Dailey & Vincent, Junior Sisk and Rhonda Vincent were the major winners at the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America's awards show staged Sunday night (Feb. 3) at the Sheraton Music City Hotel in Nashville.
But the awards seemed almost incidental to the procession of first-rate bands that turned the nearly five-hour-long event into a mini-bluegrass festival. Several hundred people ignored the competing Super Bowl broadcast to cheer on some of the finest musicians working the road today.
Dailey & Vincent, who closed the show, exited with the best bluegrass band, vocal group and contemporary gospel group trophies tucked under their arms.
Junior Sisk won the top contemporary male vocalist prize and, with his band, Ramblers Choice, also copped the best album and best song honors.
Rhonda Vincent took the entertainer of the year and best contemporary female vocalist prizes, while three of her band members -- Hunter Berry, Mickey Harris and Josh Williams -- were declared champions in the individual instrument categories.
Fans arriving for the show may have noticed two mammoth and luxurious tour buses parked at the front doors of the exhibition area.
One, emblazoned with the Martha White logo, belonged to Rhonda Vincent and her band, the Rage. The other, which bore the insignia of Cracker Barrel restaurants, served as the home-away-from-home of her younger brother Darrin Vincent of Dailey & Vincent.
Bluegrass has been good for the Vincents -- and vice versa.
The band Nothin' Fancy, which would later win the entertaining group award for the second year in a row, opened the show at 6:30 p.m. with a five-song set that ranged from the inconsolably mournful "Last Train From Poor Valley" to a warm and fuzzy a cappella rendition of "Lean on Me."
Darin and Brooke Aldridge came next with an eclectic program that featured beautifully fresh covers of hits by country performers as disparate in style and time as Shania Twain ("No One Needs to Know") and Kitty Wells ("Making Believe").
The Gibson Brothers captivated the audience with a mixture of old and new material, ranging from their standard "Ring the Bell" and a cover of the Louvin Brothers' gospel gem, "He Can Be Found," to "The Darker the Night, the Better I See" and "They Called It Music," both of which will be on their next album, due out in March.
Rarely Herd, who hosted the show, kept up the brisk pace with a collection of country and bluegrass favorites, including "Make the World Go Away," "Love Please Come Home," "Cecil Barfield Plays the Georgia Blues" and a killer a cappella version of "Go Tell John."
Randy Waller and the Country Gentlemen won over the crowd instantly with "This Old Cowboy," a fairly somber song made memorable by the authoritative and jazz-like fiddling flashes of 14-year-old Melody Williamson.
The Gentlemen also tipped their hats to late CG founder Charlie Waller via such familiars as "Redwood Hill," "Waltz of the Angels" and the apocalyptic "He Will Set Your Fields on Fire." Closing with the Country Gentlemen chestnut "The Legend of the Rebel Soldier," the band won the evening's first standing ovation.
Rhonda Vincent & the Rage next stepped into the spotlight. As usual, Vincent's performance was a marvel to behold. Besides her impeccable musicianship, she is also the consummate bandleader, constantly pushing her bandmembers to excel and giving them free rein to gallop when they do.
Her guitarist, Josh Williams, who rejoined the Rage at the beginning of this year, came close to stealing the set with his masterful vocal rendition of the old Jimmy Martin hit, "The Last Song." As customary, Vincent worked in an instrumental medley that allowed -- indeed, demanded -- that each player shine.
Generous with her microphone and her encouragement of younger musicians, Vincent invited 13-year-old Austin Tate and bluegrass veterans Lou Reid and James King to join her onstage to close her set with Carter Stanley's "Lonesome River."
The crowd was on its feet before the last note had faded away.
Reid and his band, Carolina, followed with a dynamic shower of tunes, sturdiest among which were "Grass Lover," "Amanda Lynn" and song-of-the-year nominee "Carolina Moonshine Man."
The always-engaging Larry Stephenson kept the musical ball rolling -- even as the evening approached its fifth hour -- with sensitive renderings of such oldies as "Before I'm Over You" and "Patches," plus such newer fare as "My Heart Is on the Mend," the euphoric "I See God" and the propulsive "Big Train." His set was enhanced considerably by fleet-fingered banjoist Kenny Ingram, who last year was inducted into the SPBGMA's Hall of Greats.
Dailey & Vincent took the stage at 10:45 p.m. and, in the longest set of the evening, commanded it until 11:20 p.m., when the show finally concluded. Their first two songs -- "Steel Drivin' Man" and "Jackson Country" -- are from their forthcoming album.
Jamie Dailey warned the crowd he was going to sing them a love song that might be a bit too sweet and sentimental for their taste. Then he did an absolutely gorgeous treatment of Vince Gill's "Someday (Love Will Come)."
"If you like the song, we're going to record it," Dailey told the crowd. "If you don't, we'll give it to Rascal Flatts."
At this point, Dailey asked the audience members to imagine they were at the Grand Ole Opry, adding that he would -- as Opry announcers do -- signal when it was time for applause.
With that preparation out of the way, Dailey, Vincent and various of their bandsmen underwent vocal metamorphoses to conjure up the spirits of Lester Flatt (via "I Wonder How the Old Folks Are at Home"), Marty Robbins ("A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation," "Devil Woman"), Freddy Fender ("Before the Next Teardrop Falls," complete with a verse in faux Spanish), Johnny Cash ("Ring of Fire," with simulated mariachi trumpet sounds from Dailey and two others), the Louvin Brothers ("When I Stop Dreaming") and the Statler Brothers ("Elizabeth," "More Than a Name on the Wall").
The band ended its set -- and the official part of the evening -- with a soaring a cappella version of "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder."
Although the crowd had thinned considerably by "last call," a few dozen die-hards still lingered around as the musicians packed up, clearly in no hurry to go.
Here is the complete list of winners:
Entertainer of the year: Rhonda Vincent
Entertaining group: Nothin' Fancy
Album: The Heart of a Song, Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice
Song: "A Far Cry From Lester & Earl," Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice
Best bluegrass band: Dailey & Vincent
Female vocalist (contemporary): Rhonda Vincent
Female vocalist (traditional): Jeanette Williams
Male vocalist (contemporary): Junior Sisk
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
Songwriter: Tom T. and Dixie Hall
Top instrumental performers: Mickey Harris (bass fiddle), Tim Graves (Dobro), Josh Williams (guitar), J. D. Crowe (banjo), Hunter Berry (fiddle), Doyle Lawson (mandolin).
Promoter: D. A. Callaway
Radio station: Sirius XM Bluegrass Junction
DJ: Kyle Cantrell (Sirius XM Bluegrass Junction)