Thoughts on the 2011 IBMA Award nominations

After last year’s IBMA awards ceremony, I wrote that top honors in this year’s trophy chase would likely come down to the Boxcars and Dailey & Vincent. I was, alas, only partially right.

The Boxcars, the newest bluegrass super group, took home nine nominations Wednesday night, establishing themselves as the band to beat when the statues are given out next month in Nashville. So I got that part right.

But Dailey & Vincent showed up just three times in the nominations after a huge night at last year’s gala. So much for that part of the equation.

Instead, Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out came in right behind the Boxcars, with eight nominations, and another seven went to Alison Krauss and Union Station. In the biggest surprise of the night, the Gibson Brothers followed with seven.

Russell and Alison picked up several of their nominations for collaborations, but every nomination claimed by the Boxcars and the Gibson Brothers were directly tied to their latest albums, the self-titled debut from the ‘Cars and Help My Brother from the Gibsons.

Just a month ago, when the two bands played back to back at the Out Among The Stars festival in Benton, Pa., I mentioned to some savvy music friends that the two bands would likely go head-to-head in several top categories at IBMA. It was, I was told more than once, folly to believe that because the Gibsons would never get the recognition they deserve because they aren’t Nashville insiders. Wonder what those folks think now?

It’s hard to say that with the nominations the Gibson Brothers have arrived, since they’ve been mainstays on the circuit for many years and took home trophies last year for song of the year and gospel recorded performance of the year for Ring the Bell. But right now, the Gibsons and the Boxcars are about the tightest bands on tour. They don’t have the flash of Dailey & Vincent but they can go toe to toe with anyone, and it’s good to see recognitions from the voters.

Both groups are finalists for entertainer of the year, album of the year and gospel recorded event of the year. The Gibson Brothers also picked up nods for vocal group of the year, male vocalist of the year and two selections for song of the year. Both brothers are great singers, but the nomination went to Leigh. Ron Stewart helped add three nominations to the Boxcars haul, writing the instrumental recorded performance of the year, Jumpin’ the Track and making the finals for both fiddle player and banjo player of the year. He also had a big hand in the band’s nomination for instrumental group of the year.

The two final nominations for the Boxcars don’t seem fair – Adam Steffey for mandolin player of the year and the band for emerging artist of the year. Steffey has won the mando award seven times. It should either be retired or named after him! And while the band clearly meets IBMA’s definition of an emerging artist, it somehow seems silly to have this team of bluegrass superstars in the mix for what is essentially, rookie of the year honors.

Overall, there were few surprises among the nominees. The usual suspects are largely present in the usual categories. Could I argue that Singing as We Rise from the Gibson Brothers should have made the Gospel list, or that Mike Mumford’s absence from the banjo nominees and the Boxcars’ Keith Garrett’s failure to make the male vocalist finals were disappointing? Certainly, but that’s a preference, not a criticism, and there isn’t anyone in any of those categories that I would displace.

Finally, I want to make two other points, one happy, one not.

First, congratulations to the newest members of the hall of fame, guitarist George Shuffler and vocalist extraordinaire Del McCoury. Both are deserving, and it’s great that both men are alive to enjoy the honor. Some day, Hazel Dickens’ name will be called in this category, too.

On a sad note, as Tony Rice was being nominated as guitar player of the year, he was spreading the word that his stepson died in a head-on motorcycle accident in North Carolina. Reading Tony’s poignant Facebook posting at the same time that others were touting their musical successes put a damper on the evening.