It’s a format that generally favors songwriters and veterans, but young instrumentalists were given starring roles at the nominations announcements for the 17th annual Americana Honors & Awards on Tuesday.
In a mid-day ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater, emcees Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, The Milk Carton Kids, introduced performances by all four nominees for the Instrumentalist of the Year category: drummer Jerry Pentecost, acoustic guitarist Molly Tuttle, fiddler Brittany Haas and electric guitarist Daniel Donato. None had ever been previously nominated for an Americana award.
Two of the field’s current stars and prior winners found their way into the prestigious Album, Song and Artist of the Year categories. Jason Isbell and Margo Price are up for all three. Isbell, who made a cameo appearance at the mic with Pattengale and Ryan, also enjoyed a Duo/Group of the Year nomination with his band the 400 Unit.
John Prine, 2017's Artist of the Year, was nominated for the prize again, now with the acclaimed album The Tree of Forgiveness to put some wind at his back in the upcoming voting. Rounding out that category is Brandi Carlile, who was nominated in two other categories: Album of the Year for By The Way I Forgive You and Song of the Year for “The Joke,” an anthem on behalf of the oppressed that features one of the most staggering vocal performances in recent memory.
Mary Gauthier, who was named New Artist of the Year in 2005, found her way back into nominee territory with the fourth Album of the Year nod. Rifles & Rosary Beads, which came out in January, is a profoundly emotional record co-composed with soldiers and veterans.
This year’s emerging artist category features Nashville’s Lilly Hiatt who released her breakout album Trinity Lane in 2017, Arizona-raised Courtney Marie Andrews, Kentucky native Tyler Childers and Athens, AL country/soul singer Anderson East. All have been conspicuously on national and international tours in the past few years.
But between announcements, the pickers were given a chance to seize the spotlight as performers. “The instrumentalist is often the unsung hero,” said Americana Music Association Executive Director Jed Hilly of the decision. “It shows another side of our community.”
Jerry Pentecost became only the second drummer in the history of the awards to be nominated as Instrumentalist of the Year. He led an ad hoc “friends” band on the vintage Barefoot Jerry country jazz fusion tune “Two Mile Pike,” with the song’s original composer and player Russ Hicks on pedal steel guitar.
“I’ve never been nominated for anything in my entire life!” Pentecost said after the ceremony. “If you’d have asked me if I’d be playing country/Americana music now, my 15-year-old (self) would be punching you in the face. Because I grew up playing punk rock.” He’s a Nashville area native who just let one gig lead to another, he said. “I don’t know what I did to get here but I’m truly thankful. And Americana is a great community and everybody takes care of each other.”
Pentecost plays regularly with Amanda Shires, Angaleena Presley and Ron Pope. He was also the drummer for last year’s Americana Honors & Awards house band.
Brittany Haas has spent recent years in two prominent roles, playing fiddle with the Dave Rawlings Machine and as a key rotating member of the house band for the NPR show Live From Here with Chris Thile. She got the news about her nomination just days after her own newgrass quartet Hawktail released its debut album. Three fourths of that ensemble, including bassist Paul Kowert and guitarist Jordan Tice, supported Haas in a fiddle-driven "Duck River."
“It feels like a huge accomplishment that we did this,” she said of the nomination and the new LP Unless. “I mean it’s just a record but we poured a lot of ourselves into it. It’s with my really good friends and we’ve been collaborating for such a long time that it feels like a very clear picture of myself as a musician.”
Molly Tuttle is cutting a wide path with her acoustic guitar, both as a skilled flat-picker and as an innovator in her own style of “clawhammer” guitar, which she demonstrated in her solo performance. Last Fall she was the first woman to be nominated for or win the title of Guitarist of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards. Tuttle’s been touring and working on a full-length debut album to follow up on her well-received EP Rise of 2017.
“The Americana community is full of so many of my heroes but it’s kind of a newer world for me to step into, so it feels wonderful to be included this way,” she said.
The fourth Instrumentalist nominee Daniel Donato is a Lower Broadway Telecaster slinger who’s the latest in a string of distinguished pickers to play for the Don Kelley Band at Robert’s Western World. He’s only about 22 years old and already has an instructional book and DVD out from Hal Leonard. He kicked off the music of the day’s event with a speedy guitar and vocal performance of the Ernest Tubb standard “Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin.”
The Americana Honors & Awards take place Sept. 12, 2018 at the Ryman Auditorium.
A full list of nominees follows.
Album of the Year:
“All American Made,” Margo Price, Produced by Jeremy Ivey, Alex Munoz, Margo Price and Matt Ross-Spang
“By The Way I Forgive You,” Brandi Carlile, Produced by Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings
“The Nashville Sound,” Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Produced by Dave Cobb
“Rifles & Rosary Beads,” Mary Gauthier, Produced by Neilson Hubbard
Artist of the Year:
Duo/Group of the Year:
I’m With Her
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
Emerging Act of the Year:
Courtney Marie Andrews
Song of the Year:
“A Little Pain,” Margo Price, Written by Margo Price
“All The Trouble,” Lee Ann Womack, Written by Waylon Payne, Lee Ann Womack and Adam
“If We Were Vampires,” Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Written by Jason Isbell
“The Joke,” Brandi Carlile, Written by Brandi Carlile, Dave Cobb, Phil Hanseroth and Tim Hanseroth
Instrumentalist of the Year: