The accolades were distributed widely and evenly at the 29th International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, as a range of artists won the major categories in Raleigh, NC on Thursday night. North Carolina quintet Balsam Range was named Entertainer of the Year. It was their second, having won in 2014.
The vocal group of the year, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, had won that prize eight times prior, while the Travelin’ McCourys took their first-ever Instrumental Group of the Year prize.
Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers was the band behind the Song of the Year. “If I’d Have Wrote That Song” was in fact written by Larry Cordle, Larry Shell and James Silvers. A few minutes after that award was presented, huge audience sentiment bolstered Special Consensus as the Chicago-based band won its first ever Album of the Year prize for Rivers & Roads, which was produced by Nashville’s Alison Brown for Compass Records. By also winning Instrumental Recorded Performance, Special Consensus became one of the night’s few multi-category winners. “This is the best birthday I ever had,” said Cahill from the stage, the band’s founding leader.
Receiving the Entertainer of the Year prize at the close of a nearly three-and-a-half hour show, Balsam Range’s lead singer Buddy Melton said, “It’s been quite a ride and I love these guys like brothers.” Earlier in the evening, Melton had been granted the top male vocalist award, while Brooke Aldridge of the married duo Darin and Brooke Aldridge won her second consecutive Female Vocalist of the Year award.
The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, one of the most talked about bands at IBMA in general, were named Emerging Artist of the Year in a crowded, six-nominee field. They’re a young but old-school band that wears suits and cowboy hats in the manner of early bluegrass stars like Flatt & Scruggs. “Our dreams are coming true,” said CJ Lewandowski, noting all the new members of their professional team, from management to label. “It’s unbelievable to play the music that we love, and you love us back,” he said.
Molly Tuttle, one of the most decorated young musicians in roots music generally in the past year, won her second straight Guitar Player of the Year award after becoming the first woman to do so in 2017. And there were several important first time winners, with Ned Luberecki winning the banjo prize and crowd favorite Justin Moses. He’s the young husband of Sierra Hull, who won her third mandolin player of year award on Thursday. “I think people voted for me just to get me to speak in public,” the soft-spoken Moses said to laughs. He’s recently joined veteran band Blue Highway and is a admired multi-instrumentalist as well. Michael Cleveland won his eleventh Fiddle Player of the Year Award. Balsam Range’s Tim Surrett was named Bass Player of the Year for the second time.
Bluegrass Hall of Fame inductions are always an electrifying part of the IBMA Awards, but this year’s inductees are especially beloved and respected. Ricky Skaggs evolved form a young Stanley Brothers acolyte through work with Emmylou Harris, a gigantic country music career and back to bluegrass in the 1990s with an evangelical fervor. Marty Stuart inducted the mandolinist, singer, songwriter and producer saying “he’s become a universal touchstone to our kind of music.” Skaggs will soon be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame as well. “It’s the music of my youth, the foundation stones of everything I’ve ever recorded,” Skaggs said of bluegrass.
Tom T. and Dixie Hall became the only married couple to ever be inducted to the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, which opens a new home museum in Owensboro, KY in mid October. Hall was raised in Kentucky and came to Nashville to write songs in 1964. While he was becoming a hit writer and a recording star in his own right, he met English journalist and songwriter Iris Dixie Dean, and they were married in 1968. Their bluegrass songwriting partnership was a later life affair, based around their home studio in Franklin. Besides contributing songs to dozens of artists, they mentored numerous musicians.
“I started trying to play and sing this music when I was 9 years old in the hills of Virginia never thinking anything like this would come my way,” said beloved songwriter, singer and mandolinist Paul Williams upon his induction. As a member of Jimmy Martin’s band, Williams became a renowned singer in secular and gospel music while contributing dozens of songs to the repertoire including the classic “Hold Whatcha Got.”
Performers Thursday night included Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, Special Consensus, Molly Tuttle, Becky Buller, The Gibson Brothers, I’m With Her, the Del McCoury Band and Balsam Range. The iconic 40 year band Hot Rize hosted the show at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, giving Nick Forster, Pete Wernick, Tim O’Brien and Bryan Sutton turns at the podium. The band was the first to win the IBMA Entertainer of the Year award in 1990.
The show closed with the new super-group The First Ladies of Bluegrass singing the nominated song “Swept Away,” with Missy Raines on lead vocal. Then a suite of musicians joined them for a rousing finale on the fiddle tune “Sally Ann.” Among them: Hot Rize, Greg Cahill, Michael Cleveland and Jason Carter.
A full list of winners follows:
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR:
VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR:
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver (this is the band’s 8thwin in this category, with the last win in 2007)
INSTRUMENTAL GROUP OF THE YEAR:
The Travelin’ McCourys (the band’s first award, although members of the band have won many awards individually)
SONG OF THE YEAR:
“If I’d Have Wrote That Song”– Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers (artist), Larry Cordle/Larry Shell/James Silvers (writers) (the band’s first award in this category)
ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
Rivers & Roads– Special Consensus (artist), Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records (label) (the band’s first win in this category)
GOSPEL RECORDED PERFORMANCE OF A YEAR:
“Speakin’ to That Mountain”– Becky Buller (artist), Becky Buller/Jeff Hyde (writers), Crepe Paper Heart(album), Stephen Mougin (producer), Dark Shadow Recording (label)
INSTRUMENTAL RECORDED PERFORMANCE:
“Squirrel Hunters”– Special Consensus with John Hartford, Rachel Baiman, Christian Sedelmyer, and Alison Brown(artist), Traditional arranged by Alison Brown/Special Consensus (writers), Rivers & Roads(album), Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records (label)
EMERGING ARTIST OF THE YEAR:
The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys
RECORDED EVENT OF THE YEAR:
“Swept Away”– Missy Raines with Alison Brown, Becky Buller, Sierra Hull, and Molly Tuttle(artists), single release, Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records (label)
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR:
Brooke Aldridge(her second win in this category, previously in 2017)
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR:
Buddy Melton (his second win in this category, previously in 2014)
BANJO PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Ned Luberecki (his first win in this category)
BASS PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Tim Surrett (his second win in this category, previously in 2015)
DOBRO PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Justin Moses(his first win in this category)
FIDDLE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Michael Cleveland (his 11thwin in this category, previously in 2015)
GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Molly Tuttle (her second win in this category, previously in 2017)
MANDOLIN PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Sierra Hull(her third win in this category, previously 2016 and 2017)
Previously announced inductees into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame– Ricky Skaggs, Paul Williams, Tom T. and Dixie Hall– were honored at this evening’s show.
At the Special Awards Luncheon held earlier in the day, the recipients of the following awards were also announced:
BLUEGRASS BROADCASTER OF THE YEAR:
Steve Martin (Northern Kentucky-based host of “Steve Martin’s Unreal Bluegrass”)
BLUEGRASS EVENT OF THE YEAR:
Bluegrass on the Green– Frankfort, IL
BEST LINER NOTES FOR A RECORDED PROJECT (tie):
Craig Havighurst – The Story We Tellby Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers
Peter Wernick – Carter Stanley’s Eyesby Peter Rowan
BEST GRAPHIC DESIGN FOR A RECORDED PROJECT:
A Heart Never Knowsby The Price Sisters
BLUEGRASS PRINT/MEDIA PERSON OF THE YEAR:
BLUEGRASS SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR:
SOUND ENGINEER OF THE YEAR (first year presented):