Billy Strings Wins Big, Luke Bell Paid Tribute at Americana Music Awards

See full winners list, photos, and video below. And follow Saving Country Music on Instagram for regular updates from AmericanaFest.

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The 2022 Americana Music Awards transpired at the Ryman Auditorium Wednesday Night, September 14th, with Billy Strings, Brandi Carlile, Allison Russell, Sierra Ferrell, and The War and Treaty all walking away with big awards. There were also a few surprises, some excellent performances, and an unannounced, but very sweet tribute to Luke Bell.

Billy Strings was not on hand to accept his Artist of the Year award. He’s currently on the Outlaw Tour with Willie Nelson. But otherwise, all winners were on site, and were also part of the performing lineup, backed up by the excellent house band led by Buddy Miller, with Don Was on bass, Jerry Pentecost on drums, Larry Campbell on guitar and fiddle, a chorus from the great McCray Sisters, and others.

It started off with a rather rocking rendition of the Neil Young song famously redone by Waylon Jennings, “Are You Ready For The Country” performed by Phosphorescent, aka Matthew Houck. The always-entertaining Milk Carton Kids were the first to speak from the podium.

“Even though he is not here and is not nominated for anything, Jason Isbell will still probably win an award tonight,” they joked. Isbell actually was nominated for Artist of the Year, but didn’t win.

Performers included Neil Francis, James McMurtry playing his Song of the year-nominated “Canola Fields,” Morgan Wade, the now major label-signed The War and Treaty who also won Duo/Group of the year, Adia Victoria, Allison Russell, Brandi Carlile, and recent stroke notwithstanding, Lucinda Williams came out and performed “Can’t Let Go” like Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was released yesterday.

In Americana, Artist of the year is not the biggest award. That is reserved for Album of the Year, which went to Montreal native Allison Russell for her album Outside Child. Brandi Carlile won Song of the Year for “Right On Time.” And Sierra Ferrell joins a very impressive roster of previous winners in the Emerging Artist of the year category, speaking to her swelling popularity among the independent music realm.

Lifetime Achievement Awards were also doled out, with Nashville’s legendary Gospel Quintet The Fairfield Four receiving the Legacy of Americana award, Brandi Carlile handed out the Spirit of Americana Award to The Indigo Girls, with a compelling speech about growing up in a time when The Indigo Girls were just as much of a punch line in popular culture as they were a folk duo that took folk music to the top of the popular music charts.

Country Music Hall of Famer Don Williams was also honored with the President’s Award, with legendary music producer Garth Fundis accepting the award on behalf of Don’s Family, and Lukas Nelson singing “Lord I Hope This Day Is Good” in tribute.

Chris Isaak received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance. “It’s got my name on it, but it’s my band,” Isaak said humbly after close friend Lyle Lovett did the tribute honors for Isaak. They then played a hilarious song together about giving each other Covid, then Chris Isaak played an excellent rendition of “Somebody’s Crying.” Later in the presentation Lyle Lovett came out to perform “Willin’” in tribute to Little Feet.

Yes, there were a lot of tributes. That’s what the Americana Music Awards are best at. Robert Plant also came to the podium to give Buddy Miller an honorary award, “I come from the land of ice and snow…” Plant said jokingly, before giving a touching tribute to the Americana House Band leader, and American music legend.

But perhaps the most touching tribute was the one that came unannounced, and unexpected. Country artist Luke Bell passed away a few weeks ago, and JP Harris flew into Nashville while on tour to do the honors. “His talent was unmeasured, his gall unmatched,” JP said, “Luke never got a chance to sing this song from this stage like he should have.”

Then JP Harris performed Luke Bell’s “The Bullfighter” from the Mother Church stage. JP Harris was a friend and mentor to Luke Bell, and his boss on numerous construction jobs.

Of course, the biggest question that always comes up whenever anyone broaches the subject of Americana is, what is it? As Brandi Carlile said while honoring The Indigo Girls, “Is it a genre? Is it a philosophy? Is it country music for liberals? All I know is that it’s me.”

There were a few empty seats at the top of the pews this year, where previously, a ticket to the awards was difficult to get. And by the time the presentation wrapped up just after 10:00 pm, The Ryman was probably 2/3rds full. Folks could also stream it on The Circle Network, and the full presentation will at some point be edited into a television special.

The McCrary Sisters helped wrap up the show with an incredible performance of “Amazing Graze” done to “The House of the Rising Sun” arrangement. Then most all the performers came out on stage for “I’ll Take You There.”

2022 AMERICANA MUSIC AWARD WINNERS

Album of the Year

Brandi Carlile – In These Silent Day
Allison Russell – Outside ChildWINNER
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raise The Roof
Adia Victoria – A Southern Gothic
Yola – Stand For Myself

Artist of the Year

Brandi Carlile
Jason Isbell
Allison Russell
Billy Strings – WINNER
Yola

Duo/Group of the Year

Big Thief
Los Lobos
The Mavericks
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
The War and Treaty – WINNER

Song of the Year

James McMurtry – “Canola Fields”
Yola – “Diamond Studded Shoes”
Sturgill Simpson – “Juanita”
Allison Russell – “Persephone”
Brandi Carlile – “Right On Time” – WINNER

Emerging Artist of the Year

Sierra Ferrell – WINNER
Neal Francis
Brittney Spencer
Adia Victoria
Morgan Wade

Instrumentalist of the Year

Ethan Ballinger
B.E. Farrow
Larissa Maestro – WINNER
Shelby Means
Justin Moses

All photos by Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos

Sierra Ferrell
Sierra Ferrell winning Emerging Artist of the Year
Lyle Lovett
Lifetime Achievement in Performance Honoree Chris Isaak
Alison Russell and Brandi Carlile
Allison Russell wins Album of the Year for ‘Outside Child’
Brandi Carlile wins Song of the Year for “Right On Time”
Vocal Duo/Group of the Year The War and Treaty
Robert Plant, cracking a joke about how low the microphone is
Morgan Wade
Molly Tuttle presenting an award
The McCrary Sisters
JP Harris Pays Tribute to Luke Bell
Jerry Douglas accepts Artist of the Year Award for Billy Strings
James McMurtry
Indigo Girls
The Fairfield Four

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