Rhonda Vincent, Grascals Are Top SPBGMA Winners

"Me and John and Paul" Voted Song of the Year

Rhonda Vincent continued her reigning presence, but the Grascals came in a strong second at the 32nd annual SPBGMA Bluegrass Music Awards show held Sunday (Feb. 5) at the Sheraton Music City Hotel in Nashville. Vincent, her band and various individual members won a total of six trophies, while the Grascals snagged four, including album and song of the year.

The event was sponsored by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America. The organization polls its convention registrants to determine award winners.

Vincent personally won the entertainer of the year and best contemporary female vocalist honors. Her band, the Rage, netted the best overall bluegrass band and best vocal group nods. And band members Hunter Berry and Josh Williams copped the best fiddler and guitarist trophies, respectively.

The Grascals, who won the emerging band and song of the year prizes from the International Bluegrass Music Association this past fall, lived up to those early awards by taking SPBGMA’s instrumental group, album (The Grascals) and song of the year (“Me and John and Paul”) kudos. Voters singled out the band’s Danny Roberts as best mandolin performer.

Cherryholmes, the fast-rising family group made up of mother, father and their four children, scored the top entertaining group prize. Daughter Cia Cherryholmes earned the distinction of best banjo performer. A fairly new band, Cherryholmes emerged as the surprise winner of the 2005 IBMA entertainer of the year award.

Vincent, the Grascals and Cherryholmes are all competing for the best bluegrass album Grammy (along with Blue Highway and the Del McCoury Band). The winner will be revealed Wednesday (Feb. 8) in Los Angeles.

SPBGMA inducted trailblazing Dobro player Mike Auldridge into its Preservation Hall of Greats at the start of the evening.

Although it is consistently the loosest, longest and slowest-paced awards ceremony in the music business (this one limped on for four hours and 15 minutes), the show always redeems itself through memorable performances.

Rarely Herd, the band that co-hosted the show with Rhonda Vincent, stilled the crowd with its ethereal take on the Country Gentlemen’s “Legend of the Rebel Soldier.” Ronnie Bowman was equally magnificent in his bow to Jimmy Martin with “Mary Ann.” Genial but authoritative in his delivery, Bowman has become one of bluegrass music’s most eloquent vocalists.

The crowd of several hundred was attentive but seldom demonstrative, owing perhaps to the length of the show and the fact that many of the ticketholders were in their fourth day at the SPBGMA convention. Even so, the Grascals stirred the audience from its torpor with a high-octane set that included a breakneck cover of the Osborne Brothers’ “Roll Muddy River” and an achingly intense treatment of Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again.”

The band dedicated the latter song to Louise Scruggs, Earl Scruggs’ wife and business manager, who died Thursday (Feb. 2) in Nashville. The Grascals’ final tune, “Sally Goodin,” which showcased Roberts’ shower-of-sparks mandolin picking, earned a standing ovation — the only one of the evening.

Patriarch Jere Cherryholmes had the crowd laughing with his befuddled “The Memory Song,” a tune that chronicles a domino chain of minor domestic disasters caused by his memory failure.

Vincent, who as usual closed the show, tendered an abbreviated set of six songs. She opened with “All-American Bluegrass Girl,” the title cut of her next album she’s already recording. She also announced Dolly Parton will make a guest appearance on the album.

Calling on Molly and B.J. Cherryholmes to add their fiddles to the band mix, Vincent dedicated the majestic “The Last Best Place” to Louise Scruggs. She noted that Scruggs’ business acumen had done much to popularize bluegrass music.

Several performers paid tribute to Scruggs. Little Roy Lewis, frontman of the Lewis Family bluegrass band, said he had just visited Earl Scruggs to extend his condolences and that the great banjoist had told him, “After all this is over, we’ve got to sit down and pick some together.”

2006 SPBGMA Award Winners:

Entertainer of the Year: Rhonda Vincent
Album: The Grascals
Song: “Me and John and Paul,” performed by the Grascals, written by Harley Allen
Bluegrass Songwriter: Tom T. and Dixie Hall
Bluegrass Band (Overall): Rhonda Vincent & the Rage
Entertaining Group: Cherryholmes
Instrumental Group: The Grascals
Vocal Group: Rhonda Vincent & the Rage
Gospel Group (Overall): The Lewis Family
Gospel Group (Traditional): Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Gospel Group (Contemporary): Newfound Road
Male Vocalist (Traditional): James King
Male Vocalist (Contemporary): Larry Stephenson
Female Vocalist (Traditional): Michelle Nixon
Female Vocalist (Contemporary): Rhonda Vincent
Bass Fiddle Performer: Mike Bubb
Dobro Performer: Tim Graves
Guitar Performer: Josh Williams
Mandolin Performer: Danny Roberts
Banjo Performer: Cia Cherryholmes
Fiddle Performer: Hunter Berry
Bluegrass Radio Station: WSM-AM/Nashville
Bluegrass DJ: Eddie Stubbs, WSM-AM/Nashville
Bluegrass Promoter: John Hutchinson
Bluegrass Newsletter: Bama Grass, Alabama Bluegrass Association

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