The 26th Annual SPBGMA (Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America) Awards took place last night, Feb. 6, in Nashville at the Sheraton Music City. The fan-voted awards show included performances by some of the biggest names in bluegrass, impromptu comedy sketches by presenters and a bevy of award winners.
Banjo player Bill Emerson, one of the founding members of the original Country Gentlemen, was inducted into the SPBGMA Preservation Hall of Greats. Together with fellow musician Cliff Waldron from New Shades of Grass, he took the Manfred Mann song “Fox on the Run” and turned it into a bluegrass standard. Emerson also did a stint with Jimmy Martin and his Sunny Mountain Boys in the 1960s and was a member of New Shades of Grass. Emerson thanked Martin, who he said “. . . believed in me and gave me a chance.”
The band IIIrd Tyme Out was the popular favorite of the evening, accepting six honors. These included Bluegrass Album of the Year (Live at the Mac on Rounder Records); Bluegrass Vocal Group of the Year; Male Vocalist of the Year (Contemporary) for Russell Moore; and Bluegrass Bass Fiddle, Mandolin and Fiddle Performers of the Year for Ray Deaton, Wayne Benson and Mike Hartgrove, respectively.
WSM-AM radio in Nashville was one of the evening’s double winners, taking Bluegrass Radio Station of the Year and Bluegrass DJ of the Year for Eddie Stubbs. Stubbs was thrilled to receive the recognition.
“It’s a great honor for WSM to win this award,” he said. “We’re very proud of our heritage. We’ll be celebrating our 75th year this year — we’re one of the oldest radio stations in the country — in October. Of course, the Grand Ole Opry will be 75 years old in November.
“We feel like WSM is the station where bluegrass music was born, because Bill Monroe came there not long after he had started his solo career. Most people really believe that bluegrass as we know it crystallized when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were part of his organization, but it was the banjo that solidified the sound of bluegrass as we know it today. That happened at the Ryman Auditorium on the Grand Ole Opry broadcast over the airwaves of our station. The station has always had a commitment to that music.”
Lynn Morris also took home two honors. She received the Masters Gold Award and Female Vocalist of the Year (Traditional). The Masters Gold Award is given to winners in an award category who have won the award five times. “I never intended to be a singer. I wanted to be a banjo player,” she said modestly.
Little Roy Lewis was also the recipient of a Masters Gold Award, having won Entertainer of the Year five times previously. He crawled across the stage on his hands and knees to accept his award, much to the delight of the audience. Lewis’ other antics included dressing up as an alter ego, Minnie Squirrel, to present several awards with Randall Hylton.
The members of Rarely Herd showed the audience why they were named Entertaining Group of the Year, presenting their scheduled awards with quirky humor and a lampshade for a prop, which ended up on a member’s head.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver won Gospel Group of the Year (Contemporary) and Gospel Group of the Year (Overall).
The legendary J.D. Crowe, who has a Masters Gold Award for Bluegrass Banjo Player of the Year, captured the instrumental honor once again and said that it’s great to win an award from the fans. “They mean a lot, but I don’t do music for awards. I do music because I love it and the people enjoy it. It’s great to get `em, but it’s just icing on the cake,” he explained.
Rhonda Vincent won Female Vocalist of the Year (Contemporary), while James King grabbed the award for Male Vocalist of the Year (Traditional).
The Del McCoury Band was voted Bluegrass Instrumental Group of the Year, while the Lonesome River Band took double honors for Bluegrass Band of the Year (Overall) and Song of the Year for “Am I a Fool” written by Keith and Danette Tew.
Entertainment included sets with IIIrd Tyme Out, the Osborne Brothers, the Lewis Family and the Lonesome River Band.