buddy Miller no less, to perform in a special concert of little-known hymns. Not only are they to perform (a song that the Civil Wars were unavailable for), but they also get to sing with Emmylou Harris. A significant honour in this town!
And so a marvellous and memorable night comes to an end. Sweet dreams!