The International Bluegrass Music Association announced their 2015 Award nominees today, which may even still be today depending on when I get this up!
I listened to the broadcast live on Sirius XM's Bluegrass Junction and several things came to mind as I sat in the driveway on a very warm Wednesday morning.
The IBMA takes a lot of guff for their operation and activities, much of it justified in my opinion. Events like this morning's go a long way to remediating some of those shortcomings. The award show hosts, Eric and Leigh Gibson, announced the award nominees with assistance from various IBMA board members. All represented the music and the industry positively.
As the names were slowly revealed, it became obvious that Becky Buller's profile has risen in the industry. Long a respected fiddler and vocalist, it has been in the past year that Buller has 'stepped out' on her own to lead her own band. Previously a noted songwriter as well, Buller received 7 (!) nominations this time out, a significant increase for the Tennessee-based artist and impressive no matter how one looks at things.
I also noticed that The Boxcars, Dailey & Vincent, and Special Consensus, all of whom received multiple nominations (and some wins) last year were not present on this year's listing. While this may be in part a result of not releasing an album during the period under consideration, it was a surprise that the artists didn't even get more mentions in the performer categories. A bit surprised that Mike Munford, just two years after receiving the award, wasn't listed in the Banjo Player of the Year category; perhaps folks did have him confused with Mumford & Sons.
Seven artists received nominations for the Emerging Artist of the Year, more than any other category. Buller is nominated here and I feel that is appropriate. Having the Earls of Leicester and Band of Ruhks in this category seems plain silly as both groups are comprised of folks with not only multiple IBMA awards and nominations to their credit, but more years of performance than the members of Flatt Lonesome have been alive. The Punch Brothers are not a bluegrass band. Neither was the Chuck Wagon Gang. I seldom agree with the Song of the Year nominations: this year is no exception, but I do understand that almost no one else agrees with me! (The songs I like best seldom see chart action.) While Amanda Smith is a terrific singer and I love her voice and recordings, she hasn't been too active this past year...for good reasons! Based on her hiatus from performance, not sure she should have been nominated this time out.
While listening to the announcement, I recall being a pumped to hear Shawn Camp's name within the list of Male Vocalist of the Year nominees. Well chosen, IBMA professional members. Having being more than impressed (again) by the Del McCoury Band and Hot Rize at the recent Blueberry Bluegrass Music Festival in Stony Plain, AB, I was pleased to see both Del and Tim O'Brien also included in this category. No surprises in the Instrumental Performer categories- there are about 40 names that rotate in and out of the six categories each year (two of them usually being Ron Stewart!) and all are worthy of consideration. No arguments with the Entertainer of the Year category- great bands all.
Based on his Blueberry performance alone, Josh Williams is certainly worthy of consideration as Guitar Player of the Year. Disappointed that Blueberry Bluegrass, a leading western Canadian festival, has not received a nod in the Bluegrass Event category; likely not close enough to the Bluegrass Belt to receive consideration, but somehow an event in France got a nom this year. I guess 30 years doesn't count for much, or maybe they haven't invited the 'right' people to appear. Also surprised that the Seldom Scene didn't get a mention in the vocal group category- based on their Blueberry sets, nobody sings like they do- what rich harmonies.
When the Distinguished Achievement recipients were announced, I was nodding my head; I understood and supported the inclusion of Alison Brown, Murphy Henry, the International Bluegrass Museum, and Steve Martin. They have done a great deal for the music and industry. Noting the achievements of historical and sometimes non-bluegrass musicians is something that has been done with the Distinguished Achievement Award, but I'm not entirely sure I understand the purpose of some of these recognitions when the musician has less tangible connections to bluegrass.
The naming of Bashful Brother Oswald Kirby for this award confuses me- obviously others know something I don't (duh!). But, with the gentleman having passed a dozen years ago, and not being best known as a bluegrasser, I remain a little confused about his inclusion this time out. I 'get' his impact on resophonic players, but reading the criteria for the award, I must be missing something. I felt the same about the Delmore Brothers last year.
Feel free to convince me otherwise.
I wasn't surprised that Hazel Dickens was again overlooked for the IBMA Hall of Fame. I do appreciate that they are recognizing Bill Keith and Larry Sparks while they are alive, but the time for Hazel's inclusion appears to be long past. I'm not sure what goes on in those committee meetings, and maybe Dickens has fallen one vote short annually for the past ten years, but dang! I just don't get it!
Those are my thoughts on this year's IBMA nominations. More than anything, it appears that this year's celebration at the beginning of October is going to be impressive.