The Americana Music Association handed out its annual awards on Wednesday night (Sept. 21), during the 15th annual Honors & Awards show. Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton were among the evening's big winners, but as touching as each winner's acceptance speech was, the evening's true highlights were the many performances that took place throughout the three-hour event.

The 2016 Americana Music Awards opened with a four-song tribute to four recently deceased Americana icons: Stuart Duncan, Melonie Cannon, Alison Krauss and Buddy Miller began with a stunning partially a cappella version of Ralph Stanley's "Gloryland," which Joe Henry followed with Allen Toussaint's "Freedom for the Stallion." Guy Clark's "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train" was performed by Steve Earle, while a surreal moment -- Bob Weir singing Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried" -- concluded the segment.

Somehow, the evening's performances just got better from there: Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats and Emerging Artist of the Year Margo Price showed the packed Ryman Auditorium why they're worth the buzz they've been getting with "Wasting Time" and "Tennessee Song," respectively, while the legendary Bonnie Raitt performed twice, once after honoring Shawn Colvin with the Trailblazer Award ("Gypsy in Me") and later with Songwriting Lifetime Achievement Award winner William Bell (the slow-burning "The Three of Me"). Dwight Yoakam and company's pitch-perfect harmonies, George Strait and WagonMaster Award recipient Jim Lauderdale's "The King of Broken Hearts" and Parker Milsap's straight-up-incredible voice were among the evening's other highlights.

Both on the red carpet and during the awards ceremony, artists spoke of the Americana genre's wide and deep definition and the Americana Music Association's role in celebrating the acts who "don't quite fit into shoes off the shelf," as Raitt put it. Spirit of Americana / Free Speech in Music Award winner Billy Bragg praised the genre's "inclusive concept," while Price, during her acceptance speech, expressed her gratitude "for recognizing honest music." It's commonplace for awards winners to thank the bestowing organization, of course, but the audience could feel the artists' genuine appreciation for their genre this time around.

“Thank you to all the Americana radio stations out there; it’s been a big part of what we’ve been doing,” Stapleton said in his Artist of the Year speech. “I’m nervous; there’s so many heroes out here in audience and up here on the stage. This is a remarkable thing.”

Now a six-time Americana Music Award winner, Isbell noted the importance of keeping wise, honest loved ones nearby, both for career and general life purposes: “If you can, keep people around you who will tell you when you’ve done something awful, whether it’s in a song or in your personal life, and listen to them if at all possible," he said, referring specifically to his wife and 400 Unit band member, Amanda Shires.

A complete list of 2016 Americana Music Awards winners is below. The 2016 Americana Music Festival, of which the Awards are a part, runs through Sunday (Sept. 25).

2016 Americana Music Awards Winners

Album of the Year

Something More Than Free, Jason Isbell, produced by Dave Cobb -- WINNER
The Ghosts of Highway 20, Lucinda Williams, produced by Greg Leisz, Tom Overby and Lucinda Williams
The Very Last Day, Parker Millsap, produced by Parker Millsap and Gary Paczosa
Traveller, Chris Stapleton, produced by Dave Cobb and Chris Stapleton

Artist of the Year

Jason Isbell
Bonnie Raitt
Chris Stapleton -- WINNER
Lucinda Williams

Duo / Group of the Year

Alabama Shakes
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell -- WINNER
Lake Street Dive
The Milk Carton Kids
Tedeschi Trucks Band

Emerging Artist of the Year

Leon Bridges
John Moreland
Margo Price -- WINNER
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

Song of the Year

“24 Frames,” Jason Isbell -- WINNER
“Dime Store Cowgirl,” Kacey Musgraves
“Hands of Time,” Margo Price
“S.O.B.,” Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

Instrumentalist of the Year

Cindy Cashdollar
Stuart Duncan
Jedd Hughes
Sara Watkins -- WINNER

Lifetime Achievement Awards

Spirit of Americana / Free Speech in Music Award: Billy Bragg
Lifetime Achievement Award, Trailblazer: Shawn Colvin
Lifetime Achievement Award, Songwriting: William Bell
Lifetime Achievement Award, Performance: Bob Weir
Lifetime Achievement Award, WagonMaster: Jim Lauderdale
President's Award: Woody Guthrie

Americana, Alt-Country and Folk Artists to Watch in 2016