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THE HISTORY OF THE AMERICANA MUSIC ASSOCIATION
Since 1999, the Americana Music Association has helped American roots music assume an elevated and secure place in the artistic and commercial life of the nation. What began as an informal gathering of dedicated colleagues has grown into a movement endorsed by major media and iconic artists. The Recording Academy added the category of “Best Americana Album” in 2009, and Merriam-Webster included the musical term into the dictionary in 2011.
The Americana Music Association has not only been a refuge for artistry in a time of tumult for popular music, but as well, a resource for hundreds of upcoming artists, songwriters, musicians, and producers. Today, Americana is one of the best selling music genres according to Billboard’s Top 20 album charts - with artists like Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, The Civil Wars, The Lumineers and more, becoming the mainstream and not the exception.
In the late 1990’s, a group of about 30 volunteers from radio, record labels and media met informally at the South by Southwest music industry conference in Austin, Texas, to discuss collective action that could help the Americana community, including the possibility of a trade association. A facilitated retreat in October 1999 galvanized the idea, and the Americana Music Association was born.
Early the following year, the Association hosted its first annual Americana Night at South by Southwest, and then in September 2000, the Americana Music Association held its first convention at the Hilton Suites in downtown Nashville, featuring showcase performances by Sam Bush, Rhonda Vincent, Rodney Crowell, and Jim Lauderdale.
The Americana Honors and Awards were added to the convention in year three, and the evening proved moving and historic. Americana icons Emmylou Harris, Billy Joe Shaver, and T Bone Burnett were given lifetime achievement awards for performing, songwriting, and executive achievement, respectively. After much behind-the-scenes planning, the audience was treated to a surprise performance by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash with members of the Cash family. Johnny accepted the AMA’s first-ever “Spirit of Americana” Free Speech Award with a stunning recitation of his song-poem “Ragged Old Flag,” and then, despite his failing health, he and June led their family band through a set of songs that reached back through time. It turned out to be the last public performance the Cash’s would ever give together.
Over time, the fall event attracted larger groups of fans and industry conferees. In response, the organization formally changed the name of its event to the Americana Music Festival and Conference, welcoming not just those in the business, but anyone with a passion for music. By 2008, the event had expanded to four days, moved its Awards Show to the historic Ryman Auditorium, and attracted nearly 1,000 industry professionals, plus a cumulative total of over 12,000 visitors for the nighttime showcases.
Each year’s emotionally charged musical performances have been as varied as Americana itself: Levon Helm’s Ramble at the Ryman; John Fogerty in a packed Mercy Lounge; Grace Potter and the Waybacks channeling the Grateful Dead at the Cannery Ballroom; then newcomers, The Avett Brothers at the Station Inn with an audience of 150. The Civil Wars performed a breathtaking rendition of “Barton Hollow” at the Gibson Showroom which streamed live on Music City Roots where the world took notice. An unannounced duet by Robert Plant and Buddy Miller drove noted acerbic music industry blogger Bob Lefsetz to gush, “Their passion was palpable. My only desire was to get closer. My only hope was that the music would never end.”
Indeed, the annual fall festival and conference has attracted some of the most important figures in the history of Americana Roots Music, including Mavis Staples, Gregg Allman, Judy Collins, John Prine, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, Solomon Burke and Lyle Lovett.
International medias have taken notice as well, including Paste journalist Geoffrey Himes to declare the Americana Honors, “the best awards show in the world,” and noted author Ann Patchett, writing for the New York Times, proclaimed the Americana movement as “the coolest music scene today.”
Grant Alden, Marie Arsenault, Jim Caligiuri, Dan Einstein, Jack Emerson, Sue Fawyer, Stephen Bond Garvan, Renee Grace, Jon Grimson, Michael Hays, Dan Herrington, Greg Hils, Brad Hunt, Dennis Lord, Chris Marino, JD May, Al Moss, Bev Paul, Brad Paul, Scott Robinson, Leslie Rouffe, Paul Schatzkin, Jessie Scott, Rod Seagram, Tiffany Suiters, Traci Thomas, Van Tucker, Jeff Weiss, Steve Wilkison