(Find out who will be nominated for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards live on "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night" on Nov. 30 from 10–11 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.)
A New York-induced identity crisis sent this Texas native to look for music that harkened back to my musical heritage, but displayed the musical inventiveness and risk found in contemporary music. Something old spiked with something new. I figured as long as I was playing hide-and-seek, I might as well share it with others. That was six years ago.
When I was a boy I would sit by the stage my dad shared with Jerry Jeff Walker, Billy Joe Shaver and Willie Nelson. These artists, along with other "outlaws," shaped my musical tastes from then on. I was ruined for mainstream anything. Once I caught a scent of the burgeoning alt-country/Americana genre, I quickly found a mother lode you could only get by digging under the Garth Brooks sheen. Artists such as Drive-By Truckers, Denton, Texas' own Slobberbone, Uncle Tupelo, and Whiskeytown were like an old pair of boots that had suddenly come back into style.
A watershed credibility moment came in 2001 with the T Bone Burnett-produced O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, which won the GRAMMY Award for Album Of The Year. In 2008 Burnett returned with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss to gather five GRAMMY awards, including Album and Record Of The Year, for their Americana release Raising Sand. The inclusion of the Best Americana Album category followed, with Levon Helm picking up the inaugural award in 2009. The community had matured to a dynamic genre that was drawing the best talent into its fold.
Last year's performance by Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers alongside Bob Dylan brought some of Americana's shining stars to the GRAMMY stage and proved a high point for the genre. Current artists such as Justin Townes Earle, the Civil Wars, Hayes Carll, and Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit are proof positive that great music is with us, drawing from the past and blazing a path to the future.
In 2011 the Merriam-Webster dictionary included Americana in its official domain as a "genre of American music having roots in early folk and country music." It doesn't get any more official than that.