Going into the 2017 Americana Music Awards, it was handicapped as the most wide open competition in years. The results of the night bore that out as, at the end of the night, the six awards went to six different artists with no repeats as John Prine, Rodney Crowell, and Sturgill Simpson took home the night's biggest awards from the Ryman Auditorium.
Prine was honored with the award for Artist of the Year. It was the most competitive category of 2017, with current Americana hitmakers Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell, last year's Emerging Artist winner Margo Price and crossover star Lori McKenna also vying for the trophy. But in the end, Americana Music Association voters likely took into account that all four of John Prine's competitors list him as a major influence and one, Sturgill Simpson, recently told a Nashville newspaper that voters “better do the right thing” and award Prine instead of himself.
Sturgill Simpson may not have wanted the Artist of the Year trophy, but he did take home Album of the Year for 2016's A Sailor's Guide to Earth. Simpson didn't even have to share the credit as he was both artist and producer for the project. Simpson beat out Drive-By Truckers' American Band, Rodney Crowell's Close Ties, Rhiannon Giddens' Freedom Highway, and Hurray for the Riff Raff's The Navigator.
Song of the Year proved another closely watched competition. High profile songs from Sturgill Simpson (“All Around You”), Lori McKenna (“Wreck You”), and Ryan Adams (“To Be Without You”0 were in the running. But in the end, Rodney Crowell took home the prize for “It Ain't Over Yet.”
The Duo/Group of the Year Award went to Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, The Emerging Artist of the Year Award was given to Amanda Shires. Finally, the Instrumentalist of the Year was awarded to Charlie Sexton.
As always, the Awards were only a small part of the 2017 Americana Music Awards and Honors. The live performances at the ceremony are equally, if not more, anticipated. As it often the case, many of the highlights came from the night's Lifetime Achievement Honorees. A tearful Iris Dement joined her inductor John Prine for a rousing rendition of their hit “In Spite of Ourselves.” Robert Cray and Hi Rhythm, both Lifetime Achievement honorees, played a blistering blues/soul cut from their recent collaborative album. Graham Nash brought up the Milk Carton Kids to assist him with harmony on The Everly Brothers' “So Sad”. And Van Morrison closed things out with “Transformation”, the lead single from his new album.
But it wasn't just the Lifetime Achievers who scored in the performance category. Rhiannon Giddens, Drive-By Truckers, and Hurray for the Riff Raff injected some social and political commentary into their performances. Margo Price proved why she is a worthy Artist of the Year nominee with a cut from her forthcoming album. And Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires brought goosebumps to the entire Ryman Auditorium with a slow burning duet on “If We Were Vampires.”