While nominations for this year’s major annual awards continued to recycle longstanding industry stars, much of the energy at Wednesday’s International Bluegrass Music Association Awards nominations event was generated by a raft of bluegrass hall of fame inductees. Besides a bigger than usual class, IBMA spotlighted a new place to enshrine them, a new Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum opening this October in Owensboro, KY.
Country/bluegrass star Ricky Skaggs, songwriting vocalist Paul Williams and the songwriting couple of Tom T. and Dixie Hall were announced as this year’s new hall of famers. That followed on a special posthumous class revealed earlier this month as a nod to the new museum. They are: fiddler Vassar Clements, folk and old time musician/producer Mike Seeger, banjo innovator Allen Shelton, bass player Jake Tullock and Boston bluegrass pioneer Joe Val.
While the 2018 Entertainer of the Year nominees - Balsam Range, The Del McCoury Band, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, The Earls of Leicester and The Gibson Brothers - are all veterans who’ve been winning IBMA prizes since as far back as 1994, this year’s most abundantly nominated artists are younger stars, Becky Buller and Molly Tuttle, with six nods apiece.
Two duet tracks off Buller’s album Crepe Paper Heart, with Sam Bush and Rhonda Vincent respectively, were named in the Recorded Event of the Year category. Buller picked up a Song of the Year nomination and she repeated nominations in the categories she won in 2016 – Fiddle Player and Female Vocalist. Tuttle, who’s seen her profile rise enormously in the past year, repeated her nomination for Guitar Player (she won in 2017) but blazed new ground with nominations for Song of the Year (“You Never Call My Name”), Recorded Event, Female Vocalist, Album and Emerging Artist.
Besides Tuttle’s Rise, the Album nominees reflected a strong preference among member voters for tried-and-true traditional bluegrass music. They were Life is a Story by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Mayhayley’s House by the Lonesome River Band, Rivers & Roads by Special Consensus and The Story We Tell by Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers.
The Emerging Artist category, always the best chance for new blood to enter the IBMA award stream, shows stylistic range this year, with nominations for Molly Tuttle, fellow guitar picker and songwriter Billy Strings, female all-star band Sister Sadie, Boston band Mile Twelve, young but old-timey The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys and progressive western band Jeff Scroggins & Colorado. There were six nominees in the category due to a tie.
Other multiple nominees for 2018 include Darin & Brooke Aldridge, The Sam Bush Band, Michael Cleveland, The Gibson Brothers, Sierra Hull, The Infamous Stringdusters, Lonesome River Band, Mile Twelve, Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, Punch Brothers, Missy Raines, Sister Sadie and Rhonda Vincent.
The new Bluegrass Hall of Fame class revealed yesterday will be seen by many fans as ultra-qualified inevitabilities. Ricky Skaggs, named already this year to the Country Music Hall of Fame, built his foundation as a country star on his Kentucky bluegrass roots and then returned to become a leader of the music since the 1990s. Paul Williams is a renowned songwriter and gospel singer who spent a critical time with Jimmy Martin in an epic vocal trio that included J.D. Crowe. And Tom T. and Dixie Hall are one of Nashville’s great love stories, a Kentucky man and English woman who were major players in the country music industry in the 60s and 70s. Dixie picked up songwriting later in life and earned many cuts before her death in 2015.
Executive Director Chris Joslin was on hand to build anticipation for the new Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which officially opens with ceremonies the weekend of October 18-20. “We’re a cultural center. We’re a history museum. We’re a performance venue,” he said of the $15 million facility. “It’s a living breathing entity and it captures the energy and creativity around this great music that we all love.”
IBMA also announced Distinguished Achievement Awards for Nashville guitar dealer and stringed instrument authority George Gruhn, Nashville session player and Opry staff banjo man Curtis McPeake, veteran columnist Walter Saunders and mandolin superstar and radio host Chris Thile.
The IBMA Awards and official hall of fame inductions will be held in Raleigh, NC on Sept. 28.