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McMurtry, Young, Crowell Honored at Americana Music Awards


Singer and songwriter James McMurtry, Neil Young, Rodney Crowell and other out-of-the-musical-mainstream artists were took among the recent prizewinners at the Fifth Annual Americana Honors and Awards in Nashville. VOA's Katherine Cole reports on the awards, which honor music based on the country, folk, bluegrass and blues traditions.

James McMurtry's Childish Things was named Album of the Year, and his "We Can't Make It Here" was named Song of the Year, at the recent September 22 Americana Awards, forcing the shy and self-effacing musician to give two acceptance speeches. In his first, James, who dressed formally for the occasion by wearing a dark sports jacket over his usual t-shirt and jeans, first thanked his business associates, then family and friends. McMurtry, son of famed author Larry McMurtry, had his speech interrupted several times by audience laughter and applause.

"Next, Ross Howgarth, Mark Wancheck and Lloyd Maines for teaching me how to produce records. My ex-wife, Elena, for teaching me to cut the collars out of my t-shirts," he joked, " Larry McMurtry for loaning me the [suit] jacket, my son, Curtis, for whatever it is he does. 'Consultant,' we'll call that. And John Mellencamp, for years ago sticking his neck out and getting me my first record deal. And thanks to you all."

Also honored was Charlie Daniels, who took to the stage and performed his 1973 hit "Uneasy Rider." Daniels, who has been performing since the 1950s, was honored not for his singing, songwriting or fiddle playing. Americana Music Association President Tamara Saviano explains the special award given to Charlie Daniels.

"This year, Charlie Daniels is getting the 'Spirit of Americana Free Speech Award' from the First Amendment Center," she said.

COLE: "Why Charlie Daniels? What has he done over the years?"

"Charlie has been very supportive of the war in Iraq, and supporting the troops. And he's very vocal about his support of this [Bush] administration, where many people, primarily in our organization and our artists, are not supportive," she explained. "If you believe in 'free speech,' you believe in free speech for everybody, regardless of whether they agree with you, or not. So, it's interesting that Charlie's here tonight because the majority of the artists that are performing tonight do not agree with Charlie. That's what makes America great. All of us can express our opinion at any time, without fear of retribution."

While many of the Americana honorees aren't household names, revered singer-songwriter Neil Young was named Artist of the Year.

Like many music organizations, the Americana Music Association hands out Lifetime Achievement Awards. But as Tamara Saviano explains, the AMA's are a bit different.

"In our world, a Lifetime Achievement Award means that they are continuing to create viable music, and they are out there touring," she said. " It's not like and end of the career thing. Alejandro Escovedo is getting a Lifetime Achievement Award for Performing. We're honoring Allen Toussaint with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Producer and Engineer. And Barry Poss, the founder of Sugar Hill Records, is getting the Jack Emerson Lifetime Achievement Award for Executives. Sugar Hill, they're probably the inventors of 'Americana music.' If you think of just those [the honored] artists, how varied they are, in their sounds, and what they've brought to American music, I think it gives you an idea of how broad 'Americana music' is."

Also honored that evening was Rodney Crowell.

Vince Gill took the stage at the Ryman Auditorium to present the Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting to his longtime friend. Gill began his presentation with a solo acoustic version of Crowell's song "'Til I Gain Control Again."