Sister Sadie, an all-woman bluegrass super-group that’s been knocking on the door of major success for years, claimed the top prize at 31st annual International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, presented online Thursday evening. Besides being named Entertainers of the Year, the group took its second consecutive Vocal Group Of The Year award, while its fiddle player Deanie Richardson won her instrument category for the first time.
The Album of the Year went to Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver for a live recording from Prague, the first time a live album took the award since Alison Krauss and Union Station won the category in 2003. Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, a perennial trophy-taker, won in both the Instrumental Group and Instrumental Recording categories. The coveted New Artist prize went to Mile Twelve, a youthful Boston band that’s been praised by many of the industry’s veterans for its melding of songcraft with instrumental virtuosity.
The male and female vocalists of the year had both been crowned before. Brooke Aldridge of North Carolina won her fourth consecutive trophy, while traditional singer and band leader Danny Paisley won a second Male Vocalist Of The Year prize, having won before in 2016.
An audience of several thousand tuned in for an event usually held in the Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh, NC as part of a week-long World of Bluegrass celebration. Like other mass gatherings, it was called off and replaced with a virtual conference and talent showcase that’s been going on all week. The Covid crisis did allow producers to take advantage of an empty Ryman Auditorium as a location for performances and the anchor hosting by four different musicians: Sierra Hull, Rhonda Vincent, Joe Newberry and Tim O’Brien.
The location had extra resonance because the performance by Bill Monroe’s original Blue Grass Boys credited as the Big Bang of bluegrass music, took place on the Ryman stage 75 years ago, at the end of 1945. Performers playing the empty but hallowed hall Thursday night included the Del McCoury Band, Sister Sadie, Special Consensus, Doyle Lawson and Rob Ickes with Trey Hensley, joined from video distance by blues star Taj Mahal. Four Female Vocalists of the Year, Amanda Smith, Rhonda Vincent, Brooke Aldridge and Dale Ann Bradley sang “Down To The River To Pray” a cappella to mark another anniversary, 20 years since the release of the pivotal O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Other performances were taped and webcast from elsewhere, such as the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys from the Station Inn and Billy Strings from the InstrumentHead studio in East Nashville.
The awards show also marks the formal induction of new members of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, and this year’s inductees are particularly beloved. J.T. Gray was honored for his four decades of ownership and stewardship of the Station Inn, which guest presenter Vince Gill called “far more than a venue or a club. It’s a home.”
The Johnson Mountain Boys, a fiery traditional band that dominated the 1980s with magnificent vocals, were inducted by Ronnie McCoury. And country icon Garth Brooks inducted New Grass Revival, the band formed by Sam Bush in 1971 that catalyzed the modern, wide-open string band music scene that’s now called jamgrass or new grass, after the band’s name.
A full list of winners follows:
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: Sister Sadie
VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR: Sister Sadie
INSTRUMENTAL GROUP OF THE YEAR: Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper
SONG OF THE YEAR: “Chicago Barn Dance” - Special Consensus with Michael Cleveland & Becky Buller (artists), Becky Buller/Missy Raines/Alison Brown (writers), Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records (label)
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Live in Prague, Czech Republic – Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver (artist), Doyle Lawson and Rosta Capek (producers), Billy Blue Records (label)
GOSPEL RECORDING OF THE YEAR: “Gonna Rise and Shine” – Alan Bibey & Grasstowne (artist), Mark Hodges (producer), Mountain Fever Records (label)
INSTRUMENTAL RECORDING OF THE YEAR: “Tall Fiddler" – Michael Cleveland with Tommy Emmanuel (artists), Jeff White, Michael Cleveland, Sean Sullivan (producers), Compass Records (label)
NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Mile Twelve
COLLABORATIVE RECORDING OF THE YEAR: “The Barber’s Fiddle” – Becky Buller with Shawn Camp, Jason Carter, Laurie Lewis, Kati Penn, Sam Bush, Michael Cleveland, Johnny Warren, Stuart Duncan, Deanie Richardson, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, Jason Barie, Fred Carpenter, Tyler Andal, Nate Lee, Dan Boner, Brian Christianson, and Laura Orshaw (artists), Stephen Mougin (producer), Dark Shadow Recording (label)
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Brooke Aldridge
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Danny Paisley
BANJO PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Scott Vestal
BASS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Missy Raines
RESOPHONIC GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Justin Moses
FIDDLE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Deanie Richardson
GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jake Workman
MANDOLIN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Alan Bibey