by Derek Halsey
On October 4th, 2007 the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) held their 18th annual bluegrass music awards show. In a break from past years, when a lot of the same people seemed to win the awards year after year, the lineup of 2007 winners was a diverse and interesting mix of older legends and young guns who are making their mark in the business.
Below, I will list the winners of this year’s IBMA awards and I will comment on the significance of the choices afterwards.
IBMA Entertainer of the Year award- The Grascals
The Grascals have been on a roll for a few years now. Although they have been a band for only four years or so, the group is made up of bluegrass veterans who know how to deliver. This is the second year in a row that the band has won this award, and they are on a roll.
IBMA Vocal Group of the Year- Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver
Lawson and his group have consistently won this award over the last few years, and their consistent lead and harmony vocals will go down in history as legendary. Their wall-of-sound harmonies speak for themselves. However, with three of Lawson’s band mates leaving for other projects, the focus is on Lawson to see if he can gather up a new set of musicians in the next year or so that will hit the vocal and instrumental mark again.
IBMA Instrumental Group of the Year - Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper featuring Audie Blaylock
This is the first time that this group has won this award. Cleveland is an amazing fiddler who has wowed both audiences and established musicians alike since he was a little kid playing on the IBMA Awards show stage many years ago. Audie Blaylock is a respected flatpick guitarist and vocalist as well, and this combination is ready to roll. This award should give the band a well-deserved boost. Cleveland is also a multiple winner of the IBMA Fiddler of the Year award, having won that prize for the fifth time at these same awards.
IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year – Bradley Walker
This young man has been blowing people away with his vocals for years. I have written him up in Gritz Magazine more than once, having come across his singing in late night hotel rooms at the yearly IBMA Week convention in the past. He finally released an album of his own on Rounder Records with 2006’s Highway Of Dreams where his bluegrass-meets-old-school country voice is backed by a stellar group of top-notch musicians. Hats off to Bradley.
IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year - Dale Ann Bradley
Dale Ann Bradley has been a bluegrass mainstay for years, having come up singing with the Coon Creek Girls. On her own, she has produced wonderful album after wonderful album, and her voice is simply golden. Her latest Compass Records project, called Catch Tomorrow, is a perfect example of why she is as good as she is, and why her music is as relevant as ever.
IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year- The Infamous Stringdusters
This group of young players are yet another example of the continuing popularity and relevance of modern day bluegrass music. They are another representation of the young guns in the bluegrass world right now that are making their mark and keeping the music fresh and vital. And, as I saw first hand when I watched and heard them play at last year’s Merlefest, they can bring it live as well. The band consists of Andy Hall on squareneck Dobro, Jeremy Garrett on fiddle, Jesse Cobb on mandolin, Chris Pandolfi on banjo, and Travis Brook on bass. Chris Eldredge was the original guitarist for the group, but a few months ago he latched onto Chris Thile and his wonderful band of gunslingers. Replacing Eldredge in the ‘Dusters is Andy Falco on guitar. This award was one of three that the band won. (See below)
IBMA Song of the Year – “Fork In The Road,” by the Infamous Stringdusters, writers are Chris Jones and John Pennell.
Congratulations to Chris Jones and John Pennell for coming up with yet another original song to add to the bluegrass lexicon, and further congratulations to the Infamous Stringdusters for bring this title track to their debut album to life.
IBMA Album of the Year - a tie between;
Lefty’s Old Guitar by J.D. Crowe and the New South - Rounder Records,
And, Fork In The Road by the Infamous Stringdusters - Sugar Hill Records
In a lot of ways this award being given to two bands, due to a tie, is descriptive of the mood of the awards show, and the positive state of bluegrass music in 2007. The combination of the legendary IBMA Hall of Honor musician J.D. Crowe standing alongside the younger bluegrass whizzes in the Infamous Stringdusters exemplifies where this music is today, and it bodes well for the future.
IBMA Recorded Event of the Year- Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular by Tony Trischka featuring Earl Scruggs, Kenny Ingram, Tom Adams, Bela Fleck, Noam Pikelny, Alison Brown, Scott Vestal, Steve Martin & Bill Emerson (artists); Rounder Records; Tony Trischka, Bela Fleck & Ronnie Freeland producers.
Tony Trischka has been a purveyor of the ‘melodic’ style of bluegrass banjo playing for a lot of years. Coming from the Northeast, he has been a constant in the bluegrass world, as well as being a mentor to many top players such as Bela Fleck. I can only say this, the list of guest musicians on this project tells you of the respect that he and his playing garners.
IBMA Instrumental Album of the Year- Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular by Tony Trischka featuring Earl Scruggs, Kenny Ingram, Tom Adams, Bela Fleck, Noam Pikelny, Alison Brown, Scott Vestal, Steve Martin & Bill Emerson (artists); Rounder Records; Tony Trischka, Bela Fleck & Ronnie Freeland (producers)
Yep, Tony ‘doubled up’ with two awards for his Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular, a wonderful collection of Trischka playing with a wide array of older and younger banjo players. Playing alongside the banjo players mentioned above on this album are more amazing musicians such as Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, Chris Thile, Dudley Connell, Sam Bush, Ron Stewart, Michael Daves, Alison Brown, Mike Compton, David Grier, Tim Stafford, Byron House, Kenny Smith, Ricky Simpkins, Stuart Duncan, John Sholle, Marty Confurius, Sally Love, Marshall Wilborn, Barry Bales, and Barry Mitteroff.
IBMA Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year - "He Lives In Me," Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver (artists), Horizon, Doyle Lawson (producer)I
Yet another solid effort by Lawson and Quicksilver. His albums define the modern day bluegrass gospel music sound. Look for my interview with Doyle in the Gritz archives.
IBMA Instrumental Performers of the Year Awards;
BANJO - Tony Trischka
Self-explanatory considering the other awards for his Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular album mentioned above.
BASS - Missy Raines
Missy Raines is as consistent and innovative a bass player as bluegrass has ever seen, hence her seventh win of this award. Her work with Claire Lynch and other projects keeps her in the spotlight, and she always delivers.
FIDDLE - Michael Cleveland
This the fifth time that Cleveland has won this award, and the bottom line is simple - if you haven’t seen him play live, be sure and do so if you get the chance. The boy’s fiddlin’ is right powerful.
DOBRO - Rob Ickes
In the last few years, Rob Ickes has kept his squareneck Dobro busy as ever. He holds down the Dobro chair for the award-winning bluegrass group Blue Highway, has been one of the trio of musicians in the groundbreaking group Three Ring Circle alongside Dave Pomeroy on bass and Andy Leftwich on mandolin and fiddle, and he has appeared on a ton of other albums in the last year. This is Ickes’ ninth Dobro award, making him the most award-winning musician in history in the instrumental categories.
GUITAR - Tony Rice
What can you say about this true American music legend. He is simply, in my opinion, the top acoustic guitarist in the world. It has been a while since Tony reclaimed this award, but he has had an amazing year. He has recorded and toured as an anchor with the Peter Rowan - Tony Rice Quartet, has toured with his own Tony Rice Unit, and did a historic run of shows in the past year with Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, and the rest of Union Station as his ‘backup band.’ It is the sixth time that Rice has won this award, and he still sets the standard for bluegrass guitar.
MANDOLIN - Sam Bush
Well, not only did Sam Bush hosts the IBMA Awards show, but he also came out of the blue to win the mandolin award, his first since 1993. Bush has probably been the top mandolin player in many of the years since 1993, but he tends to do things his way. After all, his group, New Grass Revival, broke a lot of the newgrass ground that many performers walk on today in the 1970’s and 80’s, much to the chagrin of so-called bluegrass ‘purists.’ But his mandolin playing, as well as fiddle playing, has stayed innovative all through the years. His latest album, called Laps In Seven, continued his unique path in progressive music, but also contained some straight ahead bluegrass gems such as “Bringin’ In The Georgia Mail” and “Ridin’ That Bluegrass Train” that firmly planted him on bluegrass radio. The end result is a well-deserved mandolin award that will remind folks that Sam Bush is still kickin’ tail.
The IBMA Hall of Honor inductees for 2007 Tare Carl Story and Howard Watts, aka Cedric Rainwater. Story is known as “The Father of Bluegrass Gospel Music,” and has contributed much to the genre. Howard Watts, of course, was the bass player in what is referred to as the original and first bluegrass band in the 1940’s that featured leader Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, and Chubby Wise.
I’d also like to take a minute to give an appreciation for Mike Auldridge, who was one of five people to win an IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award. Auldridge is a true pioneer in the evolution of the squareneck Dobro in bluegrass music who followed on the footsteps of earlier Dobro players like Uncle Josh Graves, Cliff Carlisle, and Brother Oswald Kirby and broke his own ground with groups such as the legendary Seldom Scene. He has always been good to me and has helped me out with various projects, including an eventual article on the late Jimmy Arnold, and he is much deserved of this award.
The other IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award Recipients include;
The Bluegrass Breakdown
Happy & Jane Traum
The rest of the IBMA awards given out include the following;
Bluegrass Broadcaster of the Year - Chris Jones, Sirius Satellite Radio
Print Media Person of the Year- John Lawless & Brance Gillihan, The Bluegrass Blog
Best Liner Notes for a Recorded Project - Barry Poss & Jay Orr (writers); Sugar Hill Records, A Retrospective; Various Artists; Sugar Hill
Best Graphic Design for a Recorded Project - Don Bailey (designer), Hillbilly Hemingway, by The Mark Newton Band, Rebel Records
Bluegrass Event of the Year Award - 33rd Festival of the Bluegrass; Lexington, KY; June 2006