The first official full day of activities is in the books at the 2012 Americana Music Festival and Conference, and what a great day it was. I won't bore you with the details of the Conference side of things. If you've been to a conference before, I'm sure you'll appreciate that omission from this space.
Not wasting time with formalities, this year's organizers set the showpiece event, the Americana Music Association Awards, on the opening night of the festival. Last year was my first time attending this tremendous event, so I was well aware of the calibre of talent I was going to see on this evening. The best thing about these shows are the surprises that often appear. These surprises take on special meaning, when you consider that in all likelihood you will not see such things again and they are taking place at such a revered place as the Ryman Auditorium.
Patty Griffin's performance of "I Love" from the Tom T. Hall tribute album "Songs From Fox Hollow" has received many accolades with nominations coming from the Grammy's and the AMA in their Song of the Year category. Ms. Griffin was not able to attend the show last night, so in her place performing this classic was Lee Ann Womack who delivered an astounding version of this song. The bigger surprise, and poignant moment of the performance, was the introduction of the writer him, Mr. Tom T. Hall, who strode across the Ryman stage and performed the last verse. This moment is particularly special when one considers that Tom T. Hall no longer performs on a regular basis, so this was a rare and special moment indeed.
Speaking of poignant moments, the grandest moment of the night was the closing number which served as a tribute to one of the greatest icons in music, Levon Helm. Mr. Helm passes away earlier this year leaving a gaping hole in the hearts of his fans, his family, and the Americana community as a whole. Honoring one of the forefathers of Americana at the show, the finale was a performace of the Band standard "The Weight", with luminaries such as Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and John Hiatt sharing the moment with Americana stalwarts Jim Lauderdale, Sam Bush and newcomers Alabama Shakes. To say this was a moving performance and moment would be a clear understatement.
Other fantastic performances took place through the night including the aforementioned Alabama Shakes (whom, incidentally, tore the house down), The Deep Dark Woods, Justin Townes Earle, Sarah Jarosz, Hayes Carll and Cary Ann Hearst, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson. Lifetime achievement winners Booker T. Jones, Richard Thompson and Bonnie Raitt all took their appropriate turns on stage to remind everyone why they are legends in their time. Watching the Mavericks return to the Ryman stage was a personal thrill.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Guy Clark's heartfelt performance of "My Favorite Pictue of You", written and peformed in tribute to his wife Susanna Clark who passed away this past June.
On top of all this, there were some awards handed out. The winners are as follows:
Album of the Year: "This One's For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark" -- Various Artists
Song of the Year: "Alabama Pines", Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Instrumentalist of the Year: David Rawlings
Duo/Group of the Year: The Civil Wars
New/Emerging Artist: Alabama Shakes
Artist of the Year: Gillian Welch
Closing off the day 1 festivities, at least for this guy, was to attend the performances of Brandi Carlisle and The Wheel's on Fire: A Tribute to Levon Helm. This was my first time seeing Brandi Carlisle and really experiencing her music. She is an angel. The complete package of talent and persona that can take a room and place it in the palm of her hand. Upstairs at the Mercy Lounge, The Wheel's on Fire was a great tribute to Levon with guest musicians trading off on fantastic Band classics. My highlight was the performance again of "The Weight" with Hayes Carll, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires and Patterson Hood taking turns performing the song.
A great night of music came to a close at around 12:30, and holy cow, we're just getting started here in Music City. Looking forward to day 2, see you tomorrow!