IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards: comments and photos

2023 IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards stage – photo © Frank Baker

Thursday afternoon, time was spent with nominated artists prior to the awards program. Authentic Unlimited received two awards: New Artist of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year.

Prior to the event, AU fiddler Stephen Burwell shared his excitement of being nominated. “It feels incredible. It’s an extreme honor to be nominated for these awards. I’m grateful to be playing music with these guys that care so much about it and work really hard.”

AU banjoist Eli Johnston chimed in as well. “We’re just so excited to see it all grow. We can’t wait.”

Mandolinist Jesse Brock was up for Mandolin Player of the Year, and expressed his gratitude for the nomination. “It is quite an honor to be in the final five. I still feel like a winner.”

Greg Blake, Male Vocalist of the Year, was humbled and excited before the show. “It’s an amazing feeling. It’s really surreal to see my name in the same breath and place with the guys I learned to sing bluegrass from. I mean Del McCoury, Danny Paisley, Larry Sparks. That’s who I listened to as a teenager to learn how to sing bluegrass. To see my name listed in the same category as those guys, I’ve already won!”

Stephen Mougin of Dark Shadow recording stated, “I have two songs that I produced up for awards. Song of the Year with Rick Faris, The Power of Love. I also have Gospel Recorded Performance, Tell Me the Story of Jesus, with Becky Buller, Ricky Skaggs, and Vince Gill, and we have Hen House Prowlers up for New Artists of the Year. It’s very exciting. It’s really cool to have the industry looking at what we do, and liking it as much as we do.”

New Artist nominee, Hen House Prowlers’ founding member, banjo player Ben Wright, shared, “It’s a hugely exciting thing to be associated with the other acts on that nomination. I love every one of those bands and really thrilled to be mentioned in the same space as them. It’s nice to be walking the red carpet and be surrounded by our wonderful community.”

Entertainer of the Year nominee Appalachian Road Show’s Barry Abernathy confessed, “I probably feel unworthy of it with all the heroes involved in the same category. It is a great honor. It doesn’t matter, win or lose. It’s just a fun night, and good to be here.”

ARS fiddler Jim VanCleve wholeheartedly agreed. “It’s a ridiculous honor. It’s crazy to be four years into a band and have that happen. We’re excited as can be. We don’t expect anything, but we’re sure grateful.”

Abernathy and VanCleve’s song, Blue Ridge Mountain Baby, was also in the list of nominations for Song of the Year. VanCleve shared his inspiration. “We needed two more songs for the record. I knew we needed something fun, fast, and uplifting. I was driving and I had a hook, Blue Ridge Mountain Baby, that just kind of dropped down out of the sky into my head, and all of a sudden, the melody happened, too. I knew the song was almost written already. I had to find pencil and paper. Once I finally sat down, it probably took about 30 or 40 minutes. I knew what it needed to be, but I give the rest to the Lord. He delivered it to me.”

Female Vocalist nominee Jaelee Roberts of Sister Sadie said, “It is an honor to be nominated in the same category with all my heroes.”

Sister Sadie was also up for Song of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year. Their banjoist, Gena Britt, was thrilled to return to the red carpet. “It is just like a big family reunion. We debuted Diane at last year’s awards show, and to have it nominated for Song of the Year this year makes it extra special.”

Tennessee Bluegrass Band was nominated for New Artist, and fiddler Aynsley Porchak, expressed her excitement. “It’s a dream come true. It’s the result of a lot of hard work on all my band mates’ parts. I couldn’t be prouder of them for everything they’ve done to get us to this point. It’s a great group of musicians, and I feel so blessed to share the stage with them.”

Lincoln Hensley, TBB banjo picker, added, “It’s such an honor to be up there with such prestigious names, too. A lot of the guys up there with us, we really respect the music they’re putting out. We’d also like to say a thank you to Billy Blue (Records). Our record label has really helped us out and we really, really love what they’ve done for us. They’ve let us be ourselves and that’s all we ask.”

Bass Player of the Year nominee Mike Bub declared, “It’s always a thrill to be nominated with a bunch of people that I’ve known forever. They’re my heroes. It’s a class group of people. The real honor is just to be included with that group of people.”

Another Bass Player nominee Missy Raines tipped her hat and predicted the award selection. “Tonight’s going to be Vickie (Vaughn’s) night.”

Starlett & Big John got to walk the carpet after forming their band almost five years ago. Starlett Boswell Austin, nominated for Momentum Vocalist of the Year, expressed, “It is one of the greatest feelings that I have ever had. It’s something that I dreamed of since I was a child. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Lonesome River Band’s Jesse Smathers and Adam Miller were present since the group’s song, Heyday, was in the running for Song of the Year.

Guitarist Smathers stated, “It’s an honor. (Songwriters) Barry and Will Hutchens are both here. It’s a real treat. It is something we see in every small town we go to and play. It’s a little glimmer of hope when we see a downtown revitalized and built back up. Heyday really talks about all that.”

Mandolinist Miller stressed, “I’m just happy to be here and soak it all in.”

All photos © Frank Baker.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.