"I wrote this song for my wife," Isbell said. "I've had a lot of people ask me to dedicate it to their wives, girlfriends or cousin's wife or something strange like that. This was probably the hardest song I ever had to write because I wrote it for her and then I played it for her. It was very difficult. Do the things that scare you. That's the good stuff."
Isbell was one of this year's top nominees along with Rosanne Cash and Robert Ellis. Each had three nominations and all were up for artist, album and song of the year.
Many of the top nominees and honors recipients performed, including all five emerging artist nominees. Former couple Patty Griffin and Robert Plant made a surprise appearance and sang their collaboration "Ohio."
Sturgill Simpson, something of a modern cosmic cowboy, earned emerging artist of the year and the Milk Carton Kids took group/duo of the year. And Buddy Miller, now executive music producer for the television show "Nashville" and the Americana's winningest performer, won his fifth instrumentalist of the year award.
The Americana Music Association also honored several pioneering musicians. Loretta Lynn received the lifetime achievement award for songwriting from Kacey Musgraves and Angaleena Presley. "The truth is we both might cry giving out this award," Musgraves said.
Lynn, writer of some of country music's most important female empowerment songs, accepted the award in a sparkly lavender dress and her usual humble manner. "When they told me I was going to get this award," she told the crowd, "I said, 'Naw, you got the wrong one.'"
Jackson Browne received the Spirit of Americana-Free Speech in Music award, Flaco Jimenez received the lifetime achievement award for instrumentalist and Taj Mahal earned the lifetime achievement award for performance.
"I was affected deeply by American music, near and far — my mother's interest in Southern music and my dad's interest in jazz and bebop and classical, all that kind of stuff," Mahal said in an interview. "But this music here, if you get this music, you can go anywhere in the world with it. For me, I play for the goddess of music. People ask me what I do and I go, deep Americana."
List of winners at the Americana Awards:
Album of the Year: Southeastern, Jason Isbell, Producer Dave Cobb
Artist of the Year: Jason Isbell
Duo Group of the Year: The Milk Carton Kids
Song of the Year: "Cover Me Up," Jason Isbell
Emerging Artist of the Year: Sturgill Simpson
Instrumentalist of the year: Buddy Miller
Spirit of Americana / Free Speech in Music Award co-presented by the Americana Music Association and the First Amendment Center: Jackson Browne
Lifetime Achievement for Instrumentalist: Flaco Jimenez
Lifetime Achievement for Performance: Taj Mahal
Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriter: Loretta Lynn
President's Award: Jimmie Rodgers / Award Presented to Jimmie Rodgers Museum in Meridian, MS