Spend any amount of time with Jed Hilly, executive director of the Americana Music Association, and you will no doubt be blown away with the sense of unbridled passion and energy that he approaches his job with.
A great example of such an occasion came with Americanafest NYC -- which took place in the Big Apple Aug. 6-10. A partnership between the AMA and the Lincoln Center Out of Doors, the event -- which included Americana staples Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris and Jim Lauderdale, along with newcomers Robert Ellis, John Fullbright and Cassandra Wilson -- was a big moment for Hilly.
"To get a phone call from Lincoln Center to be asked to curate an event at THE cultural institution in the United States, if not the world, was pretty darn exciting," Hilly told Billboard. "It was also a great affirmation of what we’re doing."
In terms of critical and commercial acceptance, and given the success stories of the afore-mentioned artists as well as the Civil Wars and Mumford & Sons, it has been a boom period for the AMA. Case in point: At a time when the Grammy Awards have actually taken away categories from other genres, two have been added in the Americana ranks.
"It's the third one we’ve gotten in five years," he said, referring to the Best American Roots Performance category -- added in 2014, "during a time that they have eliminated categories. We’re the only field that has added two since they reduced that number. In 2013, the Best American Roots Song category was introduced. "That’s a big deal – that they are recognizing our community as important enough to be adding categories in a time of great subtraction."
Why the increase in attention? Hilly said that "Someone told me they appreciated what we do because we put unknown artists before people with the same energy as we do our biggest stars. I think there is a sense within the community that it’s about mastering a craft. It’s about musicianship and great songwriting. To sit in a room and hear John Fullbright for an hour, and to follow that with Rodney Crowell are two unique and unbelievable thrills -- as is a Valerie June. There’s a uniqueness to the artists, and I think the organization supports that. We’re not corporate-dominated. That’s pretty apparent. We curate our festival and conference line-up. It’s not label showcases."
The AMA will celebrate the music, and the musicians that make it with the Americana Music Festival 2014, set for September 17- 21 in Nashville. Hilly says the week, which includes the Americana Honors & Awards Show, promises great music for everyone.
"We're going to have more than 175 acts this year. It’s a big leap for us, but we had 900 bands that applied to play. We couldn’t fit them all in, but I can tell you that you will be able to go into any club at any time -- and even if you’ve heard of the band or not, you will have a good time."
As far as the Awards ceremony itself, four distinct musical legends will be honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards: Loretta Lynn, Jackson Browne, Taj Mahal, and Flaco Jimenez. "Thanks to Buddy Miller, the Awards Show is always a master class in music direction. I'm really excited about Flaco Jimenez. To me, he embodies that spirit of playing music to be happy, and because he has to. I’m most honored to sit in this seat and be able to honor someone like that."
The AMA has exclusively told Billboard of the line-up for the show, which includes Cash, Crowell, Harris, Sarah Jarosz, and Marty Stuart (full list below). And, the band on stage? Well, that promises to be a treat, too. "I couldn’t be more excited that Ry Cooder is playing in the house band. That's kind of amazing. Most have him as one of the top ten guitar players of all time, and he really is a master. I’m humbled by that. Buddy Miller and Ry Cooder in the same band, can you believe it?"
Americana Honors & Awards
The Devil Makes Three
The Milk Carton Kids
Hard Working Americans
Hurray for the Riff Raff
St. Paul & Broken Bones
Michael Trent & Cary Ann Hearst
Ken Paulson (1st Amendment Center)
John Paul White