Folk singer songwriter John Prine was awarded the artist of the year, while one of his protégés, country singer Sturgill Simpson, took home album of the year at the Americana Honors and Awards show.
Americana artists spanning generations and backgrounds were honored Wednesday night in Nashville, Tennessee, including lifetime achievement honorees Van Morrison and Graham Nash of the band Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Prine, at 70, delighted the audience with a couple of performances and received standing ovations throughout the night. "I've been waiting for this award for a while," he joked.
Early in the night, Prine stepped on the Ryman Auditorium stage to introduce his friend and duet partner Iris Dement, who received the trailblazer lifetime achievement award, and was greeted with a standing ovation before he even said a word.
"I was going to come out and tell you who I was, but I'll go with whoever you think I am," Prine told the audience.
Simpson, who was not in attendance and won for his Grammy-winning record "A Sailor's Guide to Earth," shares a songwriting office with Prine in Nashville. He is one of several young singers and songwriters in rock, country and Americana who have looked to Prine as a mentor.
Rodney Crowell won song of the year "It Ain't Over Yet," featuring Rosanne Cash and John Paul White, but was not able to attend the awards show.
Amanda Shires, who won emerging artist of the year, started her career as a fiddle player for the Texas Playboys and has five solo albums, in addition to playing in the backing band for her husband, Grammy-winning Americana artist Jason Isbell.
"I know there are several people here who let me sleep on their couches and dog beds," Shires said in her acceptance speech.
And she thanked her husband, "who you might know as Mr. Shires," because "he's the one that reminds me that I am good at music." The two later performed together on the song "If We Were Vampires" from Isbell's latest record.
Marty Stuart and his band, the Fabulous Superlatives, took home duo/group of the year and guitarist Charlie Sexton was named instrumentalist of the year.
Stuart recalled arriving in Nashville by bus from Mississippi 45 years ago and seeing the Ryman Auditorium in person for the first time.
"I knew this was the place where Johnny Cash drug his microphone across the footlights and got himself in trouble," Stuart said. "This was the place where bluegrass music was formed in its formal state."
Van Morrison, the Northern Ireland singer with hits like "Gloria" and "Brown Eyed Girl," was given the songwriter lifetime achievement award and performed "Transformation" from his upcoming album "Roll With the Punches."
Nash was given the Spirit of Americana Free Speech in Music Award and talked about hearing American rock 'n' roll on the radio in Manchester, England, as a kid.
"When I first heard about it, I wondered by an Englishman was getting an Americana award," Nash said. "And then I realized that Americana has changed the world."
Grammy-winning bluesman Robert Cray and the Hi Rhythm Section, a famous studio band from Memphis, also each took home lifetime achievement awards and performed together.
"We recorded something like 26 gold and platinum records, one behind each other," noted Charles Hodges, who played organ with the Hi Rhythm Section with his brothers, Leroy and Mabon.
Larry Sloven and Bruce Bromberg of HighTone Records were also honored with a lifetime achievement award for executives.
Several of the other nominees for album of the year delivered powerful and political messages about racism, slavery and freedom through their performances. Rhiannon Giddens performed "Julie," about a conversation between a slave and a white mistress.
Hurray for the Riff Raff's performance of "Pa'lante" was an avant-garde rock anthem for immigrants and Drive By Truckers sang their song "What It Means," a response to the killings of Trayvon Martin and other young black men.