The members of the Americana Music Association love Buddy Miller, and they reaffirmed that again Thursday night, naming him artist of the year in something of an upset over collaborator Robert Plant.
Miller also took instrumentalist of the year, making him the night's big winner at The Ryman Auditorium.
Miller, a beloved Nashville player, beat out the Led Zeppelin frontman for the artist award after the two co-produced Plant's "Band of Joy," which won album of the year. That award goes to Plant alone despite Miller's role in the sound booth and as band leader.
"This is not right..." Miller said after winning artist of the year.
Plant got the night's biggest cheers, but the love for Miller was there throughout and should come as no surprise. He's now won or shared with his wife, Julie Miller, 12 Americana Awards, including two artist of the year trophies, and serves as the awards show's band leader.
"I love this awards show, but I think we should change the name to The Buddys," Emmylou Harris joked.
Plant was embraced by the Americana community, a loose confederation of roots rockers, alt-country players and wayward folkies, when he won album of the year for Raising Sand" with Alison Krauss. He reaffirmed his passion for the style of music when he released "Band of Joy" last year. With Miller's help, he put together a crack team of Nashville musicians and paid homage to early rock 'n' roll, blues and folk music.
Plant and Miller were the night's top nominees with Elizabeth Cook at three apiece. Along with his work with Plant, Miller also teamed with guitarists Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot and Greg Leisz to release "Majestic Silver Strings" during the qualifying period.
Plant first encountered Miller during a Harris concert in Dublin, Ireland.
"I saw the consummate player of all the licks and the beauty and soliloquy of great American music that I'd ever heard in my life, all put together in one guy with a hat on, and I was flabbergasted," Plant told the crowd.
The two met again when Miller joined the "Raising Sand" touring band. Plant enlisted his aid with "Band of Joy" when a planned second album with Krauss fell through.
"I said to the forces that be, 'We can't go anywhere without Buddy Miller," Plant said, "and I don't ever want to go anywhere without Buddy Miller."
Justin Townes Earle's "Harlem River Blues" won song of the year, Mumford & Sons won new/emerging artist and The Avett Brothers won duo/group of the year for the third time.
The AMA presented lifetime achievement awards to Lucinda Williams for songwriting, Gregg Allman for performance, dobro player Jerry Douglas as instrumentalist and famed Muscle Shoals producer Rick Hall as an executive. British broadcaster Bob Harris was honored as a trailblazer.
The night included several strong performances. Harris and Krauss began with a salute to the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack's 10th anniversary. They sang "I'll Fly Away" accompanied by Miller on guitar, Douglas on dobro and Don Was on standup bass.
Cook and Hayes Carll, the other two artist of the year nominees, performed their song of the year nominations — Cook's "El Camino" and Carll's "KMAG YOYO." The Civil Wars got a standing ovation for their breakthrough "Barton Hollow," Williams sang her newest song "Blessed" and Jessica Lea Mayfield performed "For Today" with the Scott and Seth Avett, who returned to play "Once and Future Carpenter."
Allman, who received a liver transplant last year, performed "Sweet Melissa" after a nine-week break from performing.
"I've been in the hospital for a while, but I made it," Allman told the crowd.