For the third time, the Earls of Leicester have been crowned the International Bluegrass Music Association’s entertainer of the year. The band, which in repertoire, musical style and dress pays homage to early era bluegrass, accepted its honor Thursday evening (Sept. 28) at the IBMA awards gala held at the Duke Energy Performing Arts Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Brooke Aldridge and Shawn Camp were voted female and male vocalist of the year, respectively, while Balsam Range’s Mountain Voodoo was declared the year’s top album. A founding member of the Earls of Leicester, this is Camp’s second win in this category.
And for the first time in the show’s history, a woman — Molly Tuttle — won the guitar player of the year trophy.
“This is the biggest honor of my life,” Tuttle exclaimed. “I hope it gets more women out there playing lead on guitar.”
“I’m a Drifter,” recorded by Volume Five and co-written by Donna Ulisse and Marc Rossi, claimed the song of the year prize.
Hosted by husband and wife banjo virtuosi Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, the show at times dragged as presenters or recipients spoke too long or took too long to come on stage. But the hosts were genial and well-spoken, and their performance soared.
The abiding conceit of the evening was that Fleck and Washburn had met as members of a dating service called BanjoMingle.com. Eventually, this joke became tedious as they and others stretched it well beyond its intrinsic comic content.
But these were small flaws in an evening that generally sparkled.
For veteran bluegrass fans, the high points were the induction of Hazel Dickens, Alice Gerrard, Roland White and Bobby Hicks into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and the musical tribute paid to musician and songwriter Pete Kuykendall, who became best-known for founding and publishing the magazine Bluegrass Unlimited. Kuykendall died earlier this year after a long illness.
Among the evening’s musical gems:
• Tim O’Brien, Molly Tuttle, Jerry Douglas, Missy Raines and Danny Paisley performing Kuykendall’s classic “I Am Weary, Let Me Rest.”
• Front Country’s bluesy, jazzy reworking of the Carter Family’s “The Storms Are on the Ocean.”
• Alice Gerrard, backed by an all-star band, singing “Won’t You Come and Sing for Me.”
• Roland White leading his ensemble through “Dark Hollow.”
• Bobby Hicks, aided by Ricky Skaggs and others, roaring through Bill Monroe’s “Jerusalem Ridge.”
• Fleck and Washburn’s banjo and tap dancing showpiece “Take Me to Harlan.”
• The Gibson Brothers’ mournful chronicle of the loss of a family farm, “In the Ground.”
It being a bluegrass show, there had to be at least one banjo joke told to the crowd. This one came from banjoist Alison Brown, who’s also an owner of Compass Records: What do you get when you cross a banjo player with a groundhog? Six more weeks of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”
Here is the complete list of winners:
Entertainer of the year: The Earls of Leicester
Vocal group of the year: Flatt Lonesome (their second win in this category, previously in 2016)
Instrumental group of the year: Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper (their fourth win in this category, previously in 2008, 2009 and 2010)
Song of the year: “I Am a Drifter” by Volume Five (artist), Donna Ulisse/Marc Rossi (writers)
Album of the year: Mountain Voodoo by Balsam Range (Balsam Range, producer)
Gospel recorded performance of the year (tie): “I Found a Church Today” by The Gibson Brothers (Eric Gibson/Leigh Gibson, writers) and “Sacred Memories” by Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers with Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White Skaggs (Dolly Parton, writer)
Instrumental recorded performance: “Fiddler’s Dream” by Michael Cleveland (Arthur Smith, writer)
Emerging artist of the year: Volume Five
Recorded event of the year: “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” by Bobby Osborne with Sierra Hull, Alison Brown, Rob Ickes, Stuart Duncan, Trey Hensley, Todd Phillips, Kenny Malone, Claire Lynch and Bryan McDowell
Female vocalist of the year: Brooke Aldridge (her first win in this category)
Male vocalist of the year: Shawn Camp (his second win in this category, previously in 2015)
Banjo player of the year: Noam Pikelny (his second win in this category, previously in 2014)
Bass player of the year: Alan Bartram (his first win in this category)
Dobro player of the year: Josh Swift (his first win in this category)
Fiddle player of the year: Patrick McAvinue (his first in in this category)
Guitar player of the year: Molly Tuttle (first woman to win this category)
Mandolin player of the year: Sierra Hull (her second year in this category, previously in 201