IBMA Awards 2020- The results and my thoughts


If you want one, you are also going to get the other!

The International Bluegrass Music Association handed out its annual awards last week, and while I am significantly less invested in them than I once was—I haven’t been a voting member in years, and outside of Dale Ann Bradley and The Special Consensus, I don’t really care who gets the recognition; that would change if Chris Jones & the Nightdrivers were nominated once in awhile. Everyone nominated is at the top of the bluegrass industry, and are deserving of recognition of one kind or another. My thoughts:

BANJO PLAYER-

Nominees: Kristin Scott Benson
Gena Britt
Gina Furtado
Ned Luberecki
Scott Vestal

Kristin Scott Benson took home the award last year, and I thought Ned Luberecki might take it this time, but I was hoping for either of Gena Britt or Gina Furtado. Alas, neither won as Scott Vestal was recognized for the first time since 1996, which may be some kind of record. I googled to see who he was now playing with, and I came up empty. I have no idea what he is doing these days, outside a recent project with Pinecastle; that isn’t a slight, just honesty. Is he still with the Sam Bush Band?

BASS PLAYER 
Nominees: Barry Bales
Mike Bub
Todd Phillips
Missy Raines
Marshall Wilborn

Missy Raines won the award last year—for the eighth time—and I thought she had a good chance this year. I’ll always hope for Bub and Mashall, and with his playing with the Nightriders, I thought there was an outside chance. Did I hedge my bet sufficiently? Raines took it for the ninth time.

FIDDLE PLAYER 
Nominees: Becky Buller
Jason Carter
Michael Cleveland
Stuart Duncan
Deanie Richardson

Always a safe to bet on Michael Cleveland—he has won a dozen times, including the last two years, but I was suspecting Becky Buller would take it home this year. Naturally, I was hoping for Deanie Richardson of Sister Sadie, and for once I got my wish. It was her first win across a distinguished and varied career.

RESOPHONIC GUITAR PLAYER
Nominees: Jerry Douglas
Andy Hall
Rob Ickes
Phil Leadbetter
Justin Moses

Toss a dart, and you could be right. The hardest individual award to predict, in my books. Uncle Phil won last year, and Ickes has won more than anyone else. Flux has taken home the award almost as often as Ickes, and Andy Hall is a hell of a player. But Justin Moses repeated his win of two years ago. And when did they change the name of the award from Dobro? A couple other awards have new names- must have missed that announcement.

GUITAR PLAYER 
Nominees: some of whom play bluegrass.

Trey Hensley
Billy Strings
Bryan Sutton
Molly Tuttle
Jake Workman

Bryan Sutton is always a good bet, and Billy Strings gets a lot of attention, and I must say I enjoy him a little more every time I hear him. I was betting on Strings to repeat, but Jake Workman took home the award. That’s okay, I had to Google him, too.

MANDOLIN PLAYER 
Nominees: Alan Bibey
Jesse Brock
Sam Bush
Sierra Hull
Ronnie McCoury

I’ll pretty much always hope for Jesse Brock in this category. I thought Ronnie McCoury would win for the first time in twenty years, but I was again wrong. Alan Bibey repeats, his second win in a very long bluegrass journey.

This night’s biggest award is always the Entertainer of the Year, so let’s continue there.

ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Balsam Range
Billy Strings
Del McCoury Band
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Sister Sadie
Special Consensus

I have a soft spot for Greg Cahill and The Special Consensus, but I suspected they would be overlooked. If I was betting, I would have placed $10 on Billy Strings, but I would have been wrong. I didn’t think Sister Sadie would win this award, as deserving as they are and as much as I cheer for them. Glad I could be wrong again. First time a female fronted group has won since 2001, unless you count Cherryholmes’ inexplicable win in 2005—still trying to understand that choice. First time an all-female band has won the award. Well-deserved!

MALE VOCALIST 
Nominees: Ronnie Bowman
Del McCoury
Russell Moore
Danny Paisley
Larry Sparks

Three legends, one near, and Danny Paisley, too. Not a bad singer in the bunch, of course, and I wish Del and Larry Sparks would get the award again—they are more than deserving. Can’t argue with Danny Paisley taking the trophy for the second time; he is a heck of a singer.

FEMALE VOCALIST
Nominees: Brooke Aldridge
Dale Ann Bradley
Amanda Smith
Molly Tuttle
Rhonda Vincent

Dale Ann Bradley is the best female singer in bluegrass every year. That she hasn’t won the award since 2012 makes my head hurt. Amanda Smith is a great singer, and I thought she might get the award again. I do love Brooke Aldridge’s music, and the voters agreed, giving her the award for the fourth consecutive year. I’m darned okay with that decision.

VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Balsam Range
Blue Highway
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Sister Sadie
Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out

All deserving, but I was pleased that Sister Sadie was recognized for the second year in a row. Very pleased.

INSTRUMENTAL GROUP OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper
Mile Twelve
Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Sam Bush Band
The Travelin’ McCourys

Toss a dart—all are deserving—but I thought the Travelin’ McCourys would walk away with the award this time. No problem with Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper being awarded again, their sixth time so recognized. Their latest album was brilliant. And was one of my picks for the next award…

ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Special Consensus – Chicago Barn Dance (Compass Records/producer Alison Brown)
Billy Strings – Home (Rounder Records/producer Glenn Brown)
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver – Live in Prague, Czech Republic (Billy Blue Records/producers Doyle Lawson and Rosta Capek)
Larry Sparks – New Moon Over My Shoulder (Rebel Records/producer Larry Sparks)
Michael Cleveland – Tall Fiddler (Compass Records/producers Jeff White, Michael Cleveland, and Sean Sullivan)
Po’ Ramblin’ Boys – Toil, Tears, & Trouble (Rounder Records/producer Dave Maggard)
Appalachian Road Show – Tribulation (Billy Blue Records/producers Jim VanCleve, Barry Abernathy, and Appalachian Road Show)

I reviewed several of these albums, and paid my own money for a couple others. I was hoping for Chicago Barn Dance, but would have been okay with Tribulation winning. I suspected the voters would go for Larry Sparks’ disc, and I would have been okay with that. I enjoyed both Tall Fiddler and Toil, Tears, & Trouble and would have been pleased to have either of those albums win. I didn’t hear Home, but have heard tracks that I enjoyed. But no…give the award to a live album. A good, not great, live album, but come on. Even Doyle admitted the album wasn’t planned so it wasn’t like there was any great concept behind it. I don’t get it.

SONG OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Blue Highway – “Both Ends of the Train” (writers Tim Stafford and Steve Gulley)
Special Consensus with Michael Cleveland & Becky Buller – “Chicago Barn Dance” (writers Becky Buller, Missy Raines, and Alison Brown)
The Grascals – “Haggard” (writer Harley Allen)
Po’ Ramblin’ Boys – “Hickory, Walnut, & Pine” (writers Slaid Cleaves and Nathan Hamilton)
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver – “Living Like There’s No Tomorrow” (writers Jim McBride and Roger Alan Murrah)

Annually, the award I get crankiest with and where ‘what is popular’ sometimes doesn’t line up with ‘what is good or significant.’ There are a couple great songs here, a couple good songs, and one really unimpressive one. For once, brilliance prevailed and the Buller, Raines, and Brown composition took home the honours. I may have called that one upon release.

GOSPEL RECORDING OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Balsam Range ­– “Angel Too Soon”
Dale Ann Bradley – “Because He Loved Me”
Alan Bibey & Grasstowne – “Gonna Rise and Shine”
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver – “I’m Going to Heaven”
Appalachian Road Show – “Little Black Train”

I wonder who I was hoping for? Bibey & Grasstowne took the award.

INSTRUMENTAL RECORDING OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Michael Cleveland with Tommy Emmanuel – “Tall Fiddler”
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver – “Shenandoah Breakdown”
Jesse McReynolds with Michael Cleveland  – “Soldier’s Joy”
Appalachian Road Show – “The Appalachian Road”
Billy Strings – “Guitar Peace”

I truly thought that Jesse McReynolds would win this award, simply for old time’s sake. I was wrong as his guest Michael Cleveland took home the award for the title track of his latest album. I can’t agree with that choice, but I am used to being on the outside looking in.

NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR 
Nominees: Appalachian Road Show
Carolina Blue
High Fidelity
Merle Monroe
Mile Twelve

No longer emerging, I was hoping for High Fidelity, but suspecting Appalachian Road Show would take the award. Instead, Mile Twelve, a band I have never heard, took home the award. I will have to give them a listen.

COLLABORATIVE RECORDING OF THE YEAR 
Nominees: “Chicago Barn Dance” – Special Consensus with Michael Cleveland & Becky Buller
“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” – Jason Barie featuring Del McCoury & Paul Williams
“Tall Fiddler” – Michael Cleveland with Tommy Emmanuel
“The Barber’s Fiddle” – Becky Buller with Shawn Camp, Jason Carter, Laurie Lewis, Kati Penn, Sam Bush, Michael Cleveland, Johnny Warren, Stuart Duncan, Deanie Richardson, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, Jason Barie, Fred Carpenter, Tyler Andal, Nate Lee, Dan Boner, Brian Christianson, and Laura Orshaw
“On and On” – Gena Britt with Brooke Aldridge

I was hoping for the Jason Barie track (his album is amazing, by the way) or “Chicago Barn Dance” (again), but the huge cast of “The Barber’s Fiddle” took home the prize; glad to see Laurie Lewis again recognized by the IBMA. Perhaps one day soon she will take her deserved place in the Hall of Fame. Did you catch her on the Hardly Strictly broadcast this weekend? No? Catch it online before it is gone—she was great!

That’s it- your summary of the main IBMA awards. A really enjoyable broadcast with some incredible ‘live’ performances; search for them on the YouTube.

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