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New Bluegrass Hall of Famers And A Familiar Slate of Awards Nominees From IBMA

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The International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass convention and its highlight IBMA Awards will return to Raleigh this Fall after a year off due to the Covid pandemic. And when the awards take place, the nominees positioned to win will be almost uncannily like last year’s slate. In the top categories of Entertainer of the Year, Vocal Group, Male Vocalist and Female Vocalist of the year, four of five nominees are repeats from 2020. Even in New Artist of the Year, a category designed to call attention to emerging talent, four of last year’s five nominees came back.

The recurrence of the talent pool winning and being nominated for awards in bluegrass has been a source of concern over the past decade. Former board member Danny Clark tabulated that across 12 major categories that aren’t specific to releases such as songs or albums, 80 percent of the 2021 nominees are the same as 2020’s. In instrumental categories for Guitar and Resophonic Guitar, the slates were identical year-to-year.

“The real problem is the public perception that IBMA is stagnant,” Clark told WMOT. “If the same people keep giving awards to the same people your membership is going to dwindle as the fan base literally dies out.”

The IBMA’s new Executive Director Pat Morris replied to an inquiry about the issue in a statement: “The voting members of the IBMA are involved in the balloting process from start to finish - from providing names to voting on nominees, and this process and the outcome reflects the will of the members. The nominees and the winners of the IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards evolve over time, and it is the voting members of the IBMA that make that happen. Those who work hard to reach the top of their field usually work hard to stay there.”

Morris also noted the creation of the IBMA Momentum Awards several years ago, which aimed to recognize bluegrass artists and leaders on the front end of their careers, as a response to the award talent pool question.

Perhaps even bigger news than the nominations (a complete list is below) were announcements of the 2021 inductees into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. Alison Krauss is the most familiar artist of the three, due to her crossover success and record-setting 27 Grammy Award wins. The Illinois-born singing and fiddle-playing star broke out on Rounder Records in the late 1980s when she was still in high school. Her crystalline voice has been revered across multiple genres and collaborative projects, and she’s a distinguished producer as well.

From an earlier, more foundational era, The Stoneman Family was named to the Hall for its diverse influence across its multiple generations, from patriarch Ernest V. “Pop” Stoneman’s recordings at the famous 1927 Bristol Sessions to the family band’s contributions to bluegrass and country working out of the Washington, DC area during the folk revival. That group featured the charismatic sisters Roni on banjo and Donna on mandolin. 

Also landing a key slot for women in the overwhelmingly male Hall was the announced induction of Lynn Morris, a Texas native who had a respected run as a band leader in the 1980s and 90s. She is a three-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year, and many of her band members went on to make names for themselves in the music.

The gathering for the nomination announcements was in-person this year too, with Peter Cooper of the Country Music Hall of Fame hosting an hour-long session and Facebook Live webcast from Nashville’s Station Inn on Tuesday morning. Performing were New Artist of the Year nominee Merle Monroe and last year’s first-time Entertainers of the Year, Sister Sadie. Also on hand sharing the announcements were Pat Morris and IBMA Board Chair Mike Simpson.

The awards will be handed out on Thursday, September 30, at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Disclosure: The author served on the IBMA Board of Directors for six years, including when the Momentum Awards were created.

ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR
Balsam Range
Billy Strings
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
The Del McCoury Band
The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys

VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR
Darin & Brooke Aldridge
Balsam Range
Blue Highway
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Sister Sadie

INSTRUMENTAL GROUP OF THE YEAR
Appalachian Road Show
Billy Strings
Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper
The Infamous Stringdusters
The Travelin’ McCourys

NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR sponsored by Ron & Nancy McFarlane
Appalachian Road Show
Carolina Blue
Gina Furtado Project
High Fidelity
Merle Monroe

SONG OF THE YEAR
“Banjo Player’s Blues”
Artist: High Fidelity
Songwriter: Charlie Monroe
Producers: Jeremy Stephens, Brad Benge
Label: Rebel Records

“Hitchhiking to California”
Artist: Alan Bibey & Grasstowne
Songwriters: Wes Golding/Alan Bibey/Jerry Salley
Producers: Jerry Salley, Ron Stewart, Dottie Leonard Miller
Label: Billy Blue Records

“Just Load the Wagon”
Artist: Junior Sisk
Songwriter: J.R. Satterwhite
Producers: Amanda Cook, Junior Sisk, Mark Hodges
Label: Mountain Fever Records

“Leaving on Her Mind”
Artist: Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Songwriter: Jack Clement
Producer: Rosta Capek
Label: Billy Blue Records

“Richest Man”
Artist: Balsam Range
Songwriters: Jim Beavers/Jimmy Yeary/Connie Harrington
Producer: Balsam Range
Label: Mountain Home Music Company

ALBUM OF THE YEAR (Tie)
Bluegrass 2020 
Artist: Scott Vestal, Patrick McAvinue, Cody Kilby, Dominick Leslie, Curtis Vestal
Producers: Scott Vestal, Ethan Burkhardt, Lonnie Lassiter
Label: Pinecastle Records

Distance and Time
Artist: Becky Buller
Producer: Stephen Mougin
Label: Dark Shadow Recording

Fall Like Rain
Artist: Justin Moses
Producer: Justin Moses
Label: Mountain Fever Records

Industrial Strength Bluegrass: Southwestern Ohio’s Musical Legacy 
Artist: Various Artists
Producer: Joe Mullins
Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Load the Wagon
Artist: Junior Sisk
Producers: Amanda Cook, Junior Sisk, Mark Hodges
Label: Mountain Fever Records

Still Here
Artist: Steve Gulley & Tim Stafford
Producers: Steve Gulley, Tim Stafford
Label: Mountain Home Music Company

GOSPEL RECORDING OF THE YEAR
“After Awhile”
Artist: Dale Ann Bradley
Songwriter: Public Domain
Producer: Dale Ann Bradley
Label: Pinecastle Records

“Grit and Grace”
Artist: Balsam Range
Songwriters: Ann Melton/Milan Miller/Beth Husband
Producer: Balsam Range
Label: Mountain Home Music Company

“Hear Jerusalem Calling”
Artist: Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers
Songwriters: Marty Stuart/Jerry Sullivan
Producers: Joe Mullins, Dottie Leonard Miller
Label: Billy Blue Records

“In the Resurrection Morning”
Artists: Sacred Reunion featuring Doyle Lawson, Vince Gill, Barry Abernathy, Tim Stafford, Mark Wheeler, Jim VanCleve, Phil Leadbetter, Jason Moore
Songwriter: Mark Wheeler
Producers: Barry Abernathy, Jim VanCleve, Dottie Leonard Miller
Label: Billy Blue Records

“When He Calls My Name”
Artist: Alan Bibey & Grasstowne
Songwriters: Alan Bibey/Ronnie Bowman
Producers: Alan Bibey & Grasstowne, Ron Stewart, Jerry Salley, Dottie Leonard Miller
Label: Billy Blue Records

INSTRUMENTAL RECORDING OF THE YEAR
“The Appalachian Road”
Artist: Appalachian Road Show
Songwriter: Jim VanCleve
Producers: Jim VanCleve, Barry Abernathy, Appalachian Road Show, Dottie Leonard Miller
Label: Billy Blue Records

“Foggy Mountain Chimes”
Artists: Scott Vestal, Patrick McAvinue, Cody Kilby, Dominick Leslie, Curtis Vestal
Songwriter: Earl Scruggs
Producer: Scott Vestal
Label: Pinecastle Records

“Ground Speed”
Artists: Kristin Scott Benson, Skip Cherryholmes, Jeremy Garrett, Kevin Kehrberg, Darren Nicholson
Songwriter: Earl Scruggs
Producer: Jon Weisberger
Label: Mountain Home Music Company

“Mountain Strings”
Artist: Sierra Hull
Songwriters: Frank Wakefield/Red Allen
Producer: Joe Mullins
Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

“Taxland”
Artist: Justin Moses with Sierra Hull
Songwriter: Justin Moses
Producer: Justin Moses
Label: Mountain Fever Records

COLLABORATIVE RECORDING OF THE YEAR
“Birmingham Jail”
Artists: Barry Abernathy with Vince Gill
Songwriter: Public Domain
Producers: Barry Abernathy, Jim VanCleve, Dottie Leonard Miller
Label: Billy Blue Records

“In the Resurrection Morning”
Artists: Sacred Reunion featuring Doyle Lawson, Vince Gill, Barry Abernathy, Tim Stafford, Mark Wheeler, Jim VanCleve, Phil Leadbetter, Jason Moore
Songwriter: Mark Wheeler
Producers: Barry Abernathy, Jim VanCleve, Dottie Leonard Miller
Label: Billy Blue Records

“My Baby’s Gone”
Artists: Justin Moses with Del McCoury
Songwriter: Dennis Linde
Producer: Justin Moses
Label: Mountain Fever Records

“Tears of Regret”
Artists: High Fidelity with Jesse McReynolds
Songwriters: Jesse McReynolds/Lucille Hutton
Producers: Jeremy Stephens, Corrina Rose Logston, Brad Benge
Label: Rebel Records

“White Line Fever”
Artists: Bobby Osborne with Tim O’Brien, Trey Hensley, Sierra Hull, Stuart Duncan, Todd Phillips, Alison Brown
Songwriters: Merle Haggard/Jeff Tweedy
Producers: Alison Brown, Garry West
Label: Compass Records

MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR 
Ronnie Bowman
Del McCoury
Danny Paisley
Junior Sisk
Larry Sparks

FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR
Brooke Aldridge
Dale Ann Bradley
Sierra Hull
Molly Tuttle
Rhonda Vincent

BANJO PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Gena Britt
Gina Furtado
Rob McCoury
Kristin Scott Benson
Scott Vestal

BASS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Mike Bub
Todd Phillips
Missy Raines
Mark Schatz
Marshall Wilborn

FIDDLE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jason Carter
Michael Cleveland
Stuart Duncan
Bronwyn Keith-Hynes
Deanie Richardson

RESOPHONIC GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jerry Douglas
Andy Hall
Rob Ickes
Phil Leadbetter
Justin Moses

GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR sponsored by Yamaha
Trey Hensley
Billy Strings
Bryan Sutton
Molly Tuttle
Jake Workman

MANDOLIN PLAYER OF THE YEAR 
Jesse Brock
Sam Bush
Sierra Hull
Ronnie McCoury
Tristan Scroggins