Blue Highway Make Strong Showing in IBMA Nominations

Lewis Family, King Records Founder to Be Inducted Into Hall of Honor

The group Blue Highway cut through a thicket of the usual bluegrass suspects to nail down six major award nominations from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). Rhonda Vincent and Doyle Lawson announced the trade organization’s 2006 finalists during a Tuesday (Aug. 15) press conference at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Ford Theater in Nashville.

The Lewis Family bluegrass gospel singers and the late Syd Nathan, founder of King Records, will be this year’s inductees into the IBMA’s Hall of Honor.

Winners will be revealed Sept. 28 during the IBMA’s annual award show at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House. Marty Stuart will host the event.

Others joining Blue Highway as multiple nominees include Alison Krauss & Union Station, Cherryholmes, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver and Rhonda Vincent & the Rage. (The IBMA credits an entire act as being nominated if any one of its members is nominated individually. By that method, Blue Highway had a total of 10 nominations, second only to Alison Krauss & Union Station with 11.)

Blue Highway garnered nods for vocal group, instrumental group, song of the year (for their recording of Mark Knopfler’s “Marbletown”) and gospel recorded performance of the year. Additionally, they received two album of the year nominations for their own release, Marbletown, and for their contributions to the compilation album, Celebration of Life: Musicians Against Childhood Cancer. Rob Ickes raised the group’s overall total with his nomination in the Dobro division of the instrumentalists category and two nominations for recorded event of the year for Three Ring Circle (his project with Andy Leftwich and Dave Pomeroy) and his work on Curly Seckler’s Down in Caroline.

Thanks to multiple nominations for most of its members, Alison Krauss & Union Station led the field of nominees, including nods as instrumental group and vocal group. Krauss was nominated for female vocalist, and bassist Barry Bales was nominated in the instrumentalists category. In addition to his nomination as an instrumentalist, Dobro player Jerry Douglas received an instrumental album mention for his solo project, The Best Kept Secret. Douglas’ involvement in guitarist Bryan Sutton’s Not Too Far From the Tree netted him two more nominations for recorded event and instrumental album. Dan Tyminski and Ron Block received nominations in the male vocalist and banjo categories, respectively, and both are up for album of the year for their involvement in the all-star Celebration of Life album.

Cherryholmes, winner of the 2005 entertainer of the year prize, return in the category, competing this time with the Grascals, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, the Del McCoury Band and Rhonda Vincent & the Rage.

“Everybody’s worked really hard this year,” said Jere Cherryholmes, the group’s patriarch, after the nominees were announced. “I think we’re more entertaining than we were last year. … [Winning again] would kind of confirm that it wasn’t a fluke.”

The announcements were made in a festive atmosphere that was routinely punctuated by applause. The Grascals opened the proceedings with “Will You Be Loving Another Man,” from their forthcoming album, Long List Of Heartaches, and Alecia Nugent and her band wrapped up the ceremonies with “A Little Girl … a Big Four Lane,” the title cut of her most recent album.

Lawson and Vincent announced the nominees while Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs unveiled the names of the newest inductees into the IBMA Hall of Honor.

The veteran bluegrass stars clearly enjoyed their chore. Looking up and down at the stylishly dressed Lawson, Vincent said, “I think you’re the only guy in bluegrass who shops more than I do.” When she came to the instrumental group of the year category, she departed slightly from the script, emphasizing that one of the nominees was “Ricky Skaggs — and Darrin Vincent — and Kentucky Thunder.” (Vincent’s brother plays guitar in Skaggs’ band.)

When the two completed listing the nominees well before their allotted time was up, Lawson deadpanned, “We can still catch the Shoney’s buffet.”

Stubbs credited the three-generation Lewis Family with “educating the world of bluegrass in terms of marketing.” While other acts were still selling records from the trunks of their cars, he noted, the Lewis Family were setting up display tables and banners to hawk their wares.

King Records, Stubbs continued, which released its first bluegrass album 55 years ago, established “a blueprint for the independent labels that would follow.” He noted that Nathan had his whole recording operation, including graphics, mastering and pressing, under one roof in his Cincinnati headquarters and even ran his distribution system. Nathan died in 1968.

IBMA president David Crowe, who’s also an entertainment lawyer and Bobby Osborne’s fiddler, said that this year’s Distinguished Achievement awards will go to Fred Bartenstein, bluegrass entrepreneur, disc jockey and former editor of Muleskinner News; the Boys From Indiana for helping popularize bluegrass beyond its usual confines; festival founder and performer Bill Grant; musician and bluegrass television pioneer Ronnie Reno; and Grand Ole Opry trio, the Whites.

Crowe noted last year’s World of Bluegrass gathering, which was held for the first time in Nashville, brought approximately $3.5 million into the city. In addition to the awards show, this year’s event embraces the IBMA Business Conference, Sept. 25-28, and the Bluegrass Fan Fest, Sept. 29-Oct. 1.

Expected to surface but missing among this year’s nominees were Nugent, both for her highly-touted new album and as a vocalist, and Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-Press for their adventurous CD, Try a Little Kindness. Nugent is, however, among the several artists in the album of the year category for the Celebration of Life compilation.

View a complete list of the 2006 IBMA award nominees.

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