Buddy Miller's Universal United House of Prayer was named best album at the recent 4th Annual Americana Music Association Honors and Awards in Nashville September 9. His recording of Mark Heard's "Worry Too Much," from the same album received the Song of the Year prize, forcing the shy and self-effacing musician to give two acceptance speeches. And, those two speeches prompted this comment from Emmylou Harris, for whom Miller plays guitar.
"With two acceptance speeches tonight, I think Buddy Miller has said more tonight onstage, than in the 10 years we've worked together," she said.
Also honored was Mary Gauthier. Now living in Nashville, the Louisiana native joined many of the night's performers, and audience members, in wearing Mardi Gras beads, in tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The beads glittered as Gauthier performed the title track to her Mercy Now CD.
While her nominated album did not win the Album of the Year, nor "Mercy Now" Song of the Year, Mary Gauthier didn't go home empty-handed. She was named the 2005 New/Emerging Artist of the Year. In accepting the award, Gauthier, who ran away from home as a teenager and spent years battling alcohol abuse, pointed out that her mother was in the audience.
"I need to thank my mama, who made it up from south Louisiana," she said. "And she's crying. I made my mama cry for a long time. I hope that's a different kind of tears now!"
While many of the Americana honorees aren't household names, revered singer-songwriter John Prine was named Artist of the Year. Prine did not attend the show. Actor Billy Bob Thornton, soon to release his second CD, accepted the award on Prine's behalf.
"John's out there working for a living right now, and I've been asked to accept this his behalf," he said. "John Prine's my dear, great friend, and an amazing songwriter. When he first told me that the first song he ever wrote was "Hello in There," I kinda considered for a minute never trying to write a song. Thank you so much, from John."
Guy Clark was given a Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting. It was presented by Emmylou Harris, who noted, "In a town where there are some pretty good writers, he really is our poet laureate."
When Marty Stuart took the stage at the Ryman Auditorium to accept his Lifetime Achievement Award for Performing, he noted that his career had begun on that same stage 33 years earlier, when he was a child prodigy playing mandolin with bluegrass star Lester Flatt. Stuart spent years as mainstream country music star. He talked about his decision to return to his musical roots.
"Now the only thing I know after all these years of traveling, it's been a fantastic journey, it's been a wonderful journey, is that there's the chart, and there's the heart. It's great when they both line up," he said. "But given a choice, you'd better follow your heart. That's where it's at."
The evening also saw folk-pop star Judy Collins receiving a Spirit of Americana Free Speech Award from the First Amendment Center and the Americana Music Association. The founders of Rounder Records were presented the Jack Emerson Lifetime Acheivement Award for music executives. The late John Hartford was honored with the AMA's President's Award.
The show was hosted by singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale, and included performances by Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris and Arlo Guthrie. The evening's finale, led by Guthrie, and featuring Allison Brown on banjo, was Steve Goodman's song "City of New Orleans," a tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.