(For a complete list of 54th GRAMMY Awards nominees, click here.)
The year 2011 saw American roots music, like the 19th century expansion of the American West from which much of the genre derives its sound, rife with pioneering mongrel souls braving an unsure musical environment to expand (much more peacefully) toward a thriving community. The murky and porous periphery that borders the genres comprising American roots music led to endless discussions about "what is and what isn't." But this genre's open nature continues to be a source of enrichment and evolution.
The Americana Music Association Festival & Conference, the genre's primary industry event, took place Oct. 12–18 in Nashville. The event continues to grow in attendance as well as influence. Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow delivered the conference's keynote address. The Americana Music Honors & Awards ceremony sold out for the first time in the event's 10-year history. The event was hosted by Jim Lauderdale and featured an all-star house band led by Buddy Miller, with performances by Lauderdale, Emmylou Harris, Gregg Allman, Alison Krauss, Robert Plant and the Band Of Joy, the Avett Brothers, Lucinda Williams, the Civil Wars, Elizabeth Cook, Justin Townes Earle, and Amos Lee.
Some top-shelf recordings were released in 2011, not only by current GRAMMY nominees, but stalwarts such as Merle Haggard, Miller, John Doe, Ryan Adams, Wilco, and Dave Alvin, as well as new bloods Hayes Carll, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Sarah Jarosz, Scott H. Biram, Lydia Loveless, Sunday Valley, Austin Lucas, Zoe Muth And The Lost High Rollers, and Abigail Washburn. It was an embarrassment of riches for all, and made the job a lot easier for an Americana blogger such as yours truly.
The spotlight shone brightly as some American roots music artists such as Mumford & Sons and the Civil Wars expanded into the mainstream and superstars proclaimed their admiration. Adele can be heard on YouTube covering the Steel Drivers' "If It Hadn't Been For Love," in addition to picking the Civil Wars to open for her on her 2011 U.S. tour. Taylor Swift went on record tweeting that she is a fan of the Civil Wars and recently collaborated with the GRAMMY nominees on "Safe & Sound," the first song from The Hunger Games soundtrack. Swift has also covered Mumford & Sons' "White Blank Page."
As celebrated as the year was, I would be remiss to overlook some of the community's shining lights who are no longer with us: folk legend Hazel Dickens; Country Music Hall of Fame members Ferlin Husky and Charlie Louvin; country music legend Billy Jo Spears; and Warren Hellman, banjo player, investor, philanthropist and founder of the San Francisco-based Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.