2018 IBMA Special Awards

The IBMA Special Awards are being distributed this morning during a luncheon presentation at the Raleigh Convention Center. While attendees enjoy their meal, a number of speakers are addressing the crowd, with the awards being announced in between.

These special awards are for the non-musical aspects of the bluegrass industry, including broadcasters, graphic artists, print media, audio engineering, songwriting, and event production. Also being given today are Distinguished Achievement Awards to four special members of the bluegrass community.

The show kicked off with a spirited performance by John Reischman & The Jaybirds. They represent northwestern bluegrass, with an old time flair, fronted by virtuosic mandolinist Reischman. As always, they provided a fine mix of music.

A Distinguished Achievement Award was given to Walter Saunders, a long time contributor to Bluegrass Unlimited. Ken Irwin of Rounder Records told a story during his introduction of the time that Saunders introduced Ken to The Johnson Mountain Boys. Rounder signed them after one set. Walt took the occasion to share some of the thanks that he was too flabbergasted to remember when he received a Print Media Person award in the early ’90s, and graciously accepted the award.

Graphic Design – Lou Everhart – Project: A Heart Never Knows by The Price Sisters

Print/Media – Neil Rosenberg

Another Distinguished Achievement Award was given to Christopher Howard-Williams, founder of the La Roche Bluegrass Festival in France, a free 3-day event held in a number of venues throughout the city. It has grown into a major destination festival for bluegrass lovers across Europe and the UK, with a missionary zeal for promoting the music.

Broadcaster – Steve Martin

Liner Notes – (tie) 

  • Craig Havighurst – Project: The Story We Tellby Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers 
  • Peter Wernick – Project: Carter Stanley’s Eyesby Peter Rowan 

Banjo maven Curtis McPeake received a Distinguished Achievement Award for his lifelong dedication to the banjo and bluegrass music. Known widely as the Foggy Mountain Boys’ fill-in banjo picker, who stood in for Earl Scruggs whenever he was ill or indisposed, Curtis also played with Bill Monroe, in the Grand Ole Opry staff band, and with Danny Davis & The Nashville Brass. Since retiring from touring, McPeake has focused his energy on his vintage instrument business, though he did record an album recently with Andy May. Unable to attend, Curtis accepted with a video message.

Sound Engineer – Ben Surrett

Event – Bluegrass on the Green – Frankfort, IL 

Songwriter – Jerry Salley

Another recipient of a Distinguished Achievement was George Gruhn, proprietor of Gruhn Guitars in Nashville. It was presented by his long time friend, Vince Gill, who as fate would have it, has a gig tonight in nearby Cary, NC. He spoke without notes, sharing his deep affection for George, who has provided instrument advice and service to bluegrass and country royalty for at least two generations. In accepting, George referenced his instrument “habit that got out of hand,” and demonstrated his new pacemaker by running swiftly across the stage, before thanking the bluegrass community for teaching him about the value of vintage instruments when he first got started. 

The Special Awards concluded with a Distinguished Achievement Award for Chris Thile, an artist who has revolutionized the mandolin in contemporary music as surely as Bill Monroe did 60 years before him. In presenting, Sierra Hull stressed not only Thile’s virtuosity, his work ethic, and his long string of awards, but also the generosity he showed towards her when she first met him at MerleFest when she was only 10 years old. She said he jammed with her that day for 2 hours.

Accepting, Chris bounded to the stage just as he did years ago when Nickel Creek was named as Emerging Artist by IBMA in 2000. In animated extemporaneous remarks, he expressed his deep love for the bluegrass community, and encouraged everyone in attendance to take their young children or grandchildren to festivals so they can enjoy the music the way he did as a youngster.

We will update this post throughout the presentation as each award is given, and have photos early this afternoon.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.