McCourys Rack Up at Annual Bluegrass Awards

Mandolinist Ronnie McCoury Claims Four Trophies; Dolly Wins First

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Ronnie McCoury further enhanced his status as one of the dominant talents in bluegrass music with four victories in the 11th annual International Bluegrass Music Awards, handed out Thursday night (Oct. 19) at the Kentucky Center for the Arts.

Capturing his eighth consecutive victory for mandolinist of the year, McCoury vaulted past fiddler Stuart Duncan as the most-awarded instrumentalist in the 11-year history of the awards. He thanked his father, Del McCoury. “He showed me how to play this music and I think he showed me right,” Ronnie said. “Everybody that has played the mandolin in bluegrass music, I have heard you. Believe me, I’ve listened.”

Ronnie Stewart, fiddler for the Lynn Morris Band, captured the honor for top fiddler. The victory was Stewart’s first. Duncan has not won since his seven-year run ended in 1996.

As a member of his father’s group, The Del McCoury Band, McCoury shared in the honor for Entertainer of the Year. The victory was Del McCoury’s sixth in the top category, including one awarded to him individually in 1996. The McCoury band and its members have won more than 25 IBMA awards over the 11 years. “I thank the Lord for the gifts,” Del McCoury said, “and I hope God blesses all you fans.”

Ronnie McCoury’s other victories — for Instrumental Album of the Year and Recorded Event of the Year — rewarded Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza, a two-disc collection co-produced by McCoury and David Grisman. The set also features performances by Sam Bush, Frank Wakefield, Bobby Osborne, Jesse McReynolds, Ricky Skaggs and Buck White.

Bush and White joined McCoury to accept the awards for the mandolin album. “Just put a microphone in front of these great mandolin players and you’re going to have a great record,” McCoury said.

Bush goodnaturedly expressed the sentiments of his many colleagues as they watched the McCourys parade to the stage for awards. “If you can’t beat a McCoury,” he said, “join ’em.”

Grand Ole Opry member White took special pleasure in the double victory for the mandolin project. On his first trip to the stage, he commented, “After leaving home in the ’50s to make my fortune in the music business, it’s beginning to look up.”

When the project was honored for Instrumental Album of the year, White cut a little jig as he came to the stage. “I’ve never received anything like this before,” he said during his thank yous, “but hey, I ain’t’ gonna refuse. I’m in tall cotton with these boys.”

Bush again expressed the sentiments of many, paying tribute to the pioneer of bluegrass mandolin. “Let’s don’t forget,” he said, “we want to dedicate this to Bill Monroe.”

Dolly Parton made her first appearance at the annual awards show. Her 1999 release, The Grass Is Blue, was named Album of the Year. “I feel fortunate just to be here singing with these great people,” she said as she accepted her award. “We have more to come, because I do love this music, and I’m not just trying to horn in on someone else’s job. This means a great deal to me.”

Parton performed “Train, Train” from her winning album and “Bluer Pastures,” a traditional-sounding, mid-tempo number from her next release, Little Sparrow, due in January. She performed with an all-star band that included Ron Block, Rhonda Vincent, Dan Tyminski, Stuart Duncan, Barry Bales, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush and Bryan Sutton. Producer Steve Buckingham led the group. Her performance drew a standing ovation, and later Parton came out on the stage to trade quips with Marty Stuart as they introduced the Lonesome River Band.

Backstage, she added perspective on her victories. “I was not expecting it,” she told “I was just very happy to have done such a good album and have people accept it so well. I had no idea I would win an award here because of all the great singers and all the great musicians that spend so much time doing this. But, like I say, I’ve always loved it. I’ve always sung bluegrass music, and a lot of my family are big bluegrass players and had groups together.”

“Murder on Music Row,” written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell, was named Song of the Year. Cordle recorded a bluegrass version of the song, which bemoans the loss of “heart and soul” in country music, with his band, Lonesome Standard Time. The eight-piece group performed the song during the awards ceremony. The song also drew a standing ovation from many in the crowd. Earlier this month, a version by George Strait and Alan Jackson won a Country Music Association award for Vocal Event of the Year.

“This song would have never lived,” Shell said, “if you hadn’t called those stations and called those disc jockeys. Thank you for that. In an industry that is so calculated and controlled today, the people rose up and got one.”

“Sometimes you’ve got to say what you mean and mean what you say,” Cordle added, “and that’s exactly what me and Larry did in this thing right here.”

Male Vocalist of the Year Dudley Connell of the Seldom Scene and Female Vocalist of the Year Rhonda Vincent both were first-time winners in those categories. Connell has won in other categories in the past as a member of Johnson Mountain Boys and Longview. “I was starting to feel like the Susan Lucci of bluegrass music,” he said. Connell also thanked the late John Duffey, a founder of the Seldom Scene, “for teaching me about generosity and being true to what you want to do.”

Vincent’s victory was her first in any category. “This is my 33rd year in the music business this year but I still feel like the new kids on the block,” she said as she accepted her award. The Missouri native provided quite the contrast as she performed the uptempo mountain tune “Lonesome Wind Blues,” chunking away on her mandolin in a blue evening dress.

“Right now,” she said from the stage, “I am living my dream.”

Stuart hosted the awards show. A longtime member of the bluegrass community who worked with Lester Flatt before moving to country, he was at home with the near capacity audience of more than 2,000 at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. At one point, he called out to Jimmy Martin in the audience and invited the “King of Bluegrass” to let fly with one of his patented yodels.

Nickel Creek — siblings Sean and Sara Watkins and mandolinist Chris Thile — was named Emerging Artist of the Year. The group performed a selection, “Ode to a Butterfly,” from their critically acclaimed, self-titled album, released in March. “This is like, awesome, said 19-year-old Thile as the group accepted their award. “I want to thank [record label] Sugar Hill for taking a risk with us because we are wild and rambunctious.”

He also thanked “the fathers” of bluegrass who set an example for players who in turn influenced the members of his group. “It’s the whole chain thing. If they hadn’t done it, then our heroes wouldn’t have done it and we wouldn’t have ever heard anything and we’d have blue hair and stuff.”

Repeat winners included IIIrd Tyme Out, named Vocal Group of the Year for the seventh consecutive year; Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, winners for Instrumental Group of the Year for the third consecutive year; Jim Mills, top banjo player for the second straight year; Missy Raines, top bassist for the third year; and Rob Ickes, top Dobro player for the fifth consecutive year. Mills plays with the Skaggs band. Raines works with Claire Lynch and with duet partner Jim Hurst. Ickes is a member of Blue Highway.

Sharon White Skaggs accepted her husband’s award. “Ricky is so sorry he can’t be here this year, but he’s so grateful to the Lord to be playing bluegrass music again,” she said. “That’s meant more to him than anything. He’s back home again … I’m really thrilled because I think he’s the best.”

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver returned to the winners circle in the category of Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year. The group’s album Winding Through Life took the honor. Lawson’s group also won the award in 1996.

Former Skaggs band member Bryan Sutton was named top guitarist. Sutton, who plays guitar on the Dixie Chicks’ Fly album, is becoming a favored choice for Nashville recording sessions. He released a solo album in February which features guest appearances by Skaggs, Parton and Jerry Douglas, among others. Sutton carried his baby daughter, Maggie, in his arms as he came to the stage.

Doc Watson and Lance LeRoy became members of the Bluegrass Hall of Honor. Watson earned respect in bluegrass for his guitar mastery, his rich vocals and his clawhammer banjo playing. LeRoy was a booking agent and accountant for Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass. He came up with the original concept of establishing a trade organization for bluegrass, which in turn gave rise to the IBMA.

Watson did not attend because the awards show conflicted with a ceremony in his native North Carolina naming a highway in his honor. Brenda Shepherd, festival coordinator at the MerleFest music festival hosted by Watson, joined IBMA President Pete Wernick in accepting the award. A closing medley of “Deep River Blues” and “Black Mountain Rag,” by an all-star band, paid tribute to Watson.

Michelle Nikolai contributed to this story.

2000 IBMA Winners
Entertainer of the Year — The Del McCoury Band

Vocal Group of the Year — IIIrd Tyme Out

Instrumental Group of the Year — Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder

Male Vocalist of the Year — Dudley Connell

Female Vocalist of the Year — Rhonda Vincent

Song of the Year — “Murder on Music Row” by Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time; written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell

Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year — Winding Through Life by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver; produced by Doyle Lawson for Sugar Hill Records

Album of the Year — The Grass Is Blue by Dolly Parton; produced by Steve Buckingham for Sugar Hill Records

Instrumental Album of the Year — Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza, performed by David Grisman, Ronnie McCoury, Sam Bush, Frank Wakefield, Bobby Osborne, Jesse McReynolds, Ricky Skaggs and Buck White; produced by Ronnie McCoury and David Grisman for Acoustic Disc

Instrumental Performers of the Year:

Banjo: Jim Mills
Bass: Missy Raines
Dobro: Rob Ickes
Fiddle: Ronnie Stewart
Guitar: Bryan Sutton
Mandolin: Ronnie McCoury

Recorded Event of the Year — Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza, performed by David Grisman, Ronnie McCoury, Sam Bush, Frank Wakefield, Bobby Osborne, Jesse McReynolds, Ricky Skaggs and Buck White; produced by Ronnie McCoury and David Grisman for Acoustic Disc

Emerging Artist of the Year — Nickel Creek