The Night Grown Men Cried

Tony RiceIt was the night you could have heard a pin drop.

The night grown men cried.

The night Tony Rice spoke, in a normal voice, for the first time in nearly two decades.

There were many awards presented to many deserving recipients on this first IBMA World of Bluegrass conference in Raleigh, but I’m not going to waste words on them tonight. This awards show wrap up is focused entirely on The Miracle of Raleigh.

The biggest question of the day, of the week, really, was whether the best bluegrass picker ever – ever – would be healthy enough to attend his overdue induction into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. Tony hasn’t played in a while and endless rumors swept the hotels and convention center about the status of his health. There were rumblings that he’d never pick again, that he was too ill to even show up and wave.

The first good news came in a backstage Facebook post from Eric Gibson, saying he had just met Tony Rice. It meant we’d at least get a glimpse of him, and that his health was at least good enough for him to make the trip.

But when he walked on stage, it seemed to the packed house, some of the worst of the health rumors seemed believable. Tony appeared more gaunt then ever, his voice even raspier that it has been in recent years.

He appeared to struggle to give a shout out to Alison Krauss, whose own vocal problems forced her to postpone her IBMA appearance and sent a chill through the bluegrass world.

And then Tony Rice did one of the most amazing things I and hundreds of others have ever seen. He said he’d been trying ways to fix one of bluegrass’s best voices, which was stilled 19 years ago.

Then he took a deep breath, called for God’s help, and talked in a clear, strong voice. The whole scratchy, weak effort earlier in his remarks had been a put on. After many years, he found a way to talk like the Tony Rice of old.

I’m not trying to be overly dramatic here. This was a moment to rival the kinds of miracles one hears about, perhaps with some skepticism, at revival meetings. And I have to admit that my first response, when he spoke clearly, would have gotten me tossed out of the revival tent. “Holy shit,” I shouted.

And then I cried.

But Tony said he isn’t content just to talk normally. He wants to sing again. At this point, I’m sure not ready to bet against him.

Maybe next year, we can witness the second Miracle of Raleigh, with Tony Rice and Alison Krauss singing a duet at the awards show.

But even if that doesn’t happen, even if he isn’t able to sing, Tony Rice stole the awards night show by giving the best award possible to all of us in bluegrass.

He gave us an electric moment, one that will stick with anyone who saw it or who will see it on the internet for weeks – maybe even years – to come.

He gave us hope.

Tony Rice talked, and it was music to our ears.

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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.