We presented the International Folk Music Awards on May 18, 2022, at our conference in Kansas City, MO. We announced the winners of the 2021 Best Of Awards and celebrated the recipients of the 2022 Clearwater, Spirit of Folk, Rising Tide, People’s Voice, and Lifetime Achievement Awards!

If you missed it, the entire show was livestreamed here!

Best Of 2021 Winners

The following are the winners for the 2021 Artist, Album, and Song of the Year. This shortlist is based on US, Canadian, and international industry year-end lists as well as folk DJ airplay. Winners are determined by the voting membership of FAI and the results werE announced during the International Folk Music Awards on May 18 at the Folk Alliance International Conference.

Artist of the Year

Album of the Year

“Outside Child” – Allison Russell

Song of the Year

“Changemakers” by Crys Matthews

Clearwater Award Recipient (sponsored by Levitt Foundation)

The Clearwater Award is presented to a festival that prioritizes environmental stewardship and demonstrates public leadership in sustainable event production.

Planet Bluegrass

For over 30 years, Planet Bluegrass (producers of Telluride Bluegrass, Rockygrass Festivals, and Rocky MTN Folks Festival) has embraced a “Leave No Trace” ethic and demonstrated environmental leadership engaging in strategic community-level plans and programs to center the idea of stewardship. In 2018, after rigorous external review of its operations, Plant Bluegrass became a certified Public Benefit Corporation in 2018 — a legal entity recognized formally as committed to business practices that are sustainable and beneficial to society and the environment.

At each of its respective festivals, Planet Bluegrass incentivizes reuse over recycling. This includes a reusable plate program, annually monitoring and reporting on waste diversion of over 60% (twice that of the national average), employing solar power to offset over 10 tons of CO2 emissions annually, providing composting and compostable bottles, offering free filtered water on site, and donating leftover festival food to local community organizations

Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients

The Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Awards are presented each year to honor the cultural impact of legendary folk music figures: one Living, one Legacy, and one Business/Academic.


Flaco Jiménez is an accordionist from San Antonio, Texas, known for playing Norteño, Tex Mex, and Tejano music. Jiménez has been a solo performer and session musician as well as a member of the Texas Tornados and Los Super Seven. Over the course of his seven decade career, he has received numerous awards and honors, including Lifetime Achievement Awards from the GRAMMYs, Americana Music Awards, Tejano Music Awards, and Billboard magazine. He is featured in the film This Ain’t No Mouse Music, and Hohner has even released a Flaco Jiménez Signature series line of accordions. He has worked with Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, The Rolling Stones, and recorded on the number one Billboard Country song “Streets of Bakersfield” by Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens.


Nanci Griffith (1953 – 2021)
Born in Seguin, Texas, Nanci Griffith began performing in a local coffeehouse at age 12 and released her first album “There’s a Light Beyond These Woods” at age 25. Winner of the 1994 GRAMMY Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album for her cover album entitled “Other Voices, Other Rooms”, she affectionately called her style “folkabilly”. Her style was humble and poignant, perhaps best exemplified in her song “Love at the Five and Dime” and her interpretations of others’ work were intimate and reverent, including her version of Julie Gold’s “From a Distance.” Living in Nashville, Griffith recorded duets with many artists including John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Mary Black, Don McLean, Jimmy Buffett, Dolores Keane, Willie Nelson, and the Chieftains. She was inducted into Austin Music Hall of Fame in 1995, was awarded the 1995 Kate Wolf Memorial Award, the 2008 Americana Trailblazer Award, and the 2010 BBC Radio 2 Folk Lifetime Achievement Award.


Founded in 1979, Swallow Hill Music is a Denver-based nonprofit providing music education, outreach, programming, and concerts for more than 138,000 people annually. Focused on diverse music traditions on stage and in the classroom, the organizational values promote inclusiveness. Their school offers music education to all ages, in private lessons, workshops and camps, and group class formats. Swallow Hill also hosts open stages and jams open to members and non-members alike, and are designed to be a collaborative and educational experience for all participants. Community and school outreach programs have also been a central part of Swallow Hill’s activities, reaching well over 12,000 students in the Denver Metro area through assemblies, field trips, and in-school and after-school enrichment programs.

The People’s Voice Award Recipient

The People’s Voice Award is presented to an individual who unabashedly embraces social and political commentary in their creative work and public careers.

Jason Mraz

Jason Mraz is a multi-platinum GRAMMY Award-winning singer-songwriter known for his positivity and a consistent attention to conservation, human rights, and LGBTQIA+ issues.

A vegan “short supply-chain” organic farmer, Mraz is an investor in Café Gratitude and a supporter of Why Hunger, founded by the late folk singer Harry Chapin and radio DJ Bill Ayres. To raise awareness about the environment, he has visited Antarctica, endorsed The Nature Conservancy, and participated in Farm Aid. Mraz took part in a non-profit rescue mission in Ghana to liberate children sold into slavery, performed in Myanmar to raise awareness about human trafficking, and was present at Standing Rock.

His own foundation benefits multiple organizations addressing issues he is committed to, and in 2020, Mraz donated all profits from his “Look for the Good” album to Black Lives Matter and other groups working toward equality and justice.


Rising Tide Award Recipient

The Rising Tide Award was launched in 2021 to celebrate a new generation (under 30) artist who inspires others by embodying the values and ideals of the folk community through their creative work, community role, and public voice.

Mali Obomsawin

Mali is an award-winning Smithsonian Folkways Recordings artist from Odanak Wabanaki First Nation. She is a bassist, singer-songwriter, and composer who embraces multiple music traditions and has toured internationally as part of the band Lula Wiles. She is also a proud member of Welcome to Indian Country, an Indigenous performance production, and has worked with Red Sky Performances. Her latest project, Sweet Tooth, explores concepts of Indigenous identity, colonization, and resistance. Known for her sardonic songwriting, beyond the stage Mali is also a freelance journalist, penning insightful must-read articles for The Boston Globe, National Performance Network, and Smithsonian Folklife Magazine. She is a tireless advocate for Indigenous sovereignty and collective liberation, and works with the organizations Racial Equity and Justice as well as the Sunlight Media Collective. She is the founder and Executive Director of Bomazeen Land Trust, a Wabanaki-led nonprofit for land rematriation and food sovereignty. Mali is currently scoring and serving as musical supervisor for the upcoming film We Are The Warriors, addressing racist mascots and verbiage.

Spirit of Folk

These awards are presented to honor and celebrate people and organizations actively involved in the promotion and preservation of folk music through their creative work, community building, and demonstrated leadership.

Eugene Rodriguez

Eugene Rodriguez is an acclaimed musician, educator, and documentary producer who founded Los Cenzontles, both as a band and as a non-profit music academy and community space for Latinx artists, youth, and families in the San Francisco Bay area. He has produced over 30 recordings of Mexican roots music and cross-cultural projects and was nominated for a GRAMMY for the bilingual recording “Papa’s Dream”. He has produced three documentaries for the Cultures of Mexico in California series and conceived of the film project Linda and The Mockingbirds. He serves as a board member of the Arhoolie Foundation and has received numerous awards for his cultural and community service.

Lilli Lewis

Lilli Lewis is a composer, producer, and performing artist with three critically acclaimed releases on Louisiana Red Hot Records where she serves as VP and the Head of A&R. She conceived of and hosted the ongoing “Committing to Conservation” initiative to develop safe space for diversity within the folk community and spearheaded the “Country Soul Phone Book” as a developing directory of BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and disabled artists under served by the music industry. She co-produced the inaugural “Black Opry Fest”, an event designed to reclaim the legacy of Black artists in Americana, folk, and country music. She also co-wrote/produced and performed “Mask Up” as an anthem for a New Orleans-focused public health campaign.

Gaelynn Lea

Gaelynn Lea was the 2016 winner of the NPR Tiny Desk Contest and has since toured 45 states and nine countries, captivating audiences with haunting original songs and traditional fiddle tunes. A champion of disability rights and venue accessibility, she uses her music as a platform to advocate for disabled people, to engage and inform allies, and to promote positive social change. Gaelynn is the co-founder and Vice President of RAMPD – Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities, and is an in-demand speaker as featured on TEDx Talks, The Moth Radio Hour, PBS NewsHour, and On Being with Krista Tippett. She is currently creating original music for a Broadway production of Macbeth starring Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga.

Erin Benjamin

Erin Benjamin began her career as a singer-songwriter and label owner before becoming the inaugural Executive Director of Folk Music Ontario, establishing the organization’s conference as the national gathering of the Canadian folk music community. She went on to lead the Canadian Arts Presenting Association and currently serves as the President and CEO of the Canadian Live Music Association providing industry leadership, advocacy, and resources. She is the founder of the Ottawa Women in Music Industry group and led major community relief fundraising. She is an FAI Board alum and continues to serve multiple organizations including Unison Benevolent Fund, Ontario Creates, and the Ottawa Board of Trade. 

Amado Espinoza

Amado Espinoza is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and instrument maker from Cochabamba, Bolivia, who has called Kansas City home since 2014. Amado specializes in the Charango and Andean flutes, performs with multiple ensembles, and is the co-founder of Resonation Music and Arts, using educational programming to inspire curiosity and respect for world cultures through music, dance, and storytelling. He is a Charlotte Street Foundation Performing Arts Fellow, Lighton International Artist Exchange recipient, TedxKC presenter, and Adjunct Professor in the Graduate Student Theatre Department at UMKC.

Shain Shapiro

Shain Shapiro, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Sound Diplomacy. Focused on assessing the value of music, his work has influenced over 75 cities and countries to invest in music and culture and his co-founded Music Cities Convention has become the world’s largest convening of city planners, developers, policy makers, and music industry representatives. He is also the Managing Director of the Center for Music Ecosystems, a global non-profit. A writer, consultant, and speaker, his music advocacy work has influenced the UN, OECD, European Commission, and Greater London Authority.