Music promoter Pete Knapp says, "When referring to it as a genre, "Americana" can be best explained as an amalgam of roots music fused by the confluence of the shared and varied traditions that categorically make up the American musical ethos; specifically those sounds that are merged from folk, country, rhythm & blues, rock & roll and other external influential styles."
Americana is popularly referred to, especially in print, as "alt-country" or sometimes "alt.country". The genre is also referred to by many other names, including "insurgent country", "no depression", "rockabilly", "cowpunk", "progressive country", "regressive country", "roots rock", "twang core", "new americana", "cowpunk", "y'allternative", and many others. While some of these nomenclatures may seem derogatory or unintelligent, they capture the essence of what the New York Times considers "the coolest music scene today".

Americana, as defined by the Americana Music Association, is "American roots music based on the traditions of country. While the musical model can be traced back to the Elvis Presley marriage of 'hillbilly music' and R&B that birthed rock 'n roll, Americana as a radio format developed during the 1990's as a reaction to the highly polished sound that defined the mainstream music of that decade." Because of listener interest in the artists who do not fit as comfortably in the Country or Rock genres, a radio format called "Americana" has been developed by the Americana Music Association and reported by R&R. Born out of the "Triple A ", "Non-Commercial", "Country" and other varied formats, the Americana format is the sum of the parts that have showcased Americana music since its inception.

Some of the most significant artists in the genre are Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, Lucinda Williams, Uncle Tupelo, BR549, Soloman Burke, Mavis Staples, John Prine, Rodney Crowell, The Band, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Presley, Steve Earle, Alison Krauss, June Carter Cash, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Radney Foster, Wilco, Jay Farrar, The Jayhawks, Jim Lauderdale, The Derailers, Loretta Lynn, Ryan Adams, Kelly Willis, Son Volt, Patty Griffin, Marty Stuart, Jay Boy Adams, Joe Ely, The Subdudes, Gurf Morlix, Avett Brothers, Jimmy LaFave, Neil Young, Bobby Bare, Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez, The Greencards, Kathleen Edwards, Adrienne Young, Peter Case, Joan Osbourne, The Steel Wheels, Sarah Borges, Sunny Sweeney, Old Crow Medicine Show, Doug Spartz, Holmes Brothers, Whiskeytown, Gillian Welch, Alejandro Escovedo, Golden Smog, Kendel Carson, Freakwater, The Gourds, Lyle Lovett, Ricky Scaggs, Bruce Hornsby, Eilen Jewell, Bill Kirchen, Amy LaVere, Blue Mountain, Hoots & Hellmouth, The Handsome Family, Vic Chessnutt, Ted Russell Kamp, J.J. Cale, Avett Brothers, Uncle Earl, Bob Dylan, Buddy Miller, Cord Lund, V-Roys, Dale Watson, Ruthie Foster, Tangletown, Cheri Knight, Southern Culture on the Skids, Guy Clark, Hackensaw Boys, Mindy Smith, Porter Wagoner, Stoll Vaughan, Robbie Fulks, Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Derailers, and hundreds more.