When the family band Cherryholmes toppled four bluegrass veterans to capture the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) entertainer of the year award at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium on Thursday night (Oct. 27), it's hard to imagine anyone more shocked than the ensemble itself.
"We can't believe it," said Jere Cherryholmes, the father and bass player. "We just want to thank the Lord for all of His blessings of talent, for His stamina, the energy of youth and our safety and security as we travel around this United States trying to bring this music that we love and that you love."
Cherryholmes beat out Alison Krauss & Union Station, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, the Del McCoury Band and Rhonda Vincent & the Rage for the evening's top honor.
The energetic six-piece band -- a mother, father, two daughters and two sons -- originally took up acoustic instruments as a home-schooling project after attending a bluegrass festival to console themselves following the death of their oldest daughter. They only recently began performing full time professionally, as noted by their other nomination for emerging artist of the year.
However, in another of the night's big surprises, the Grascals won that title.
"Holy smokes!" exclaimed band member Jamie Johnson. "This is really incredible. To be in a group with these guys right here, we've all been friends from the get-go. We've all played in other bands together from time to time and to get it to all come together like this. ... Like Terry [Eldredge] always says, 'We happened to be unemployed at the same time,' and that's how this all happened."
When the group also won the song of the year award for "Me and John and Paul," writer Harley Allen joked, "Well, I love the award, but I'd rather have what Alison's smoking tonight. It's really working for her."
Indeed, Krauss' zany personality brought some color and personality in co-hosting the show with Ricky Skaggs. In one of the night's strangest dialogues, she demanded to know the real story behind the Tony Joe White song "Polk Salad Annie" -- namely, what polk salad was, who Annie was and precisely how she got her name. Skaggs' adlibbing skills also saved the show from getting too dry, especially when it ran for nearly three hours. Incidentally, he and his band, Kentucky Thunder, scored their seventh win as instrumental group.
Larry Sparks nabbed the most IBMA trophies of the night, winning for male vocalist (his second consecutive trophy) and for recorded event and album of the year for 40. The double-disc set featured a number of collaborators: Ronnie Bowman, Larry Cordle, Kevin Denney, Vince Gill, Andy Griggs, Tom T. Hall, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Jim Hurst, the Isaacs, Carl Jackson, Chris Jones, Krauss, the Marshall Family, Russell Moore, album producer Don Rigsby, Skaggs, Kenny Smith, Tim Stafford, Ralph Stanley, Dan Tyminski, Rhonda Vincent, Sharon White-Skaggs, Cheryl White and Paul Williams.
"Well, we done it again, didn't we?" Sparks said while accepting the male vocalist trophy amid a standing ovation.
Vincent earned her sixth female vocalist trophy and quickly acknowledged members of her band, the Rage, for their support. "We have such a wonderful time, and we are so thankful," she said. "We feel like we get to live our dreams each day." She also thanked her tour sponsor, Martha White, for her brand new bus.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver captured their fifth consecutive vocal group of the year award, as well as a trophy for gospel recorded performance for "Praise His Name."
"Somehow I just never get tired of being up here," Lawson said during his vocal group acceptance speech before thanking his band, his wife and children and songwriter Carl Caldwell. Before leaving the stage, he added, "We've got to get back there and get tuned now, to live up to all this, I reckon."
Indeed, the level of excellence expected from bluegrass musicians exceeds that of most any genre, except for perhaps jazz. And the list of performers during the ceremony read like a who's who of contemporary bluegrass music: Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Phil Leadbetter (who won awards for Dobro player and instrumental album), Larry Sparks, Mountain Heart, Cherryholmes, Blue Highway, the Grascals, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Peter Rowan & Tony Rice, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, the Del McCoury Band and Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas.
Accepting his bass player award, Mike Bub gave heartfelt thanks to past pickers, rattling off a string of bluegrass bass players over the last 60 years. He also credited McCoury for allowing him to travel the world for the last 13 years. (He left McCoury's band in June.) Bryan Sutton won in the guitarist category, his fourth award. Adam Steffey repeated in the mandolin category, his fourth award. Jim Mills took home the banjo player trophy, his fifth.
In addition, tenor singer Red Allen and fiddler Benny Martin posthumously entered the IBMA Hall of Honor, and the late Jimmy Martin was also duly recognized throughout the evening.
However, it was the Ryman itself that earned the most shout-outs. After all, it was 60 years ago that bluegrass was born on the famous stage. Following the final trophy, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper bestowed a gigantic bronze plaque to Ryman general manager Pam Matthews to commemorate the anniversary. In celebration, the grand finale honored Bill Monroe -- the unquestionable Father of Bluegrass -- with a jaw-dropping jam featuring Krauss, McCoury and Skaggs, along with their full bands.
Luckily for bluegrass fans, the picking party doesn't stop there. All three of those musicians, and dozens more, will play IBMA's three-day Fan Fest, which begins Friday morning (Oct. 28) in downtown Nashville.
Winners of 2005 IBMA Awards
Entertainer of the Year: Cherryholmes
Instrumental Group: Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Vocal Group: Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Male Vocalist: Larry Sparks
Female Vocalist: Rhonda Vincent
Emerging Artists: The Grascals
Album of the Year: 40, Larry Sparks
Instrumental Album of the Year: Slide Effects, Phil Leadbetter
Song of the Year: "Me and John and Paul," the Grascals (artist), Harley Allen (writer)
Gospel Recorded Performance: "Praise His Name," Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Recorded Event of the Year: 40, Larry Sparks with Ronnie Bowman, Larry Cordle, Kevin Denney, Vince Gill, Andy Griggs, Tom T. Hall, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Jim Hurst, the Isaacs, Carl Jackson, Chris Jones, Alison Krauss, The Marshall Family, Russell Moore, Don Rigsby, Ricky Skaggs, Kenny Smith, Tim Stafford, Ralph Stanley, Dan Tyminski, Rhonda Vincent, Sharon White, Cheryl White and Paul Williams
Banjo: Jim Mills
Dobro: Phil Leadbetter
Bass: Mike Bub
Guitar: Bryan Sutton
Mandolin: Adam Steffey
Earlier in the day, several special awards were presented during a luncheon at the Nashville Convention Center. Winners include:
Bluegrass Broadcaster of the Year: Cindy Baucom, Knee Deep in Bluegrass, syndicated program
Bluegrass Event of the Year: WinterGrass, Tacoma, Wash., Feb. 24-27, 2005
Bluegrass Print Media Person of the Year: Stephanie P. Ledgin, author of Homegrown Music: Discovering Bluegrass
Best Graphic Design for a Recorded Project: Wayne Brezinka, The Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family, Various Artists
Best Liner Notes for a Recorded Project: Jon Hartley Fox, Lonesome & Blue: The Complete County Recordings, Red Allen (artist)