The Americana Honors & Awards show, slated to take place Sept. 16 at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, has been formally canceled with less than a week to go after organizers decided that it would be too risky to pull off, with or without an in-person audience. The decision comes even though the Ryman recently began hosting livestream event concerts with small, socially distanced audiences of up to 250 people.
It will still be a busy week in all things Americana, though, as the Americana Music Festival that traditionally takes over Nashville the week of the awards is being replaced by an online conference, Thriving Roots, which just announced an additional slate of virtual guests that includes the Lumineers, Linda Ronstadt, Tanya Tucker, Brandy Clark, Lee Ann Womack, Kathleen Edwards and even director M. Night Shyamalan.
First, though, the bad news, via Americana Music Association executive director Jed Hilly, who released a letter Friday “to inform you that despite all our hope, logistical wrangling and passion, we have concluded that it would not be safe to conduct the Americana Honors & Awards at the wonderful and historic Ryman Auditorium next Wednesday… We’ve carefully evaluated safety measures both with an audience and without. It is our conclusion that if just one person walked out of the Ryman with COVID-19, we would not be able to forgive ourselves. We are making new plans to celebrate the nominees and to proclaim the winners later this fall, and we hope to have details on that shortly with an official announcement date soon.”
Hilly urged supporters to sign up for the conference, not just for their own benefit but to offset losses incurred by canceling the in-person conference. “Like so many others in the industry, the impact of COVID-19 has made things difficult for our annual fundraising efforts,” Hilly wrote. “Currently, the team in Nashville is focused on our Thriving Roots: A Virtual Community Music Conference (September 16-18) in hopes of bringing our tribe together online, and to help to offset the huge losses we have suffered due to the pandemic and the cancellation of AmericanaFest 2020. We have also initiated a fundraising campaign to support our newly created Foundation and you can read more about how to support our mission here.”
Thriving Roots has amassed something of an all-star lineup… to the extent that most aficionados of roots-based music eschew the star system, anyway. Shyamalan’s addition to the roster was inevitably described in publicity materials as a twist, with the explanation being that, as a Lumineers fan, he will be participating with the group’s Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz for a talk “on the importance of retaining creative control of your art.”
Another addition of considerable interest is a premiere for passholders of the new documentary “Linda and the Mockingbirds,” which was announced in Variety last week as having been picked up by Shout! for theatrical and home distribution this fall. The film, which charts a trip taken in 2019 by Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and a group of music educators and students to a Mexican village, will be seen for the first time as part of Thriving Roots, in lieu of its planned Telluride Film Festival premiere. Ronstadt, director-producer James Keach and Los Cenzontles school founder Eugene Rodriguez will speak following the online screening.
Women in country music will be the focus of a newly announced panel called “Ladies, Your Roots Are Showing” featuring Tucker, Womack and Clark. The conversation is being presented by Change the Conversation, a Nashville organization dedicated to getting female artists equal representation in country, although the panel will examine the overlap between mainstream country and Americana, which all three of those artists fall into.
Also added to the bill is a conversation with Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards, who’ll tell WFUV program director Rita Houston about returning to music after a long layoff with her first album in eight years.
Events announced earlier this week include a series of music breaks between panels and interviews. Among the performers: Sheryl Crow, the Mavericks, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Rodney Crowell, Ben Harper, the Cadillac Three, Courtney Marie Andrews, Lori McKenna, Low Cut Connie, Wynonna, Jeremy Ivey, Aubrie Sellers, Brent Cobb and Our Native Daughters. The Oh Boy label founded by John Prine will bring its current roster together for a tribute to the late singer.
Among other highlights announced in August: Ken Burns in conversation with Emmylou Harris; filmmaker Judd Apatow interviewing the Avett Brothers; a collaboration between the Milk Carton Kids and Lucinda Williams; a conversation between Brandi Carlile and Yola; a talk by Margo Price on artistic values; Jackson Browne chatting with Mavis Staples; and appearances by Bob Weir, Chris Thile, Bela Fleck, Rosanne Cash, Bonnie Raitt, Sarah Jarosz, Sierra Hull, Taj Mahal and others. Non-musician guests appearing range from RIAA chairman/CEO Mitch Glazier to activist Angela Davis. NIVA and NITO representatives will discuss the crisis affecting the live music community.
For more information on Thriving Roots and to register, click here.