The Americana Music Awards last night leaned heavily on heritage, but it was two of the genre's more contemporary stars who struck the sharpest chords.
At times, the night seemed dominated by deference with Lifetime Achievement awards, honoring established artists and industry heavyweights like Van Morrison and Iris Dement.
But when Album of the Year nominee Rhiannon Giddens took the stage at the Ryman Auditorium, her hammered banjo and hollering voice demanded a different kind of respect.
Giddens' song "Julie," like her album Freedom Highway, explores slave narratives — a performance made more striking as she stared straight at the Ryman balcony that sometimes still bares the name Confederate Gallery.
Later in the evening, the artist who has been called the "king of Americana" showed why he's still on the throne: Jason Isbell and his wife Amanda Shires sang the duet "If We Were Vampires" with an intensity that commanded the industry-heavy crowd.
Shires had her own moment in the spotlight winning the emerging artist award. The night's biggest honor, Artist of the Year, went to John Prine, with the 70-year-old noting that he's been waiting a while for this.