UK Americana Music Week and it’s awards show are set for January 23rd -26th and the events that Stevie Smith, the CEO of AMA-UK, has curated looks set to make this the best year yet! Mike Scott of The Waterboys and Judy Collins have been announced as this year’s recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award and both artists will perform at the event. Meanwhile, a tribute will be paid to Loretta Lynn as multiple artists get together to honour the country music legend. The International Trailblazer Award goes to Nickel Creek, whilst the Bob Harris Emerging Artist Award goes to The Hanging Stars, a London based five-piece band who channel the sounds of The Byrds, Big Star and The Flying Burrito Brothers. This year’s Grassroots Award, which pays tribute to someone working in the industry who has made outstanding efforts to support Americana music from the grassroots up, goes to Northern Ireland’s Ralph McLean, whose BBC Radio Ulster show has been championing country, roots and Americana music for almost 25 years.
We caught up with Stevie Smith to learn more about the week of events planned that takes place at the Hackney Empire.
Americana Music Week is coming up, how important is that week for you and the association?
It’s very important, it’s our flagship event and it brings the whole UK and International Americana music community together in one place at the start of the year. We showcase new emerging artists to bookers and promoters as well as celebrating the more established ones at the gala awards on the last day.
How do you go about curating that schedule of shows?
Members apply to showcase in July each year and a team of our board members that consist of promoters, radio DJs and managers select the line-up. We look to balance emerging with more known and UK with international. This alongside some guest hosts like Canada House and Jansen Records from Norway. I personally attend showcase events across the UK, America and Canada throughout the year to scout new talent for this event as well.
What are you most looking forward to when it comes to this week of events?
Seeing everyone is wonderful, bringing people together brings me joy! I also love when a new act is discovered at our event and gets booked at festivals for the summer – very exciting to see the efforts of the association working out in real time and making it clear why membership is valid and the support from the AMA-UK is really worth something.
How do you help grow the genre in the UK and what support do you offer to emerging/independent talent?
This is our 10th anniversary year. When we founded back in 2012 people had multiple names for this genre, lots of artists were feeling like no one understood them. The AMA-UK has managed to focus audiences, retail and media through our events: the conference, the showcases, the Awards and the official Americana chart that we founded with the Official Charts Company in 2016. Supporting emerging artists is key to the work we do. We work with festivals throughout the year and the country to host stages with emerging artists – this gets them to new territories and often to the attention of the main bookers for future years. Prior to the pandemic we were at 9 festivals a year – last year we did 2. I hope to slowly work back up to 9 and more once things get back to normal.
The awards night is potentially the biggest night of the year in your calendar, how much goes into planning an event like that?
Its a fine juggling act – it takes a year to plan but ultimately it all comes down to this moment, who will be nominated and who can be here to take part in the show. It’s a joyful event that really does make a difference to people’s careers, getting nominated and awarded for they work. We are delighted to be back at the iconic Hackney Empire for the awards. This means no one needs to leave Hackney Central from Monday evening until Friday morning, as every one of the 8 venues we use for the conference, showcases and awards are all within a few minutes’ walk of each other.
As part of the 10th anniversary celebrations we are kicking off the week with a party hosted by legendary Radio 2 DJ Bob Harris, where almost all his past Emerging Artists recipients will be performing – it’s going to be a real celebration of where we have got to with the genre, and those emerging artist winners have all come so far since their award – The Wandering Hearts, Wildwood Kin, Robert Vincent and Lauren Housley, to name a few.
Zoe Hodges, Editor