On October 2, 2014 the International Bluegrass Music Association gathered in Raleigh, NC to fete their royalty and industry stalwarts at their annual awards show.
The IBMA's professional membership has spoken and it is apparent that changes are a-comin'. No fewer than seven individuals and bands took big steps forward, receiving either multiple awards for the first time, or being heralded as among the industry's finest for the first time.
I watched the stream of the ceremony, and throughout the evening posted my reactions as the show unfolded. I'm gathering my thoughts here at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, with minimal editing. Warning: Select comments are snarky, and may not represent the editorial position of either Country Standard Time or even myself upon sober (not the non-alcohol type) reflection.
Post 1: (Before the evening ceremony started...)
With the live broadcast of bluegrass music's annual celebration of greatness set to begin, the first set of 2014 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards were given out earlier today at a luncheon.
The Special Award winners were:
Bluegrass Broadcaster of the Year - Kyle Cantrell, Bluegrass Junction, Sirius XM- which is just disappointing as there are others who do a superior job of bluegrass broadcasting, including Alberta's own Steve Fisher who was a surprise nominee. I can't think of anything good to say about Cantrell's broadcasting style which strikes me as over-the-top, self-indulgent, and frankly unprepared, but he has reach and influence. Others will disagree, but I really can't stand to listen to him.
Bluegrass Event of the Year - Bluegrass Underground- I don't know what this is.
Best Graphic Design for a Recorded Project - Lou Everhart (designer), "Lonely Comes Easy," Chris Jones & The Night Drivers, Rebel Records- No argument; a good-looking package.
Best Liner Notes for a Recorded Project - Neil V Rosenberg, "Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe,Noam Pikelny," Compass Records- can't argue with this one either.
Bluegrass Print/Media Person of the Year - Chris Jones, writer at Bluegrass Today- Possibly the most humourous writer in bluegrass, Jones backs up his keen wit with self-deprecation and no small amount of keen insight into the foibles of the bluegrass world. That he lives in Alberta most of the year is a bonus, giving some of us hope. Not much, mind you...
Bluegrass Songwriter of the Year - Tim Stafford- well-deserved, I would suggest.
If the internet connection holds and nothing goes south, I'll be blogging about the awards all night.
Blogging, I am so 2008!
Post 2: And, the lights come up. And the opening act are bluegrass musicians accompanied by cloggers.
Wow! Could the clogging go on any longer?
Post 3: Seriously, enough with the clogging!
Thirty minutes later...
Post 4: The hosts have hit the stage, Jerry Douglas and Lee Ann Womack, who has a deep bluegrass pedigree.
Yes, indeed- bluegrass must continue to evolve, as Jerry Douglas states. From a distance of 40+ years, it is hard to imagine that The Seldom Scene were edgy in their day. The Boxcars are the evening's first performers, and it is great to hear Adam Steffey singing.
My stream is obviously lagging as the message board says Balsam Range has already won an award...sigh. I hate being behind!
VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR (my pre-broadcast pick for each award will appear in italics)
Balsam Range Blue Highway Dailey & Vincent The Gibson Brothers Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
I think Balsam Range is poised to continue their ascension to the highest reaches of the bluegrass world. Of course, this award should go to AKUS and John Reischman & the Jaybirds in an annual rotation, but the voters saw things differently.
And, slightly delayed- the award goes to Balsam Range, and I have no problem with that- a band that has done a lot the last few years.
DOBRO PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jerry Douglas Andy Hall Rob Ickes Randy Kohrs Phil Leadbetter
Phil Leadbetter has been doing yeoman's service in all sorts of configurations, most notably anchoring Dale Ann Bradley's band. When I caught them last October, he again impressed me with his tasteful contributions.
According to the delayed broadcast, Uncle Phil has won the award for the second time! Is there a more beloved fellow in bluegrass?
Post 5: I listened to Phil Leadbetter's new album last night, and it is a corker. His playing is just as good as ever, although it sounds like he may not yet quite think so. Good of him to thank Dale Ann Bradley and mention Mike Auldridge. I attended the IBMA Awards show only once and one of the highlights was seeing Phil awarded Dobro Player of the Year. A genuinely gentle man.
Claire Lynch performing. Nothing against her, but she isn't performing bluegrass. Very sleepy. I have enjoyed her music in the past, but not recently.
I am disappointed that the stream I am watching is delayed, but will continue to provide my 2 cents worth.
INSTRUMENTAL RECORDED PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR
"Five Miles to Milan" - The Grascals (artist), "When I Get My Pay" (album), Danny Roberts (writer), The Grascals (producer), Mountain Home "Graveyard Fields" - Steep Canyon Rangers (artist), "Tell The Ones I Love" (album), Mike Guggino (writer), Larry Campbell (producer), Rounder Records "Johnny Don't Get Drunk" - Adam Steffey (artist), "New Primitive" (album), Public Domain, Adam Steffey (producer), Organic "Skillet Head Derailed" - The Boxcars (artist), "It's Just a Road" (album), Ron Stewart (writer), The Boxcars (producer), Mountain Home "Thank God I'm A Country Boy"- Special Consensus with Buddy Spicher, Michael Cleveland and Alison Brown (artists), "Country Boy: A Bluegrass Tribute to John Denver" (album), John Martin Sommers (wrtier), Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records
I don't believe "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" has a chance, but I still picked it because I think the album from which it is culled was overlooked in the Album of the Year category. I liked this category when albums could be awarded the prize; I think it was more meaningful rather than just recognizing the 'token' instrumental from five different albums.
And the award goes to...The Special C "Thank God, I'm A Country Boy." I am shocked, but pleasantly so. Greg Cahill's first IBMA Award. I am now 3 for 3!
BASS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Barry Bales Mike Bub Missy Raines Mark Schatz Darrin Vincent
Barry Bales, because AKUS needs to win something. And, he is more than solid; I love his sound.
And the award goes to...I need to leave now and get to the gas station to buy a lottery ticket. Barry Bales. 4/4, which is starting to scare me.
Post 6: Missed mentioning that I still think Trisha Gagnon is criminally overlooked as a bass player, but The Jaybirds are used to being ignored by the IBMA.
The Gibson Brothers performing an Everly Brothers song. Good to hear Jesse Brock, who was a member of the first US band the Waskasoo Bluegrass Music Society brought to Red Deer, the Lynn Morris Band. He also came through with Michael Cleveland, and maybe one other group...but I could be confusing myself.
I think I am now on the live stream, which is good. Still can't believe I called the first four awards. Jerry Douglas: pretty deadpan in some of his comments.
BANJO PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jens Kruger Mike Munford Noam Pikelny Sammy Shelor Ron Stewart
I still claim Mike Munford won last year because many voters thought he had something to do with Mumford & Sons. How else to explain his quick rise in a world that moves slower than an episode of True Detective? Still, he is a heck of a player. Noam Pikelny, for my money, did the hardest work in producing the "Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe" album.
At least that is the award I am assuming Bela and Tony are presenting. Man, good thing they can play banjo 'cause they sing about as well as me! (If you missed it, you didn't.)
Male Vocalist is what they are actually presenting! Change pages quickly.
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR
Del McCoury Buddy Melton Tim O'Brien Frank Solivan Dan Tyminski
I don't know if I've always said this, but Del could win this one just about any year. Still, Jim Nunally remains criminally overlooked. I wonder how close the votes will be- I could see a 25-20-20-20 15 kinda breakdown. All deserving of recognition, and there are some fresher voices here.
I'm finally wrong! Surprised that Buddy Melton won Male Vocalist, but not overly. Balsam Range is breaking out tonight. Nice acceptance speech, Buddy.
Now, the Banjo award...see above for my thoughts. Again, The Jaybirds' Nick Hornbuckle should someday receive space on the ballot. I'd have no prob with any of them winning...and Noam Pikelny does. I am now five for six. A well-deserved win for someone who made a challenging and truly bluegrass album this year. Nice speech, too.
Post 7: Lee Ann Womack performing with the largest bluegrass outfit this side of Kentucky Thunder. I'm having trouble hearing her voice in this mix, or maybe she is just singing very softly. Some high-priced talent up there with her- a couple Rambling Rooks, even.
Murphy Henry and Bill Evans tipping the hat to bluegrass music teachers.
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR
Dale Ann Bradley Alison Krauss Claire Lynch Amanda Smith Rhonda Vincent
As long as she's singing, Dale Ann will get my vote. When I see Claire Lynch's name, I always pause because I don't find her interpretation of swing-infused bluegrass terribly interesting. AK, RV, and Amanda are all stellar, but so are Laurie Lewis, Kathy Kallick, Trisha Gagnon, and a range of other vocalists.
Nice to hear Amanda Smith to get a big round as her nomination was announced.
And the winner is...I am shocked that Amanda Smith won! I didn't anticipate that, but man- a long time coming. Surely no one can complain about this award! I spoke to her just for a few minutes at Blueberry, and I couldn't be happier for her. See, I'm not a total jerk!
GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Tony Rice James Alan Shelton Kenny Smith Tim Stafford Bryan Sutton
Actually surprised to see Tim Stafford's name here, pleasantly so. All are great players, and while it may seem sentimental to be pulling for James Alan Shelton, the work he did for so many years with Ralph Stanley (and on his own albums) deserves recognition this time out.
Bryan Sutton wins. Again. For the eighth time. Still, a lovely bluegrass moment as his emotions get the best of him.
Nice to hear and watch the Noam Pikelny album band.
Post 8: EMERGING ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Detour Flatt Lonesome The Spinney Brothers Town Mountain Volume Five
In all fairness, The Spinney Brothers have been emerging for some twenty years, so they are out. Flatt Lonesome took a huge step with their second album, so they deserve consideration, but they are a bit too clean for my tastes. I'm going with Town Mountain simply because I believe they are the strongest, and have the most depth and best songs, of these five groups.
Well, my batting percentage has dropped considerably over the past half hour. I'm guessing Flatt Lonesome is going to take this one, now, rather than Town Mountain- Town Mountain is just a tad dirty for the IBMA... I was right. See, make enough guesses and you'll be right. I just got the feeling- seeing the band in the audience- that they were poised to win. A near meaningless award, I think, except to the winners.
MANDOLIN PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Sam Bush Sierra Hull Frank Solivan Adam Steffey Chris Thile
John Reischman. John Reischman. John Reischman.
See, it isn't that hard to spell. Now, next year- get him on your ballot, please.
There is usually at least one 'new' name awarded each year, and I'm going to go with Solivan this time out. The buzz seems right.
Jason Carter tells the Ronnie McCoury-Bill Monroe IBMA award story, and then is upped by his co-presenter, whose name I missed.
Nothing- absolutely nothing- wrong with Adam Steffey winning, but I did think either Solivan or Hull might sneak in this time. Five years in a row for Steffey, eleventh overall. Bluegrass acceptance speeches are usually so classy and heartfelt. Natch. With a good closer from Adam, directed toward Sam Bush.
Post 9: Della Mae performing now. Their album of last year didn't grab me the way it should have; I'll need to go back and give it another chance. Nothing wrong with this song. The evening seems to be moving along, only one instrument award left, but several of the higher profile awards to go.
Is it just me, or does the IBMA Awards broadcast have good commercials. Love the theme, too.
Lee Ann and writers- not the right time for a stunt as JD was beginning to introduce a Hall of Fame induction.
Induction of Dr. Neil Rosenberg into the Hall of Fame. My stream has just bit the dust and has recycled to the start of the bit...for the third time. Pretty sure I should have switched to Chrome.
Here we go- Fred Bartenstein and Gary Reid up to do the honours. Well deserved to our friend from Newfoundland. I've learned more from reading his articles, liner notes, box set companions, and books than I have from any other source. I just hope he had his facts right!
I really like that Neil mentioned the importance of Mr. Monroe, who sometimes is treated lightly these days- mostly stories told that put him in (alternately) a slightly negative, curmudgeon, or precious light.
The Spinney Brothers performing in honour of Neil, with triple fiddle support from Ron, Jason, and Michael. Good song, "I Got All that From Bill." Don't think I've heard that one before.
RECORDED EVENT OF THE YEAR
"American Pickers"- The Grascals with Dierks Bentley (artists), The Grascals (producer), Mountain Home "Keepin' It Between the Lines (Old School)" - Peter Rowan with Bobby Osborne, Jesse McReynolds, Ronnie McCoury and Del McCoury (artists), Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records "Martha White, Lester & Earl" - Terry Baucom with Marty Raybon & Buddy Melton (artists), Terry and Cindy Baucom (producers), John Boy and Billy Records "Wild Montana Skies" - Special Consensus with Claire Lynch & Rob Ickes (artists), Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records "Wild Mountain Honey" - Junior Sisk and Joe Mullins (artists), Junior Sisk and Joe Mullins (producers) Rebel Records
Let's take these one at a time.
"American Pickers," likely the most awkward and contrived bluegrass song of the year.
"Keepin' It Between the Lines" was eligible last year, as was the album from which it was culled; I really like the song and performance, but it is (literally) so last year.
"Wild Montana Skies" is a really good recording, from a terrific album.
It seems silly that any one song from the Sisk & Mullins Hall of Fame album was singled out over any other. Still, "Wild Mountain Honey" is a gooder.
The Terry Baucom album is terrific, underheard most likely, and the song "Martha White, Lester, & Earl" got significant airplay- and I don't have the stats to back me up, so I'm going by memory- for the past year; it falls off the airplay charts, and then reappears!
As in the Instrumental category, I would like to see albums competing here, as it used to be, not 'one-off' songs. So, who wins? Just realized that the Grascals are near absent this year. I'd love to see Special C get another award!
Wow! 2 awards for Greg Cahill and Special Consensus...and it only took 25 years! Just to be clear, I know Claire Lynch can sing. And I know she can sing bluegrass. It just is...she doesn't sing bluegrass most of the time. Nice to see the John Denver tribute album receive two awards tonight. And especially great that Greg Cahill and the band be recognized; he has done so much for bluegrass, much of it behind the scenes. Unlike some, he never trumpets his own efforts.
And kudos to the producers of the show for allowing all the band members a chance to speak.
FIDDLE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jason Carter Michael Cleveland Stuart Duncan Bobby Hicks Ron Stewart Greg Spatz
Okay, Spatz wasn't nominated, but maybe someday.
Michael Cleveland has won this nine times of the past 13 years, but not in the last two. That he produced a terrific album this year, and is a band leader, also goes in his favour. Still, Ron Stewart is a consistent bluegrass presence, as is Carter.
Jason Carter take the award, for the second time in a row, fifth overall. Hard to argue as he played so well on my choice for Album of the Year. Nice to hear him say he listens to a lot of bluegrass music at home; fairly common for performers to site other music as their 'favourite.'
Post 10: Thanks to everyone who is stopping by Fervor Coulee for a visit tonight; I see the user numbers climbing. When I first blogged about the IBMA Awards five or so years back, I don't think it was streaming anywhere and you could only hear the broadcast via Sirius XM. Hundreds followed along as social media like Twitter twernt around to deliver the news immediately. Many choices now.
I think the live broadcast this year has been pretty good, my streaming problems aside. I don't want to risk refreshing for fear of losing my space in the queue. Okay, risked it...and all is good, but I think I'm still several minutes behind.
The Seldom Scene now being inducted into the Hall of Fame by Katy Daly and Chris Eldridge. A well-written, beautifully presented induction speech from Chris. I'm not sure if I agree that only the 'original' line-up of the Seldom Scene is being inducted. Well-deserved obviously, but...The Seldom Scene continues and has been going 'forever.' I would be comfortable with all the long-time members' names being on the plaque. Still upset I missed my chance to meet Tom Gray when he was playing with Emmylou in Calgary about six or seven years ago.
Once again, the IBMA waits too long with Mike Auldridge's passing last year. Good to hear all the Seldom Scene members together, performing their signature song "Wait a Minute." (You know you've heard a song too many times when you can accurately guess the song just by listening to the band tune!) An excellent performance, in my opinion. The voices are magic. That were special! Lou Reid!
I'm a few seconds behind still, I think. O well. In memorial, now. Just reading the names, not all of whom were bluegrassers certainly. Would have been nice to see pictures of some of the departed. More important to remember them.
Joe Mullins and Dale Ann Bradley up to present:
GOSPEL RECORDED PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR
"Love Does" - Darin and Brooke Aldridge (artist), Flying (album), Jamie Johnson, Suzanne M. Johnson and Jenee Fleenor (writers), Darin and Brooke Aldridge (producers), Organic Record "The Day We Learn to Fly" - Volume Five (artist), The Day We Learn To Fly (album), Stacy Richardson and Leroy Drumm (writers), Volume Five (producers), Mountain Fever "Wait A Little Longer Please Jesus" - Donna Ulisse (artist), I Am a Child of God (album), Hazel Marie Houser (writer), Bryan Sutton and Donna Ulisse (producers), Hadley Music Group "When Sorrows Encompass Me Around" - The Boxcars (artist), It's Just A Road (album), Paul Edgar Johnson (writer), The Boxcars (producer), Mountain Home "Won't It Be Wonderful There" - Dailey & Vincent (artist), Brothers of the Highway (album), Mildred Styles Johnson (writer), Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent (producers), Rounder Records
Throw a dart...is my commentary. I don't 'like' the heavy southern gospel influence that Dailey & Vincent bring to some of their recordings, but others obviously disagree.
SONG OF THE YEAR
"Dear Sister" - Claire Lynch (artist), Claire Lynch and Louisa Branscomb (writers) "Grandpa's Way of Life" - The Spinney Brothers (artist), Mark 'Brink' Brinkman (writer) "It's Just a Road" - The Boxcars (artist), William Keith Garrett (writer) "The Game" - Blue Highway (artist), Shawn Lane and Barry Bales (writers) "You Took All The Ramblin' Out of Me" - The Boxcars (artist), Jerry Hubbard (writer)
My favourite songs usually don't make it to the ballot, and this year is no exception. These are good songs maybe, but I like the nostalgic washes "Grandpa's Way of Life" evokes. Also, it is the only song of the five I can hum.
Turns out, folks like that Claire Lynch song. I don't get it.
Post 11: The Del McCoury Band performs, bringing the show back to bluegrass! "Big Blue Raindrops." Three awards to go. I've predicted six of the winners...which is pretty good, but I've been whiffing of late.
INSTRUMENTAL GROUP OF THE YEAR
Balsam Range Blue Highway The Boxcars The Del McCoury Band Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
I think Balsam Range is going to win another one. Of course, this award should go to AKUS and John Reischman & the Jaybirds in an annual rotation, but the voters saw things differently. Yes, I made the same comment for the Vocal Group award; I was right then, too. Wouldn't be upset if DMB won.
Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen is called. Please recall, I did suggest Frank Solivan might sneak in at the mando award. I just picked the wrong award. Another surprise, but hard to argue with- a good band. I am a bit surprised that a band that is marginally 'highbrow' won such a significant award. May be a sign the bluegrass world is changing, again. Or, perhaps that it isn't as closed minded as I think it is.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
"Hall of Fame Bluegrass" - Junior Sisk and Joe Mullins (artist), Junior Sisk and Joe Mullins (producers), Rebel Records "It's Just A Road" - The Boxcars (artist), The Boxcars (producer), Mountain Home "Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe" - Noam Pikelny (artist) Gabe Witcher (producer), Compass Records "Streets of Baltimore" - The Del McCoury Band (artist), Del McCoury (producer), McCoury Music "The Game" - Blue Highway (artist), Blue Highway (producer), Rounder Records
Worthy noms each, but of these five, "Streets of Baltimore" is the one I have listened to most consistently, and really, the only one I've listened to in the past few months. "Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe" was a very significant recording, and very enjoyable despite the 'hard lifting' its creation entailed, so I'd be okay with that, too.
And, the award goes to...the one with the hat! I think I might have called this one before "Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe" was even released, but since I was likely talking to myself in the Fervor Coulee pickup, I don't think it really counts. It had that X factor that gave it an edge. A great recording.
With Balsam Range now performing, if anyone wonders why Buddy Melton is the Male Vocalist of the Year, give a listen.
Post 12: For the evening's final award:
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR
Balsam Range Blue Highway Dailey & Vincent The Gibson Brothers The Del McCoury Band
I haven't seen a whole lot of live bluegrass during the past two years, so I'm going on past experience and 'word-of'mouth' in naming The Gibson Brothers as most deserving of this award. Without doubt, the nominated groups have large fanbases and are enthusiastically received most everywhere they go. I've considered the Del McCoury Band the pinnacle of bluegrass performance of a couple decades, but the Gibsons are just a wee bit fresher in my mind, a touch more relaxed than BH, and, having heard a couple live shows, they've never made me cringe or hang my head as D&V almost always do.
I wrote the above before tonight's broadcast, and have to wonder if Balsam Range isn't going to sneak in and dethrone the Gibson Brothers this time. This award tends to go to performers in spurts- the last two times to the Gibsons, three times to Dailey & Vincent, a couple times in a row to The Grascals, and a bunch of times to Del and 'Em. The Gibsons may have 'one' more in them, but...with a few weeks hindsight and considering what else has happened tonight, wouldn't be surprised if Balsam Range gets it.
And. Balsam Range is the IBMA Entertainer of the Year, 2014. Hopefully, Blueberry Bluegrass booked them for next year 'cause the price is rising, I'm thinking. The evening did have a BR feel.
That is the show, except for the finale which I am simply going to enjoy: no idea what it will be, but it is usually special.
Thanks for visiting at Fervor Coulee tonight. Please come back, and consider following me at Twitter @FervorCoulee will find me. And thanks to Music City Roots for streaming the show; for those of us thousands of kilometres from the north.
No finale?? Seriously? The night just ends with a 'good night.'
Must have blown the budget on the cloggers!