Rhonda Vincent won the entertainer of the year and top contemporary female vocalist prizes at the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America's award show Sunday (Feb. 15), but the perennial trophy magnet didn't quite match the popularity of her brother, Darrin Vincent.
Individually and as half of the hot new Dailey & Vincent duo, Darrin pulled down five honors, as did his singing partner, Jamie Dailey. The Grascals took the album and instrumental group of the year distinctions, and their recently added banjo player, Kristin Scott Benson, was voted the best player in that instrumental category.
The awards ceremony was held at Nashville's Sheraton Music City Hotel. In spite of current economic woes, this year's crowd looked to be as large as those in seasons past.
Prior to the conferring of the regular awards, Grand Ole Opry stars the Whites -- Buck and daughters Sharon and Cheryl -- were inducted into SPBGMA's Preservation Hall of Greats. Inducted posthumously was Pat White, Buck's wife, who died in 2002.
Rarely Herd, Nothin' Fancy, Ronnie Bowman, Grasstowne, the Grascals and IIIrd Tyme Out performed brief sets during the awards presentations, while Rhonda Vincent and her band, the Rage, capped off the evening with a few songs. Leavening its music with broad (and occasionally overlong) swatches of humor, Rarely Herd got the crowd going with an infectious seven-song set that included a fiddle and a banjo tune, a parody of the old pop song, "Side by Side," a cover of Leroy Van Dyke's "The Auctioneer" and the stately hymn "If God Be for Us (Who Can Be Against Us)."
Perhaps because it's neither broadcast on radio nor televised, the show tends to dawdle and ramble. Although it started at 7 p.m., the first awards weren't handed out until 40 minutes later.
Bowman's segment was impeccable in both sound and pacing. Besides being one of the most moving singers in bluegrass -- past or present -- he did a masterful job of contextualizing his music, telling his audience in advance such details as who wrote the song and who made important recordings of it.
Bowman was especially impressive in his performances of "Cold Virginia Night," the song that launched him as a solo artist, "Love of the Mountains," "Matterhorn" and "When We Were Young and Love Was New." But his performance of the Satanic monologue, "Here I Am," which he did by himself after his band had left the stage, was as ominous and chilling as an air raid siren.
Walking slowly and holding each other for assistance, Tom T. and Dixie Hall came on stage to accept SPBGMA's songwriting award. Mrs. Hall jovially mentioned that they had brought their doctors with them, adding that the healers were bluegrass fans as well.
She said it was somewhat strange after undergoing a colonoscopy to hear your physician remark, "Yeah, I know Mike Bub." (Bub is a much-acclaimed bluegrass bass player.)
Nothin' Fancy mixed their serious tunes with strains of whimsy. "Two Little Boys," "When the Angels Take My Hand" and a gorgeous a cappella reading of "Lean on Me" were all played straight. But the band butchered -- for questionable comic purpose -- the somber country tune, "Pass Me By." It must have been painful for Tom T. Hall to witness the slaughter since the Johnny Rodriguez hit was the one big song written by his late brother, Hillman Hall.
But the band concluded with a truly funny, Carnegie Hall-to-Grand Ole Opry send-up of "A Lover's Concerto" that featured its classically trained fiddler, Chris Sexton.
The Grascals breezed through such crowd-pleasers as "Happy Go Lucky," "Keep on Walkin'" and "Sad Wind Sighs." Terry Smith demonstrated some jaw-dropping bass licks in "Hear That Whistle Blow."
In accepting her contemporary female vocalist award, Vincent told the audience her fiddle player, Hunter Berry, experienced a "dream come true" just before Christmas when her daughter accepted his proposal of marriage.
"I'm going to be his mother-in-law," she said. To which, Berry replied, "There's a fine line between a dream and a nightmare." But Vincent had the last word. "We're just happy he's employed," she sighed.
Lead vocalist Steve Gulley dominated Grasstowne's stirring set. He reached oratorical heights on "Where No Man Stands Alone" and out-Georged George Jones on "The Grand Tour."
IIIrd Time Out ran the gamut from old ("The White House Blues") to new ("Prayer for Peace") in its program. The band also treated the crowd to a re-tooled version of Marty Robbins' "Knee Deep in the Blues" and concluded with the old fiddle tune, "Angeline the Baker," to which they added lyrics.
Here is the complete list of this year's SPBGMA winners:
Entertainer of the Year: Rhonda Vincent
Entertaining Group: Nothin' Fancy
Album: Keep on Walkin', the Grascals
Song: "By the Mark," Dailey & Vincent
Best Bluegrass Band: Dailey & Vincent
Female Vocalist (Contemporary): Rhonda Vincent
Female Vocalist (Traditional): Jeanette Williams
Male Vocalist (Contemporary): Jamie Dailey
Male Vocalist (Traditional): James King
Vocal Group: Dailey & Vincent
Instrumental Group: The Grascals
Gospel Group (Contemporary): Dailey & Vincent
Gospel Group (Traditional): Paul Williams & the Victory Trio
Bluegrass Songwriter: Tom T. and Dixie Hall
Top Instrumental Performers: Darrin Vincent (bass fiddle), Phil Leadbetter (Dobro), Josh Williams (guitar), Alan Bibey (mandolin), Kristin Scott Benson (banjo), Hunter Berry (fiddle)
Bluegrass Promoter: Bertie Sullivan
Bluegrass Radio Station: WDVX-FM/Knoxville, Tenn.
Bluegrass DJ: Brenda Lawson, WBBC-FM/Blackstone, Va.
Bluegrass Club Newsletter: Bluegrass Express, Oregon Bluegrass Association