The third and final ballot for the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards will be going out in the next few weeks and the competition is keen this year. Among the top contenders for the ninth annual awards are Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, the Lonesome River Band and the Del McCoury Band.
Ricky Skaggs and his band, Kentucky Thunder, are front-runners receiving eleven nominations. Skaggs has dominated the bluegrass charts for the better part of this past year due to the release of his Bluegrass Rules!, which marked the musician’s return to bluegrass after a successful run in the country field. Skaggs and his band received nominations for categories including Entertainer, Instrumental Group and Album of the Year.
As leader of the New Traditionalist movement in the early 1980’s, Skaggs did not venture far from his bluegrass roots. Throughout his run as a top country artist (which included CMA Male Vocalist and Entertainer of the Year honors in 1982 and ’85, respectively). Skaggs used his success to promote and educate country audiences about Bluegrass, taking covers of songs by Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs to the top of the country charts.
Skaggs’ right-hand man, fiddler, Bobby Hicks, picked up four nominations in this year’s balloting. He will be vying for album honors alongside his boss for his critically acclaimed Fiddle Patch album that includes guest appearances by Skaggs, McCoury and Marty Stuart.
The Del McCoury Band received a total of nine nominations and will be defending their Entertainer of the Year title. McCoury and his outfit have also been nominated for the Vocal and Instrumental Group awards and McCoury is among five finalists for Male Vocalist of the Year. Young Jason Carter, last year’s Fiddle Player of the Year, also received a nomination in the Instrumental Album of the Year category for his On the Move project. Mike Bub and Ronnie McCoury, last year’s bass and mandolin honorees, have again been nominated as has banjo player Robbie McCoury.
The ever-popular Lonesome River Band picked up 10 nominations including nods for Entertainer, Vocal and Instrumental Group. Three-time Banjo Player of the Year, Sammy Shelor, has again been nominated in that category and Ronnie Bowman, 1995’s Male Vocalist, made the final five in that division. Bowman, Tim Austin and Don Rigsby were acknowledged for their contributions to one of this year’s nominated gospel projects, Stanley Gospel Tradition: Living on the Other Side, which was also nominated for Recorded Event of the Year. Rigsby’s solo gospel outing, A Vision, is also nominated in that category.
Rounding out the nominees in the Entertainer of the Year category are Blue Highway and IIIrd Tyme Out. The latter group has a total of eight nominations including Album of the Year for their Live at the MAC project while two-time Male Vocalist winner Russell Moore is also among the finalists in that category. Rob Ickes, 1997’s Dobro Player of the Year, picked up two nominations including one for Instrumental Album for his contributions to Bluegrass ’97, thus bringing Blue Highway’s total nominations to six.
All but one of the nominees in the Female Vocalist of the Year category have gone home winners in previous years. Those nominated are Lynn Morris (1), Alison Krauss (4), Laurie Lewis (2), Claire Lynch (1) and Rhonda Vincent. In addition to her own solo work, Vincent has recently participated in high profile albums by Dolly Parton (Hungry Again) and Ralph Stanley, whose Clinch Mountain Country will be eligible for next year’s competition.
Unlike other styles of music, Bluegrass is not exclusively a young person’s game and this year’s ballot is proof with Hall of Honor members Doyle Lawson, Earl Scruggs and Josh Graves all receiving nominations. Pioneering guitarist Doc Watson is nominated in the Guitar Player of the Year and Recorded Event categories, while Larry Sparks is a finalist in the gospel category for his New Highway album.
Two other legendary figures will be honored at this year’s ceremonies for their many contributions to Bluegrass music. Chubby Wise will be inducted as this year’s performer for his artistry as a fiddle player, notably for his work as a member of Bill Monroe’s “classic” lineup of Blue Grass Boys in the 1940s, which also included Scruggs, Lester Flatt and Cedric Rainwater. Joining Wise this year is Carlton Haney who is credited with having produced the first weekend long bluegrass festival, held at Pinecastle, Virginia, in 1965. That event was the prototype for the hundreds of festivals now staged worldwide.
Skaggs and Vincent will host this year’s event, which is set for October 22nd at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts in Louisville. Stay tuned to country.com as we bring you complete coverage of this year’s awards show in addition to other IBMA World of Bluegrass and Fan Fest activities.