All right, someone has to say this. I became a bluegrass fan in the early ’90’s during late high school. Being new to the genre, it took awhile to figure out what artists I was interested in following. One of the early guides which I used (and never failed me) was that every year I faithfully purchased each album that won Album of the Year, Instrumental Album of the Year, and Recorded Event of the Year. In this way I was introduced to albums such as Ronnie Bowman’s Cold Virginia Night and Larry Perkins’ A Touch of the Past, both of which became some of my favorites favorites and which I probably would not have become familiar with if not for the awards. It seems to me that for the first ten years or so, these awards were given to albums because they were great recordings which contributed significantly to the art form. In more recent years it appears that the IBMA has moved away from awarding albums strictly for their artistic merit and rather awarding albums for more political reasons. Maybe it started with Ricky Skaggs and then Dolly Parton “returning” to bluegrass (and thus worthy of an award). It continued with the unfortunate two-year “O Brother” fallout (what makes that a bluegrass album??) I feel that the only album from this year that was truly worthy of one of the awards was Michael Cleveland’s album, which is indeed great. The Celebration of Life album is fine, but consists mostly of material previously recorded by these artists, and moreover has the feel of something thrown together fairly quickly. While the album was produced for a great cause, would it have been nominated, let alone won, without that subtext? And as far as the Daughters of Bluegrass album, my apologies to those involved, but in my humble opinion as a consumer, it’s just not that great. It is inconceivable that these albums would win awards and the Bryan Sutton album would miss out.
One other issue: in the awards for individual performers, what good does it do anyone to have a performer win a particular award as many as 8 times??? Has anyone ever proposed the idea that once a perfomer has won an individual award three times then they become ineligible to ever be nominated in that category again? I love Jim Mills’ playing as much as the next guy, but to see him win the award for a sixth time communicates a feeling of utter stagnation in the world of bluegrass to a lowly consumer such as myself. What about nominating players such as Charlie Cushman, who seemed to break through to the top level in the past year while appearing on multiple important recordings?
I want to continue to stress that my perspective is that of a consumer. I am not a professional, do not aspire to be, and consider myself simply a fan. In the past I interpreted the IBMA awards as the bluegrass industry speaking as one and saying, “here are the very best recordings of this music which were made in the past year, based on technical merit, artistic accomplishment, originality and just good taste.” Now I feel that the awards have become something different and I don’t agree with this direction. Flame away.