It was destined to be a bittersweet evening.
The 23rd Annual International Bluegrass Music Awards, held last night (9/27) at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium will be the final one in Music City before the Conference and Awards move east to Raleigh in 2013. On top of that, the past year has dealt the bluegrass community some tough blows with the losses of bluegrass icons Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson.
So it was destined to be bittersweet, but it was also a time to celebrate and bring joyful sounds to life.
The opening number featured Del McCoury, Laurie Lewis, J.D. Crowe, Bobby Hicks, Jerry McCoury, and Bobby Osborne in a roof-raising all-star collaboration. Lewis and McCoury stayed on stage to serve as the evening’s hosts.
“Thank you, and welcome to the, uh, I didn’t bring my glasses, folks,” said McCoury as he tried to read the prompter. No worries, Lewis was there to back him up until he was seeing clearly.
Lewis also acknowledged the upcoming move of the Awards and surrounding World of Bluegrass Week, saying there was excitement but compared hosting the IBMA Awards at the Ryman to “holding the Gospel Music Awards in Heaven.” After all, the Ryman stage did play an integral role in the growth and nurturing of the musical form.
As one might expect, that stage had some fantastic performances. Highlights included The Gibson Brothers’ “We Called It Music,” with some lickety-split mandolin work; newcomers Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen turning in a cool, moody interpretation of The Box Tops’ (or Joe Cocker’s, if you prefer) “The Letter”; and perhaps most memorable of all, Dailey & Vincent’s heart-stopping gospel quartet a capella rendition of “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” The performance was so stirring, it induced wild cheers by the second verse and left audience members collecting their jaws off the floor. That’s how you do the Mother Church proud.
Other performers included nominees Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out, Dale Ann Bradley (with her “Somewhere South of Crazy” co-writer Pam Tillis), Special Consensus (with Josh Williams, Chris Jones and Sam Bush), The Boxcars, Blue Highway, and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver (on Lee Greenwood’s “Dixie Home”).
Lest you think I’ve forgotten, there were also awards. (The full list appears below).
The coveted Entertainer of the Year prize went home with The Gibson Brothers, who also also picked up the award for Gospel Recorded Performance for “Singing As We Rise,” which they recorded with Ricky Skaggs.
Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice also came up big, picking up awards for Song of the Year for “A Far Cry From Lester & Earl” and Album of the Year for Heart of a Song. “I’ve had speeches made up for years,” said an emotional Sisk, “and I’ve had to can them for a long time. This time it’s for real.”
Vocal Group of the Year went to Blue Highway, and its member Rob Ickes earned the Dobro player honor. Multiple nominee Russell Moore picked up the Male Vocalist of the Year award, Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers earned the Emerging Artist Award, and Dale Ann Bradley took home the Female Vocalist Award.
“The Lord gave us this particular genre because the songs are so heartfelt and true to life,” said Dale Ann.
Lonesome River Band’s “Angeline the Baker” won the Recorded Instrumental Performance Award and, rather conveniently, LRB banjo player Sammy Shelor was already onstage presenting the award.
Best Instrumental Group went to the Boxcars and then its member Adam Steffey nabbed the Mandolin Player Award. “I don’t consider myself the best at anything but I love this music and I consider it an honor to get up and play for y’all every night,” said Steffey.
Doyle Lawson and the late entrepreneur Ralph Rinzler were the 2012 Bluegrass Hall of Fame inductees.
Broadcaster Eddie Stubbs introduced Lawson, pointing out how at age 5 the artist heard Bill Monroe play bluegrass on the Ryman Stage during WSM’s broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry, and would now enter the Hall of Fame on the very same stage and radio station.
Clad in his signature sparkling scorpion-emblazoned jacket, Lawson rhapsodized about how bluegrass music had allowed him to play in every state in the country and 49 foreign countries as well.
“Because they’re putting me in the Hall of Fame, that don’t mean I’m done,” said Lawson. “I’ve got a lot of fuel left in my tank.”
The evening concluded with a spectacular tribute to the late, great Earl Scruggs. A visibly choked up Steve Martin hailed the banjo master as an inspiration to all banjo players. “Before Earl Scruggs, no one played like him. After him, everyone played banjo like him. Or at least they tried,” said Martin.
The tribute performance featured an ensemble cast of over 30 banjo players onstage. Everyone was there: Martin, Kristin Scott Benson, J.D. Crowe, Alison Brown, Sam Bush, Sammy Shelor, Chris Pandolfi, Sleepy Man Banjo Boys (with 10-year-old banjo wiz Johnny Mizzone), and many more. Del McCoury led the entire gang through a rousing version of Scruggs “Little Girl of Mine in Tennessee” to close out the evening.
From us folks in Nashville, farewell Earl, Doc, and the Bluegrass Awards. We’ll miss you.
The 2012 International Bluegrass Awards
Bluegrass Hall of Fame Inductees: Doyle Lawson, Ralph Rinzler
Distinguished Achievement Award Recipients: Byron Berline, Joe & Lil Cornett, Orin Friesen, Pee Wee Lambert, Kitsy Kuykendall
Entertainer of the Year: The Gibson Brothers
Vocal Group of the Year: Blue Highway
Instrumental Group of the Year: The Boxcars
Emerging Artists of the Year: Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers
Male Vocalist of the Year: Russell Moore
Female Vocalist of the Year: Dale Ann Bradley
Song of the Year: “A Far Cry From Lester & Earl” Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice
Album of the Year: Heart Of A Song, Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice
Gospel Recorded Event of the Year: “Singing As We Rise” by the Gibson Brothers w/Ricky Skaggs
Instrumental Performance of the Year: “Angeline The Baker” by Lonesome River Band
Recorded Event of the Year: “Life Goes On”
Banjo Player of the Year: Sammy Shelor
Bass Player of the Year: Marshall Wilborn
Fiddle Player of the Year: Stuart Duncan
Dobro Player of the Year: Rob Ickes (dedicated to Mike Auldridge)
Guitar Player of the Year: Doc Watson
Mandolinist of the Year: Adam Steffey
Broadcaster of the Year: Kyle Cantrell
Bluegrass Event of the Year: ROMP,produced by the International Bluegrass Music Museum; Owensboro, KY
Print Media Person of the Year: Marty Godbey, author of Crowe on the Banjo: The Music Life of J.D. Crowe (Univ. of Illinois Press)
Best Graphic Design: Bedrock Manufacturing (designer) for Nobody Knows You, by the Steep Canyon Rangers (Rounder Records)
Best Liner Notes: Marian Leighton Levy (liner notes), for Tony Rice: The Bill Monroe Collection, by Tony Rice (Rounder Records)
Bluegrass Songwriter of the Year: Jon Weisberger
Earlier in the week, IBMA’s new Momentum Awards, designed to recognize promising new talent, were presented. This year’s recipients are:
Band of the Year: Monroeville
Vocalist of the Year: Emily Bankester (performs with The Bankesters)
Instrumentalists of the Year: bassist Samson Grisman (son of legendary mandolinist David “Dawg” Grisman, performs with The Deadly Gentlemen), fiddler Alex Hargreaves (performs with Sarah Jarosz), and fiddler Christian Ward (performs with Sierra Hull)
Event/Venue of the Year: Appalachian Uprising, produced by Steve Cielic (new festival in Scottown, Ohio)
Industry Achievement: Crash Avenue publicist Emilee Warner
Mentor of the Year: Five-time IBMA Bass Player of the Year and producer Mike Bub