LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Del McCoury picked up his ninth entertainer of the year trophy from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) on Thursday night (Oct. 7), and he was quick to acknowledge the longtime members of his ensemble, the Del McCoury Band.
"I'd like to thank this band," McCoury said. "They're a great band, I tell you. I really think a lot of these guys. Not only are they good musicians, but I like to be around them. They're great people. And I'd like to thank you folks, the bluegrass fans. This is the greatest music in the world!"
This is the eighth entertainer victory for the Del McCoury Band, because McCoury won the entertainer trophy by himself in 1994. Between its current members, they have won more IBMA awards than any other act. This year, they also took album of the year honors for It's Just the Night, and performed one of the its songs, "Dry My Tears and Move On."
Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski hosted the awards show at the Kentucky Center in Louisville.
Rhonda Vincent won her fifth consecutive female vocalist trophy, giving her the most wins in that category, just ahead of Krauss' four wins in the early 1990s.
Vincent noted, "People say, 'If you win the fifth year in a row, what does that mean to you?' I can't begin to tell you. I love what I do. I love singing bluegrass music and it means very much."
Vincent also took song of the year honors, with Terry Herd, for "Kentucky Borderline." Before her performance of "The Last Best Place," she requested a moment of silence for the U.S. troops who have been killed in Iraq.
Though the male vocalist category is always a tough one to call, the crowd leaped to its feet when bluegrass veteran Larry Sparks was announced as the winner.
"You know, I've never won anything in my life," he said, in disbelief. "I've been singing 100 years or so, and I feel it, too." He name-checked several of his heroes, such as Curly Seckler, Lester Flatt, Carter Stanley and Bill Monroe.
He concluded his acceptance speech by saying, "I'll keep singing if you get on board with me, and we'll ride it on out." Earlier in the ceremony, he had performed "You Ain't Lived," which was nominated for song of the year.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver offered an upbeat train song, "Heartbreak #9," and won its fourth consecutive vocal group award. In 2004, Lawson celebrated his 25th anniversary of creating his band Quicksilver. In accepting the award, Lawson acknowledged his family, all of whom were in the audience, and his "great group of guys" in Quicksilver. He added, "Thank you all for your vote of confidence, and thanks to the almighty God. He's so good to all of us."
Two bands familiar to bluegrass fans picked up trophies as well. Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder earned its sixth instrumental group award, and Blue Highway's Wondrous Love album won the gospel recorded performance trophy. Giving chill bumps to the audience, Blue Highway also sang the stirring title hymn with a choir that featured members of Mountain Heart, IIIrd Tyme Out's Russell Moore, Laurie Lewis, and others.
Another musical highlight included a rousing trio of newcomer Alecia Nugent, Kentucky native Rebecca Lynn Howard and producer-singer Carl Jackson on the Louvin Brothers classic, "The Angels Rejoiced." The corresponding album, Livin', Lovin', Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers won the recorded event trophy. Each participating artist, including Krauss, McCoury and Vincent, as well as unlikely musicians such as James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, will share in the award.
King Wilkie, one of the most buzzed-about acts in bluegrass this year, captured the emerging artist trophy. The young six-man band is based in Charlottesville, Va., and takes its name from Bill Monroe's favorite horse.
"It's been a crazy year," remarked member John McDonald. "We went from smoky bars to getting a chance to play in front of a lot of our idols. Guys like Del McCoury let us open up for him. Lonesome River Band, Nashville Bluegrass Band, all sorts of these guys. It's been a really crazy year."
Nearly all the musicians honored with individual awards were visibly overwhelmed, including Rob Ickes (Dobro), Michael Cleveland (fiddle) and Missy Raines (bass). Cleveland and banjo player Tom Adams also won the instrumental album award for Live at the Ragged Edge.
Earlier in the show, Bryan Sutton accepted his guitar award just before joining mandolin masters Sam Bush and David Grisman on stage for an instrumental. Adam Steffey, who won his third consecutive mandolin award, insisted that he doesn't consider himself the best of anything -- "except maybe eating Little Debbie cakes."
J.D. Crowe used his acceptance speech to humbly ask the audience to vote for somebody else in the banjo category next year.
"Write in some of the younger players and don't wait until they're 70 years old," he said. "There are other guys doing a lot more, a lot quicker." Crowe has only won the award once before, in 1994, but was inducted into the Hall of Honor last year.
This year, Curly Seckler and Bill Vernon also entered the Hall of Honor, the IBMA's equivalent to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
After providing anecdotes from his career as a sideman in bluegrass' infancy, paying homage to his former bosses Flatt & Scruggs and pointing out pointing out his friends in the audience, Seckler joined J.D. Crowe and the New South on stage. Vernon, a broadcast personality who died in 1996, was remembered by esteemed WSM-AM/Nashville disc jockey Eddie Stubbs as an open-minded bluegrass historian who loved both traditional and modern styles. Vernon's two brothers accepted the award on his behalf.
Some of the biggest applause of the night came just before Tom T. Hall's wife, Dixie, announced the winner for song of the year. She pulled the card out of the envelope and said, "It says here, 'Get Jimmy on the Opry.'" The crowd roared its approval, indicating bluegrass stalwart Jimmy Martin's continued popularity among bluegrass fans.
The IBMA awards serve as the conclusion to the World of Bluegrass convention, which began Monday (Oct. 4) at the Galt House. Meanwhile, Fan Fest -- a bluegrass version of Fan Fair -- kicked off Friday morning at the same location. Both events will move to downtown Nashville in 2005.
2004 International Bluegrass Music Award Winners
Entertainer of the Year: Del McCoury Band
Male Vocalist: Larry Sparks
Female Vocalist: Rhonda Vincent
Instrumental Group: Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Vocal Group: Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Emerging Artist: King Wilkie
Song of the Year: "Kentucky Borderline," Rhonda Vincent (artist); Rhonda Vincent and Terry Herd (songwriters)
Album of the Year: It's Just The Night, Del McCoury Band; McCoury Music (label); Del and Ronnie McCoury (producers)
Recorded Event of the Year: Livin' Lovin' Losin: Songs of the Louvin Brothers, Joe Nichols, Rhonda Vincent, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, James Taylor, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Terri Clark, Merle Haggard, Carl Jackson, Ronnie Dunn, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Glen Campbell, Leslie Satcher, Kathy Louvin, Pamela Brown Hayes, Linda Ronstadt, Patty Loveless, Jon Randall, Harley Allen, Dierks Bentley, Larry Cordle, Jerry Salley, Dolly Parton, Sonya Isaacs, Marty Stuart, Del McCoury, Pam Tillis, Johnny Cash and the Jordanaires (artists); Universal South Records (label); Carl Jackson (producer)
Gospel Album: Wondrous Love, Blue Highway (artist); Rounder Records (label); Alan O'Bryant (producer)
Instrumental Album: Live at the Ragged Edge, Tom Adams and Michael Cleveland (artists); Rounder Records (label), Tom Adams and Michael Cleveland (producers)
Instrumental Performers: J.D. Crowe (banjo), Rob Ickes (Dobro), Missy Raines (bass), Michael Cleveland (fiddle), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Adam Steffey (mandolin)
Hall of Honor Inductees: Curly Seckler, Bill Vernon
Distinguished Achievement Award: Art Stamper, Kirk and Becky Brandenberger, Moses "Mo" Asch, Tom T. and Dixie Hall, Jimmie Skinner
Broadcaster: Terry Herd, Bluegrass Radio Network and Sirius Satellite Radio, Nashville
Bluegrass Event: California Bluegrass Association 28th Annual Father's Day Bluegrass Festival, Grass Valley, Calif.
Print Media Personality: Thomas Goldsmith, editor of The Bluegrass Reader, features editor for the News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) and freelance writer for Bluegrass Unlimited
Best Graphic Design for Recorded Project: Sue Meyer (designer); Bluegrass All-Stars: 16 Grand Slams From Sugar Hill Records; Sugar Hill Records (label)
Best Liner Notes for Recorded Project: Eddie Stubbs and Charles Wolfe (writers); 'Tis Sweet to Be Remembered, Mac Wiseman (artist); Bear Family Records (label)
To view photos from the IBMA Awards, visit Del McCoury's artist page at CMT.com.