Despite Sidelining Illness, Rhonda Vincent Tops Bluegrass Awards

Larry Stephenson, Doyle Lawson Also Multiple Winners at SPGBMA Presentation

Rhonda Vincent, who had to cancel her appearance after falling ill earlier in the day, was the top winner at the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America’s 31st annual awards show. The event was held Sunday (Feb. 6) at the Sheraton Music City hotel in Nashville.

Vincent won the entertainer of the year trophy, as well as prizes for contemporary female vocalist and best instrumental group (with her band, the Rage). Other multiple winners were Larry Stephenson (contemporary male vocalist, song of the year) and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver (best vocal group, best traditional gospel group).

Staged on the last night of SPBGMA’s four-day convention and competing with the Super Bowl for attention, the show still attracted a few hundred fans. One of the most-applauded acts was Cherryholmes, a six-member family act. It copped the entertaining group of the year award, and eldest daughter, Cia Cherryholmes, won the best banjo performer trophy.

The Lewis Family, which has missed performing at only one show in the series’ history, received the Grand Masters Gold Award for having won the traditional gospel group of the year honor for a total of 10 years.

Jimmy Gaudreau — the mandolinist who played key roles in such trailblazing groups as the Country Gentlemen, J. D. Crowe & the New South, Spectrum and Chesapeake — was inducted into the SPBGMA Preservation Hall. He dedicated his award to Charlie Waller, founder of the Country Gentlemen, and fiddler Art Stamper, both of whom have died within the past year. Following his induction, he played a brief set with guitarist Orrin Star, his current touring partner.

Hosting the show were Grammy-winner Carl Jackson and members of the Rarely Herd band. Although a few of their jokes and observations suffered from old age, they were generally witty and deft in keeping the program on track and on time.

Owing to the intimacy of this affair, there was a lot of cross-pollination of acts. Jackson called on Sonya Isaacs and Alecia Nugent (whom he produces) to help him out with his set. Del McCoury Band banjo player Rob McCoury and ace guitarist Wyatt Rice sat in with singer-guitarist Ronnie Bowman. Legendary fiddler Buddy Spicher sawed away with the Lewis Family, whose recording sessions he’s played on for years.

Vincent usually closes the show. But since she was ill, her band, the Rage, filled in for her this time. Stephenson, Molly Cherryholmes and Little Roy Lewis pitched in to help out with the vocals. A genuinely funny man, Lewis worked with such frenzied energy — as he always does — that he seemed on the verge of vaporizing. When he joined the Rage, within minutes of the end of his own set, he was dressed in drag, complete with a blonde wig, disco shoes and sharp, pyramidal bosoms. He then compounded the weirdness by seizing the lead vocals on “The Martha White Theme” and simulating amorous postures with the banjo player. By this time, however, most of the audience had trickled away.

Here is the complete list of winners:

Entertainer of the year: Rhonda Vincent
Entertaining group: Cherryholmes
Overall bluegrass band: IIIrd Tyme Out
Instrumental group: Rhonda Vincent & the Rage
Vocal group: Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Overall gospel group: Blue Highway
Traditional gospel group: Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Contemporary gospel group: Marksmen
Traditional male vocalist: James King
Contemporary male vocalist: Larry Stephenson
Traditional female vocalist: Lynn Morris
Contemporary female vocalist: Rhonda Vincent
Album: Songs of the American Spirit, Charlie Waller & the Country Gentlemen
Song: “Clinch Mountain Mystery,” recorded by the Larry Stephenson Band; written by Tom T. Hall and Dixie Hall
Songwriters: Tom T. Hall and Dixie Hall
Fiddle performer: Hunter Berry
Banjo performer: Cia Cherryholmes
Mandolin performer: Ronnie McCoury
Guitar performer: Josh Williams
Dobro performer: Tim Graves
Bass fiddle performer: Mike Bub
Radio station: WDVX-FM, Clinton, Tenn.
Disc jockey: Alex Leach, WDVX-FM
Promoter: Dwight Dillman
Club newsletter: Inside Bluegrass, Minnesota

Set List

Jimmy Gaudreau and Orrin Star:
“Ashes of Love”
“Edsel’s Tailpipe”
“Ladies’ Fancy”
“Alberta”/”Billy in the Low Ground”

Rarely Herd:
“Katy Hill”
“I Will Always Be Waiting for You”
“A Hundred Years From Now”
“The Waving Girl”
“Black-Eyed Susie”

Carl Jackson and Friends:
“I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome”
“Blue Ridge Mountain Home”
“The Angels Rejoiced”

“Shelly in the Heather”/”Linda’s Reel”
“Don’t Fall in Love”
“Makin’ Time”
“He Taught Me to Yodel”

Ronnie Bowman and Friends:
“New Market Gap” (featuring Wyatt Rice)
“Drifting With the Tide”
“Longing for the Old Days”
“Long Gone (That’s How I’m Leaving)”
“Nine-Pound Hammer”

Lewis Family:
“Goin’ Up”
“When We Get to the Other Side”
“The Light of Love”
“Boogie Woogie”
“Mama Prayed, Daddy Sang”
“Angels Gathering Flowers”
“Mary Dear”
“And the Walls Came Tumbling Down”
“The Bells of St. Mary”

The Rage and Guests:
“Fire on the Mountain”
“Cheatin’ Kind of Life”
“Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin”
“When the Angels Sing”
“The Martha White Theme”
“Heartbreakin’ Old Achin’ Blues”
“Flint Hill Special”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to