Bluegrass Awards Keep Winners on Their Toes

Ronnie McCoury's Streak on the Line Thursday Night

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Ronnie McCoury understands what winning an International Bluegrass Music Association award means. During the 10 years that the bluegrass trade organization has handed out trophies for musical achievement, McCoury has won the honor for top mandolin player seven times in a row.

A victory here Thursday night (Oct. 19), during the 11th annual IBMA awards, would give him more consecutive wins — eight — than any artist in any category. And if McCoury wins and fiddle nominee Stuart Duncan does not, McCoury would have more individual wins — consecutive or not — in any category. Duncan was voted top fiddle player for seven years running, from 1990-1996, but has not won since.

Winning awards has had an impact on his career, McCoury says. When he is introduced as the IBMA’s reigning top mandolin player, “it sure makes somebody really take a listen to you,” he says. But he is humble about his achievement. One of the first years he won the award, he gave it away to late bluegrass patriarch and mandolin-playing legend Bill Monroe, who was in the audience.

“I do know that if we had had the IBMA awards 30 years ago, I can list quite a few people who would have won consecutively,” McCoury reasons.

As a member of his father’s group, The Del McCoury Band, Ronnie McCoury has shared a number of other IBMA awards including Entertainer of the Year, Instrumental Group of the Year and Album of the Year. With his banjo-playing brother, Rob McCoury, he won Instrumental Recording of the Year in 1996.

The Del McCoury Band, again nominated for Entertainer of the Year, will be part of the awards show at 9 p.m. ET, Thursday (Oct. 19), at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. As with other music awards shows, the two-hour event, hosted by Marty Stuart, will mix performances and award presentations. The McCoury band will do “The Look of a Perfect Diamond” from their 1999 album, The Family.

Dolly Parton will demonstrate the depth of her new commitment to bluegrass by coming to the awards show. The Grass Is Blue, her 1999 bluegrass release, is up for Album of the Year and Parton is in the running for Female Vocalist of the Year. She will perform a medley of “Train, Train,” the Blackfoot song from her current album, and a new, original song, “Bluer Pastures,” from her next bluegrass project, Little Sparrow, slated for Jan. 23.

Rhonda Vincent, also up for Female Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year, will do the lively “Lonesome Wind Blues,” a song she learned from The Whites. IIIrd Tyme Out, looking for a seventh consecutive victory as Vocal Group of the Year, will sing a sacred song, “Heading for That City.” Vocal harmony specialists Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver also will offer a gospel number, while Nickel Creek, a band of acoustic aces including Chris Thile, will do the instrumental “Ode to a Butterfly.”

Guitarist Doc Watson, 77, and bluegrass agent and manager Lance LeRoy, 70, will join the Bluegrass Hall of Honor during the evening. A musical tribute to Watson, who will not attend the event, will include performances of “Deep River Blues” and “Black Mountain Rag,” two songs closely associated with the Western North Carolina native.

In all, Ronnie McCoury is in the running for six awards. He also competes for Instrumental Group of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year with his dad’s band, and a project titled Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza, organized by McCoury with David Grisman, has nominations for Instrumental Album of the Year and Recorded Event of the Year.

The many nods come at a price. The McCourys played around 200 dates last year. “We probably play more, and in front of more people, than anybody,” Ronnie says. “We have hit it hard in the last couple of years, and been around the world.”

Because they are dominant award winners in the IBMA, each of those performances has to count. “It makes you be on your toes every night you play,” McCoury feels. “You’ve got to live up to something.”