The Farm Hands band, together and individually, reaped a bumper crop of trophies Sunday night (Feb. 5) at the 45th annual Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America awards show, held at the Sheraton Music City Hotel in Nashville.
The four-hour show featured sets by Blue Highway, the Rarely Herd (who also hosted the event), Flatt Lonesome and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.
In addition to copping the entertainer of the year trophy, the Farm Hands won for best gospel group, best album and best song, while band co-founders Daryl Mosley and Tim Graves took honors as best songwriter and best Dobro player, respectively.
Rhonda Vincent, who usually closes this show with her band, the Rage, was working a country music cruise and couldn’t attend. Even so, she took the instrumental group of the year honor, and her band members Mickey Harris, Josh Williams and Hunter Berry won as best bassist, guitarist and fiddler, respectively.
The show opened rather slowly with a long and rambling tribute to SPBGMA founder Chuck Stearman, who established the cultural preservation group in 1974. A bluegrass mandolin player in his early days, Stearman died last year and was this year inducted in the organization’s Preservation Hall of Greats.
For all its leisurely pace and onerous length, the show abounded with great performances. Blue Highway, always a tight and attention-riveting group, spotlighted selections from its new, Grammy-nominated album, Original Traditional, including “Don’t Weep For Me,” “What You Wanted,” “A Long Row to Hoe” and a majestic a cappella rendering titled “Hallelujah” (not the Leonard Cohen song).
The always reliable and road-hardened Rarely Herd was a bit-ragged as a hosting unit. Most of their jokes had punchlines you could see coming, and the slow set changes called for more bridging material than they seemed to have ready. But as musicians, they were impeccable. The band kicked off its set with the breezy and bouncy “Well … All Right,” and between that and joyous gospel closer, “Preachin’ Up a Storm,” sang an array of story songs, among them, the lovely and wistful “The Waving Girl” and the ominous “Simon Crutchfield’s Grave.”
Although they strove mightily to do so, they couldn’t quite sweep the crowd up in their proposed singalong with “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Nonetheless, their rapturous a cappella reading of the classic was cathedral quality fare.
Flatt Lonesome performed without the services of Kelsi Robertson, who was ill, a factor that cause some shifting from the band’s usual program. The other members adjusted admirably, opening with their own “Runaway Train” and gliding through such country and bluegrass standards as “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger,” “On and On,” “The Grand Tour,” “You Don’t Know My Mind” and “Doin’ My Time.”
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver didn’t take the spotlight until 9:50 p.m., after all the awards had been handed out.
“I had two birthdays today waiting to come onstage,” Lawson cracked.
Still, most of the original crowd remained, obviously eager to hear him. And he rewarded their patience richly. An immensely powerful singer and mandolin picker, Lawson is also an unerring bandleader whose eye for rising talent matches that of such other legendary maestros as Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs and Rhonda Vincent.
Lawson opened with the sunny “Love on Arrival,” a 1990 country hit for Dan Seals and a few songs later brought new life to Vern Gosdin’s dolorous “Till the End” from 1977. He and his bandsmen tapped into the crowd’s zest for a cappella arrangements with the vocal leapfrogging of “Wrestling Jacob” and showcased their instrumental virtuosity via “Cheyenne.”
Coasting to the end of his set with “Another Day” and “Blue Train,” Lawson yielded to the crowd’s sustained applause and stayed on for one more — “Lonesome Old World.” He could have stayed longer. These were hardcore bluegrassers, after all. Even the dramatic Super Bowl goings on failed to lure them away.
As the acceptance speeches droned on, more and more of the recipients began crediting their “Lord and Savior” for everything from their physical survival to their professional success. This ritual profession of faith reached its pinnacle when a publicist accepting a trophy for her absentee client assured the crowd that had he been there, he, too, would have thanked his Lord and Savior, Who, by this time, must have felt very pleased.
Here is the complete list of award winners:
SPBGMA Preservation Hall of Greats: Chuck Stearman
Entertainer of the Year: the Farm Hands
Song: “Dig in the Dirt,” written by Keith Tew, recorded by the Farm Hands
Album: Dig in the Dirt, the Farm Hands
Songwriter: Daryl Mosley
Female Vocalist: Charli Robertson (of Flatt Lonesome)
Male Vocalist: Junior Sisk
Gospel Group: the Farm Hands
Vocal Group: Flatt Lonesome
Instrumental Group: Rhonda Vincent & the Rage
Bluegrass Band: Flatt Lonesome
Instrumental Winners: Mickey Harris (bass), Tim Graves (Dobro), Josh Williams (guitar), Danny Roberts and Larry Stephenson, tie (mandolin), Aaron McDaris (banjo), Hunter Berry (fiddle).
Promoter: D.A. Callaway
Radio Station: Sirius XM 61, Bluegrass Junction
Disc Jockey: Kyle Cantrell, Sirius XM 61