Best of the Rest: The Bluegrass Today All-Stars

A lot of fine pickers are nominated for IBMA awards every year, and a chosen few get to cross the stage and pick up a statue. But with five or six nominees in a category, that still leaves plenty of talent unrecognized by their peers.

As I tweeted the winners at this year’s ceremony, it occurred to me that you could assemble a top-notch band with musicians who weren’t nominated. That was the genesis of my first annual Bluegrass Today All-Star Band, which is announced here.

My choices are based on the calendar year rather than the split-year format IBMA uses. So some members of the All-Stars may not have been eligible for IBMA voting this year (but will be in 2012). Those among the final nominees for the 2011 IBMA awards are not eligible, and I’m limiting my picks to one player per band. Otherwise, the band would pretty much be the Gibson Brothers (with Eric doing all the singing since Leigh won male vocalist of the year).

So here goes:

GUITAR: When Jim Hurst left the Claire Lynch Band, he left some mighty big shoes to fill. Matt Wingate filled them admirably and is my choice for this critical slot in the band. His leads are fresh and energetic and his rhythm is impeccable. Plus, he can double on mandolin and is a solid harmony singer.

MANDOLIN: Jesse Brock is a past winner of the IBMA award but wasn’t nominated this year in what might be the most competitive category.

This guy is a human metronome and – dirty little secret – he’s a strong singer and arranger, too.

FIDDLE: Michael Cleveland owns this category in the IBMA voting. But I had a real eye-opening experience at a CD release party for Frank Wakefield a couple of months back. Michael was, as always, phenomenal. But when Nate Leath joined him for twin fiddles, the result was even better. I’ve heard him as the only fiddle in a band, too. He’s the real deal.

BANJO: Mike Munford is a monster picker. He’s a vital cog in Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, but with his five-string prowess, he would be a key part of any band.

DOBRO: It might be years before anybody not named Rob Ickes or Jerry Douglas wins this award. But with Mike Auldridge retiring from the road, a spot as a nominee will open up down the road. Until he fills that slot, we’ll gladly take Andy Hall of the Infamous String Dusters in our All-Star unit.

BASS: With that classic gut-string thump, spot-on timing and just-right embellishments to the traditional root-fifth bass line, Mike Barber of the Gibson Brothers is the perfect choice to hold down the low end. He’s also a terrific producer.

MALE VOCALIST: Keith Garrett of the Boxcars. Nothing against the five IBMA nominees this year – Jamie Dailey, Leigh Gibson, Dan Tyminski, Josh Williams and winner Russell Moore — but this guy deserved to be there. His power, range and emotion make him the best singer in a band filled with singers.

FEMALE VOCALIST: Kati Penn of Newtown. If you haven’t heard her, you should. And if you haven’t heard of her, you will. My only fear is that she won’t be in the All-Star Band long because she’ll crack the top five before long.

Those are my choices. Let’s hear yours.

Share this:

About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.