Billy Strings And Molly Tuttle Continue Their IBMA Award Streak
Touring guitar phenom Billy Strings finds himself in an exalted place in roots music, having been named Entertainer of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards for a third consecutive year one week after winning his second straight Artist of the Year prize at the Americana Honors and Awards. Fellow flatpicker Molly Tuttle had an even bigger night in Raleigh, NC, winning a standout three awards, including Album of the Year for Crooked Tree and Song of the Year for its title track.
“‘Crooked Tree’ was written from personal experience,” said Tuttle. “I always felt like a crooked tree because I looked different than the other kids in school. And it is Alopecia Awareness Month, so I just want to let my hair down,” she said, removing her wig on the live webcast to an extended ovation. “This is for all the crooked trees out there!” It was far from the first time Tuttle has gone natural on stage, but it was a first on the IBMA Awards and another winning moment for one of the breakout stars of the genre. Billy Strings was on tour.
Molly Tuttle, who also hosted the show with fiddler/singer Ketch Secor, made the night a hat trick by winning Female Vocalist of the Year for the second year running.
There were some key first-time winners at the 34th annual IBMA Awards, however. Industry veteran Greg Blake, now a member of Special Consensus, was the consensus pick to win Male Vocalist of the Year. Trey Hensley, the Virginia musician who tours in a duo with dobro player Rob Ickes, was named Guitar Player of the Year, an award won twice by Tuttle and Strings. Nashville’s Vickie Vaughn, currently a member of Della Mae, won Bass Player of the Year. She’s the second woman to win that trophy.
Authentic Unlimited, a band formed in 2021 after Doyle Lawson retired from the road and ended his longtime ensemble Quicksilver, was named New Artist of the Year over stiff competition from East Nash Grass, Tray Wellington, Henhouse Prowlers and the Tennessee Bluegrass Band.
The night was particularly meaningful for devotees of progressive bluegrass with the twin Hall of Fame inductions of mandolinists Sam Bush and David “Dawg” Grisman. Ronnie McCoury presented the honor to Bush, founder of the band New Grass Revival, which brought rock and reggae influence into the genre in the 70s, and which was itself made a Bluegrass Hall of Fame member in 2020. Bush, who’s in fine touring shape at age 71 even after an epic five-decade career, said on stage “It’s so humbling to join friends and people you’ve looked up to your whole life.” That list included heroes and artists he’s worked with, such as Bela Fleck, Emmylou Harris, Doc Watson, J.D. Crowe, John Hartford, Jethro Burns, and David Grisman himself.
Grisman, who spoke by video from his home in Washington State (he’s not flown in many years), recounted the moment as a boy when his life changed upon hearing the 1959 LP Mountain Music Bluegrass Style and its performance of “White House Blues” by Earl Taylor And The Stoney Mountain Boys. “I also have to thank my guru, mentor, and dear friend Ralph Rinzler, who was a pioneer folklorist. He was the first person to record Doc Watson, and I met Doc Watson shortly after that, and Doc was the first professional musician to ever invite this mandolin picker on to a stage when I was 17 years old.” After establishing himself in the folk scene of New York, Grisman moved to California where he made important bluegrass with Jerry Garcia and shaped a wholly new take on string band music with his historic quintets.
Also entering the Hall of Fame on Thursday was the late Grand Ole Opry star Wilma Lee Cooper. “Known for her strong right hand on the guitar, enthusiastic and genuine demeanor, and forthright, emotive vocals, Wilma Lee Cooper was one of bluegrass music’s most important early women musicians,” the IBMA said in her announcement.
IBMA is holding its annual World of Bluegrass convention in Raleigh for the tenth straight year, but announced this week that it is setting up a search committee for a new home base starting in 2025. The trade association also has a new executive director, multi-instrumentalist and marketing professional Ken White, who takes over the seat formally on Oct. 2.
A complete list of winners follows:
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: Billy Strings
VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR: Authentic Unlimited
INSTRUMENTAL GROUP OF THE YEAR: The Travelin’ McCourys
SONG OF THE YEAR: "Crooked Tree”
Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway
Written by Molly Tuttle/ Melody Walker
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Crooked Tree
Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway
GOSPEL RECORDING OF THE YEAR: “The Scarlet Red Lines” by Larry Sparks
INSTRUMENTAL RECORDING OF THE YEAR: “Kissimmee Kid” by Jason Carter
NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Authentic Unlimited
COLLABORATIVE RECORDING OF THE YEAR: “Alberta Bound”
Special Consensus with Patrick Sauber, Ray Legere, John Reischman, Trisha Gagnon, Claire Lynch, Pharis & Jason Romero
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Molly Tuttle
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Greg Blake
BANJO PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kristin Scott Benson
BASS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Vickie Vaughn
RESOPHONIC GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Justin Moses
FIDDLE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jason Carter
GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Trey Hensley
MANDOLIN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Sierra Hull