With the change to fall colours comes the annual International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) World of Bluegrass festivities, seemingly the only major show who hasn't cancelled on North Carolina. Well, perhaps 'major' is too strong a word. I'm sure there were a lot of reasons for not abandoning Raleigh, all of them tied to dollars.
The awards are to be handed out September 29.
I love bluegrass music, and look forward to the IBMA Awards show, an evening where the best of bluegrass is feted, an evening where shirts get tucked, an evening where a few folks don evening gowns, and Doyle Lawson isn't the only one wearing sequins.
One of the highpoints of the evening is when the Hall of Fame Inductees are presented with the industry's highest honour. This year, the Rounder founders-Bill Nowlin, Marian Leighton Levy, and Ken Irwin-are given their just recognition as is Clarence White. These are deserving recipients. Worth noting that Hazel Dickens is still a-waitin'.
Also recognized this year are Bluegrass Unlimited magazine, the Boston Bluegrass Union, Bill Emerson, Jim Rooney, and SiriusXM Radio's Bluegrass Junction with Distinguished Achievement Awards. Most of those folks deserve recognition at this level, but one feels a little 'I'll massage your back, you keep massaging ours." Still, hard to argue.
Now, onto the awards whose recipients we do not yet know...although, some are predictable; we'll see if I'm right. (Heads up, don't wager based on my guesses! I take no responsibility for your loses.)
Entertainer Of The Year:Balsam Range; The Del McCoury Band; The Earls of Leicester; Flatt Lonesome; The Gibson Brothers
For the past four years this award has gone to The Earls, Balsam Range, and the Gibsons. The McCourys haven't won in a dozen years, and would I love to see them get recognized one more time: no band entertains me more. However, I have a feeling-like I had in 2005, the only year I attended the awards-that the unexpected/inexplicable will happen and Flatt Lonesome will get the nod. They have gained a lot of press, and folks seem to love them. I wouldn't be voting for them (if I had a ballot, The Earls of Leicester would get my X,) but I can see others doing so.
Vocal Group Of The Year:Balsam Range; Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver; The Earls of Leicester; Flatt Lonesome; The Gibson Brothers
Based on what I know, Blue Highway should win this award most years. What? They aren't nominated? Huh. Okay, then. Balsam Range and the Gibsons are the most recent winners. Again, is this Flatt Lonesome's year? I am thinking so, but I would vote for The Earls.
Instrumental Group Of The Year:The Earls of Leicester; Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen; Punch Brothers; Sam Bush Band; The Travelin' McCourys
I heard two of these bands this summer, The Earls and Dirty Kitchen. I'm kind of surprised at the inclusion of the other three. I would love to see either Sam Bush Band or the McCourys walk away with the award, but can't imagine a tighter, more interesting band of bluegrass instrumentalists than The Earls of Leicester. I would vote for them.
Male Vocalist Of The Year:Shawn Camp; Del McCoury; Buddy Melton; Tim O'Brien; Danny Paisley
All great singers, obviously. Shawn Camp surprised most of us last year by winning, and he hasn't done anything to lose the crown. Still, this award has bounced around a little and, the last time I heard him sing live, I still thought he was the best I ever heard. Del McCoury for the win. It will be Danny Paisley, I'm predicting-I believe he will have select industry support. Not a bad choice.
Female Vocalist Of The Year:Becky Buller; Dale Ann Bradley; Claire Lynch; Amanda Smith; Rhonda Vincent
Rhonda made a comeback last year and grabbed this one after a decade's absence. The fact that I don't think she has made a strong bluegrass album in years won't matter, and I can see her repeating. Still, my vote every year will be for Dale Ann Bradley, and with the strength of the Sister Sadie disc, I am okay continuing in that direction.
Song Of The Year:"Black River" Sierra Hull (artist/writer); "Long Way Down" The SteelDrivers (artist), Elizabeth Mala Hengber, Tammy Rogers King, and Jerry Salley (writers); "Radio" Steep Canyon Rangers (artist), Graham Paul Sharp (writer); "Thunder & Lightning" Lonesome River Band (artist), Adam Wright (writer); "You're the One" Flatt Lonesome (artist), Dwight Yoakum (writer)
I recall seeing this list when first released, and thinking, Again? For me it comes down to taste-what I like isn't usually popular, and what is popular isn't usually what I like, and each year lately when this list comes out I am out of the loop.
I don't believe a song written more than twenty years ago should get this award, so that eliminates "You're the One." It also means it will win. I can't believe "Radio" is nominated as it isn't that strong of a song, in my opinion. Sierra Hull's song isn't my type of 'grass, and the LRB song isn't even the strongest on the album.
Examine the list of previous winners of this award, and with a couple exceptions those songs have become contemporary classics. Add "Long Way Down" to that list. I can't understand how "The Bluefield West Virginia Blues" didn't make the ballot.
Album Of The Year:"Bridging the Tradition" Lonesome River Band; "It's About Tyme" Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out; "Runaway Train" Flatt Lonesome; "The Muscle Shoals Recordings" The SteelDrivers; "Weighted Mind" Sierra Hull
So as not to repeat myself, see above. "The Muscle Shoals Recordings," no doubt; it is the only album on the list I would have in my top 5. I'm afraid it won't win.
(If you care, my Top 5 would have included some combination of The SteelDrivers, Big Country Bluegrass, Dale Ann Bradley, James Reams & the Barnstormers, Jeff White, the Kathy Kallick Band, Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands, Sister Sadie, Ron Block, and The Hillbenders. I have no idea how I would have winnowed things down.)
Gospel Recorded Performance Of The Year:"All Dressed Up" Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers; "In The Heat of the Fire" Flatt Lonesome; "Rocking of the Cradle" Lonesome River Band; "The Savior Is Born" Becky Buller; "Won't You Come and Sing For Me" Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands
I don't believe there is any way Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands can win this award. They are far too 'outside' to do so. But, would I love to be proven incorrect. What a performance!
Instrumental Recorded Performance Of The Year:"Cazenovia Casanova" Frank Solivan with Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas; "Fireball" Special Consensus featuring Rob Ickes, Trey Hensley, and Alison Brown; "Hogan's Goat" The Boxcars; Hogan's House of Music Ron Block; "Smartville" Ron Block
I wish this award still went to an entire album, but in reading the criteria, it is most definitely for 'a tune.' Unless a clarification went out, I have no idea what songs Ron Block is nominated for as "Hogan's House of Music" is the name of the album, not a song-at least, according to my download. "Smartville" is a good tune. I do like me some Special C.
Recorded Event Of The Year:"Fireball" Special Consensus featuring Rob Ickes, Trey Hensley, and Alison Brown; "Highway 40 Blues" Special Consensus with Della Mae; "In The Pines" Carl Jackson and Brad Paisley; "Longneck Blues" Junior Sisk and Ronnie Bowman; "Pretty Woman" Frank Solivan with Del McCoury
I'll go with "Fireball" on this one. I'm not sure a guitar duet is bluegrass, but it will probably win considering Brad Paisley's contributions to bluegrass over the years. "Longneck Blues" isn't that strong of a song, and this version of "Pretty Woman" is sleepy, even with Del along.
Emerging Artist Of The Year:Band of Ruhks; The Lonely Heartstring Band; Mountain Faith; Sister Sadie; Steve Gulley & New Pinnacle; Town Mountain
Okay, let me-for the first time ever-not endorse Dale Ann Bradley for an award. Groups with veterans of the stature of those comprising Sister Sadie and Band of Ruhks can't be emerging, and Steve Gulley has been around a long, long time...hell, he was a member of Mountain Heart when they won this award in 1999. As for Town Mountain, they have been around for a decade, but have made moves in the last couple years. I believe The Lonely Heartstrings Band should win this one; they don't make my kind of bluegrass, but there is no arguing their abilities.
Instrumental Performers Of The Year
Banjo: Charlie Cushman; Jens Kruger; Mike Munford; Noam Pikelny; Sammy Shelor
Of the instrumentalist awards, this is maybe the toughest to predict. No one has repeated since 2011, and last year's winner Rob McCoury isn't even on the list. I'm going to take a flyer and suggest Jens Kruger gets the award. I have no way of knowing why 'cause I am not a player and this award seems to be one that 'noodlers' are most invested in.
Bass: Barry Bales; Alan Bartram; Mike Bub; Missy Raines; Mark Schatz
Again, last year's winner isn't nominated-Tim Surrett. I'll go with Alan Bartram.
Fiddle: Becky Buller; Jason Carter; Michael Cleveland; Stuart Duncan; Ron Stewart
Becky Buller had a big night a year ago, and I haven't predicted her to take anything so far...so, now I will:Becky Buller.
Dobro: Jerry Douglas; Andy Hall; Rob Ickes; Phil Leadbetter; Josh Swift
Jerry Douglas won last year for the first time in quite a while. I believe he will repeat.
Guitar:Chris Eldridge; Jim Hurst; Kenny Smith; Bryan Sutton; Josh Williams
I don't see why Bryan Sutton doesn't win this award for the 10th time. He had a really strong album come out, and everyone seems to like the guy.
Mandolin: Jesse Brock; Sam Bush; Sierra Hull; Frank Solivan; Adam Steffey
Adam Steffey has won this award eleven of the last fourteen years. It's another guess, but I'll predict an even dozen by the time the night is over. Still, wouldn't be surprised to see Sierra Hull get the nod.
There are my thoughts on the upcoming IBMA awards presentations. There is almost always a big surprise (last year, Becky Buller's dominance) and I'm sure there will be at least one this time out.
Enjoy the awards.