IBMA Nominations offer something for almost everyone

The list of nominations for major awards that will be presented this fall at IBMA’s World Of Bluegrass in Raleigh won’t please everybody. That itself speaks volumes about the state of bluegrass in all its iterations. There is great talent in every corner, on every instrument, in every iteration of the music.

Traditional bluegrass is widely represented on the list of finalists announced today in Nashville, along with some of the best loved names in the field. But there are some powerful entries from the bigger tent crowd, including a number of young pickers and bands that will be relied upon to carry bluegrass toward it’s 100th birthday.

You can read the list here. I just want to make a couple of general observations.

First, about the choices for induction into the Hall of Fame. I don’t think anyone can argue against those who were chosen by a special panel of voters – Mike Auldridge, Bill Emerson, and The Kentucky Colonels.

There is, not surprisingly, some social media backlash noting that no women were among the inductees. There are some notable women who should join the relative few in the Hall of Fame, and most of them will get there one day. And there are some women on this year’s awards list who are on a trajectory that could put them in the select company. For starters, Missy Raines and Dale Ann Bradley, but probably others, too.

Still, it’s hard to look at this year’s list of nominees and argue which of the three inductees should have been left out so someone else could get in. That’s a testament not just to those three, but to those on the initial list and from the narrowed down names that voters picked from.

I can say from firsthand knowledge that picking three candidates from the second-round ballot that went to industry veterans was practically impossible. So many qualified individuals and bands, so few slots on the ballot. Any of the finalists are worthy of induction, and most of them will make the cut one day. This wasn’t like the Baseball Hall of Fame, where Harold Baines got in this year with numbers that made a lot of folks look askance.

Second, it’s worth noting that I think IBMA’s effort to revamp categories and eligibility for these awards was successful.

The old Emerging Artist category was a mess, and in many recent years, the lists of finalists and the awards were dominated by major artists who just happened to land in a new band. This year, the category was changed to New Artist of the Year. That allows room for veteran performers such as the household names in Appalachian Road Show, without arguing whether they are truly “emerging,” while leaving plenty of room for younger performers, such as Carolina Blue, High Fidelity, Mile Twelve, and Billy Strings. The final vote in that category will be a tough one.

There’s fodder for other debates, of course, on the basis of whether your favorites made the cut or not. But there isn’t much here for an argument on the merits. Yes, you might argue – I don’t – that Vocal Group of the Year nominee I’m With Her isn’t bluegrass, and shouldn’t be on the ballot.

All in all, though, the voters seemed to take seriously the job of winnowing the list to the final five (six in a category or two). There are female nominees in every instrument category except resophonic guitar and two in bass and banjo.

There’s something for nearly everybody who qualifies to cast a final ballot. And like they say in national politics, if you don’t vote, don’t complain about the outcome.

Good luck to all of the finalists.

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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.