Random thoughts on the 2011 Awards

A few impressions of Thursday night’s IBMA awards, in no particular order:

The folks at IBMA put on another nice evening, and Sam Bush was his usual likable self as host. But no one will ever change the fact that all awards shows of all types are always way too long, and the presenter patter is always lame.

If Claire Lynch wasn’t the most beautiful woman in Nashville Thursday night, I’d really like to see who was.

Balsam Range’s Trains I Missed as song of the year was one of only three or four nominees I voted for who ended up winning, and off the top of my head, I don’t think there’s been a more obvious choice in that category for several years. Normally I’m not a huge fan of mid-tempo bluegrass that touches on James Taylor territory, but this song was just so well-crafted and well-performed. Balsam Range’s performance of it Thursday was perfect.

In the Ryman lobby before the show, I saw a well-dressed older man incongruously wearing a Beatles baseball cap. “Who does that?” I asked myself. As I got closer, I realized it was Sonny Osborne. Sonny can wear what he wants. He did great as a presenter, without the hat, and strongly reminds me of both Sean Connery and my late grandfather.

Flashbulbs were going off all night at the Ryman. Don’t people realize that the flash of a camera only effectively illuminates things for a few feet ahead of you? Do us all, especially those on stage, a favor and turn the flashes off.

Three musical performances Thursday night employed drums. I’ve been a long-time opponent of drums in bluegrass, and none of these performances changed my mind. At best, bluegrass drumming is merely unobtrusive; at worst, it is distracting, a drag on the propulsive rhythm that a good bluegrass band should have. But the most puzzling thing of all is why a bluegrass band would pay an extra guy for what, at most, is a very minimal contribution.

Heartfelt acceptance speeches from Russell Moore, Dale Ann Bradley and Adam Steffey showed that bluegrass music still is an industry dominated by ordinary men and women who put an extraordinary amount of hard work and heart into music they truly love.

I hope Michael Cleveland continues to win multiple awards every year. He’s a true virtuoso and a great guy.

Emerging artist of the year is probably a category that can be gotten rid of. The Boxcars are a fine band, but its members have all long since emerged as professionals.

Strongly mixed feelings on Steve Martin winning entertainer of the year. Yes, he’s brought a lot of attention to bluegrass music and, by all accounts, he truly loves the music. But to deny a band like Dailey & Vincent, who are infinitely more talented and who put on a tremendous show night after night in venues far from the limelight, is not exactly cool. But we love celebrity, so there you go.

Also, Dailey & Vincent’s version of Monroe’s Close By was the only moment of the night that really gave me a jolt of the kind the best bluegrass can give.

As with most IBMA awards shows, the Hall of Fame inductees were a highlight. George Shuffler and Del McCoury were perfect choices, both men being known for class and integrity as well as for their enduring musical contributions.

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About the Author

Aaron Keith Harris

Aaron Keith Harris writes for and edits The Lonesome Road Review. From 1999 to 2003, he hosted Bluegrass Breakdown on WYSO radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He co-wrote the 2013 documentary film Of By For, and has worked as a news reporter on radio and in print, including a reporting residency with Associated Press Jerusalem. His reporting and commentary as appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, Bluegrass Unlimited and National Review Online. He is a freelance writer who also serves as central committee chairman for the Libertarian Party of Ohio. In 2011, he was commissioned a Kentucky Colonel. aaronkeith@gmail.com twitter: @aaronfairborn

  • Chris Skaryd

    I LOVE the Boxcars album, but I agree that their nomination to emerging artist, much less winning the category, is beyond a little bit odd.

    I disagree with you regarding the Steve Martin win. I just recently saw Martin and the Rangers at the Mountain Song Festival, and they had the crowd captivated, laughing, singing along and on their feet. It was an amazing show. And anything that gives the Rangers a little more recognition is fine by me! Also, Dennis Jones proclaimed after the show, “if they don’t win entertainer of the year, I’ll eat my hat!” Congrats Dennis! No headgear meal for you! 🙂

  • Dennis Jones

    Yep, the lid is safe. And if you look at the guidelines for voting in the category, they covered them pretty good with their appearance at the Capital Fourth Celebration in DC, plus all the other many shows where Mr. Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers brought real Bluegrass to a huge audience. You are right about Mr. Martin and his respect for Bluegrass and it’s players. I’ve watched him watching bands on stage, he’s a fan…big fan. “…infinitely more talented…” When we are talking about groups and individuals in the final five, for the most part…there’s not much but a possum hairs difference. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners.