The Gibson Brothers reaped the entertainer of the year trophy at the 23rd annual International Bluegrass Music Awards show Thursday night (Sept. 27) at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
It was the final such ceremony the International Bluegrass Music Association will hold at the historic venue for at least the next three years, during which the event will be staged in Raleigh, N.C.
Earlier in the evening, the Gibson Brothers also walked away with the gospel recorded performance of the year prize for their collaboration with Ricky Skaggs on the song “Singing as We Rise.”
Holding up the band’s top entertainer trophy for all to see, an emotional Eric Gibson proclaimed, “I want to dedicate this to my mom at home and my dad gone home. We lost him in January.”
Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice were the night’s other big winner, capturing both the album and song of the year prizes for The Heart of a Song and “A Far Cry From Lester & Earl,” respectively.
Del McCoury and West Coast bluegrass singer and fiddler Laurie Lewis deftly co-hosted the production that featured performances by Dailey & Vincent, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Blue Highway, the Boxcars, Dale Ann Bradley, Doyle Lawson, the Gibson Brothers and others.
Hovering over the presentations was the awareness that three of the most influential figures in bluegrass — all North Carolinians — had died within the past year: Andy Griffith (who showcased bluegrass music on his wildly popular The Andy Griffith Show), banjo master Earl Scruggs and legendary guitarist Doc Watson.
Roland White, as a member of the Country Boys (later the Kentucky Colonels), appeared twice on Griffith’s show in 1961. He told the crowd that Griffith subsequently asked his band to back him on an album for Capitol Records.
“We were just a bunch of kids,” he said. “But Andy made us feel so much better.”
The show concluded with an all-star tribute to Scruggs, while Watson was honored as the IBMA’s guitarist of the year.
Other winners of note were Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, who copped the emerging artist award, and Dale Ann Bradley and Russell Moore, cited as the top female and male vocalists.
McCoury, Lewis, J.D. Crowe, Bobby Hicks, Jerry McCoury and Bobby Osborne — dubbed “the Masters of Bluegrass” for the occasion — opened the show with the standard “I’ve Lost You.”
Then Lewis, Tom Rozum and Bryan Sutton tipped their hats to Doc Watson by singing the mournful song he wrote with his wife Rosalie, “Your Long Journey.”
Grand Ole Opry star Pam Tillis joined Dale Ann Bradley and her band to sing “Somewhere South of Crazy,” a song Tillis and Bradley co-wrote.
The Gibson Brothers turned in one of the most affecting performance with “We Called It Music,” which harkened back to a time before music became subdivided.
Speeding the proceedings along — and making them far more intimate — was the fact that the stage was uncurtained for most of the show.
As awards were being handed out and acceptance speeches made, the audience could watch stage hands rearranging microphones and see bands walk out and take their places before they were formally introduced.
As suited the ecumenical spirit of the evening, several of the acts “bluegrassed” country and pop songs.
Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen dusted off the 1967 Box Tops hit, “The Letter.” Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver jazzed up Lee Greenwood’s 1985 chart-topper, “Dixie Road.”
And Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out matched the intensity of the original with their cover of Jo-El Sonnier’s 1989 effort, “If Your Heart Should Ever Roll This Way Again.”
WSM-AM/Nashville disc jockey Eddie Stubbs inducted Doyle Lawson into the IBMA Hall of Fame, reciting his achievements as a journeyman musician and bandleader.
A native of East Tennessee, Lawson began his career as a sideman for Jimmy Martin and J.D. Crowe. He then spent eight years as a member of the progressive bluegrass band, the Country Gentlemen.
Lawson established his own band, Quicksilver, in 1979. Apart from his high-spirited traditional bluegrass, Lawson also specialized in adapting gospel quartet music, an art form that netted him and his band numerous awards.
Smithsonian Institution archivist Jeff Place commended Ralph Rinzler, who died in 1994, to the Hall of Fame. A folk music collector and musician, Rinzler “brought bluegrass into the folk music world,” Place said.
The Passaic, N.J., native “discovered” Doc Watson, who was playing the purist-despised electric guitar when he first met him. Rinzler went on to manage Watson and Bill Monroe, introducing both to college audiences. He worked with Carlton Haney in organizing the first bluegrass festival, which was staged in 1965 in Fincastle, Va., and was for three years a board member of the Newport Folk Festival.
Noting that the Ryman Auditorium witnessed the birth of bluegrass music when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs first appeared on its stage in 1945 as members of Bill Monroe’s band, Place said “This place was the temple for Ralph Rinzler.”
Dailey & Vincent dazzled the crowd — and earned themselves a standing ovation — with an a cappella rendering of the old stentorian hymn, “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder.” Clearly designed for vocal showoffs, it was the musical highpoint of the evening.
As Dailey & Vincent sang, a curtain descended halfway back on the stage. This movement set the scene for the evening’s finale, the tribute to Scruggs.
After the final awards were announced, Steve Martin came to the stage to explain Scruggs’ place in the musical world.
“Before him,” Martin said, “no one played the banjo like him. After him, everyone did — or tried to. . . . He was the greatest and most influential banjo player who ever lived.”
While he was speaking, 10-year-old Jonny Mizzone and the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys took their places in front of the curtain. And when he finished, they ripped into Scruggs’ signature tune, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”
Then the curtain raised on most of the musicians who had played during the evening — and many who hadn’t, including Scruggs’ sons, Randy and Gary. They all joined in the song.
Hosts Lewis and McCoury, along with J.D. Crowe and Sam Bush, then stepped forward to lead the band in “That Little Girl of Mine in Tennessee.” With that, the show was over.
The two-and-a-half-hour production was broadcast live on Sirius XM Satellite Radio and WSM-AM. For the first time, it was also streamed in its entirety over the Internet.
Here is the complete list of winners:
IBMA Hall of Fame: Doyle Lawson, Ralph Rinzler
Entertainer: The Gibson Brothers
Emerging Artist: Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers
Female Vocalist: Dale Ann Bradley
Male Vocalist: Russell Moore
Album: The Heart of a Song, Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, produced by Wes Easter and Ramblers Choice for Rebel Records
Song: “A Far Cry From Lester & Earl,” Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, written by Tim Massey, Rick Pardue and Harry Sisk Jr.
Recorded Event: “Life Goes On,” recorded by Carl Jackson, Ronnie Bowman, Larry Cordle, Jerry Salley, Rickey Wasson, Randy Kohrs, D. A. Adkins, Garnet Bowman, Lynn Butler, Ashley Kohrs, Gary Payne, Dale Pyatt, Clay Hess, Alan Bibey, Jay Weaver, Ron Stewart and Jim Van Cleve; produced by Jerry Salley, Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, Jim Van Cleve and Randy Kohrs for Rural Rhythm Records.
Instrumental Group: The Boxcars
Vocal Group: Blue Highway
Instrumental Recorded Event: “Angeline the Baker,” recorded and produced by Lonesome River Band for Rural Rhythm Records
Gospel Recorded Performance: “Singing as We Rise,” the Gibson Brothers with Ricky Skaggs; written by Joe Newberry; produced by Eric Gibson, Mike Barber and Leigh Gibson for Compass Records
Instrumental Performers: Sammy Shelor (banjo), Doc Watson (guitar), Adam Steffey (mandolin), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Rob Ickes (Dobro), Marshall Wilborn (bass)
In ceremonies held earlier in the day, these honors were also presented:
Bluegrass Broadcaster: Kyle Cantrell, Sirius XM Satellite Radio
Bluegrass Event: ROMP, produced by the International Bluegrass Music Museum
Bluegrass Print Media Personality: Marty Godbey, author of Crowe on the Banjo: The Music Life of J.D. Crowe, University of Illinois Press
Best Graphic Design: Bedrock Manufacturing for the Steep Canyon Rangers’ Nobody Knows You, Rounder Records
Best Liner Notes: Marian Leighton Levy for Tony Rice: The Bill Monroe Collection, Rounder Records
Bluegrass Songwriter: Jon Weisberger