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A Big Night in Bluegrass

2018 IBMA Entertainer of the Year Balsam Range. Photo by David Simchock.

The International Bluegrass Music Association held its awards show last night, a glittery affair (but really — men and women alike rocked sparkle on their red carpet outfits, and it was truly fabulous) hosted by Hot Rize that celebrated the best in individual and band achievement for the year.

North Carolina’s Balsam Range won Entertainer of the Year, for the second time. And Song of the Year went to Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers for “If I’d Have Wrote that Song,” written by Larry Cordle, Larry Shell, and James Silvers. Special Consensus went home with the Album of the Year award for Rivers and Roads.

It was another strong year for women in the instrumental categories. Molly Tuttle reprised her historic win last year for Guitar Player of the Year, and Sierra Hull extended her streak to three years in a row for Mandolin Player of the Year. Both were the first women to win the instrumental awards in their categories, and will be playing at IBMA’s Wide Open Bluegrass festival tonight as the First Ladies of Bluegrass, along with Becky Buller (the first woman to win IBMA’s fiddle award), Alison Brown (first woman to win on banjo), and Missy Raines (first on bass). That lineup, collectively, was awarded Recorded Event of the Year honors last night, for the song “Swept Away,” written by Laurie Lewis — recording that song for Raines’ new album was what brought this group together.

Here’s the full list of winners:

ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR:
Balsam Range

VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR:
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver 

INTRUMENTAL GROUP OF THE YEAR:
The Travelin’ McCourys 

SONG OF THE YEAR:
“If I’d Have Wrote That Song” – Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers (artist), Larry Cordle/Larry Shell/James Silvers (writers) 

ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
Rivers & Roads – Special Consensus (artist), Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records (label) 

GOSPEL RECORDED PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR:
“Speakin’ to That Mountain” – Becky Buller (artist), Becky Buller/Jeff Hyde (writers), Crepe Paper Heart (album), Stephen Mougin (producer), Dark Shadow Recording (label)

INSTRUMENTAL RECORDED PERFORMANCE:
“Squirrel Hunters” – Special Consensus with John Hartford, Rachel Baiman, Christian Sedelmyer, and Alison Brown (artist), Traditional arranged by Alison Brown/Special Consensus (writers), Rivers & Roads (album), Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records (label)

EMERGING ARTIST OF THE YEAR:
The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys

RECORDED EVENT OF THE YEAR:
“Swept Away” – Missy Raines with Alison Brown, Becky Buller, Sierra Hull, and Molly Tuttle (artists), single release, Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records (label)

FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR:
Brooke Aldridge 

MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR:
Buddy Melton 

BANJO PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Ned Luberecki

BASS PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Tim Surrett 

DOBRO PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Justin Moses 

FIDDLE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Michael Cleveland

GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Molly Tuttle 

MANDOLIN PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Sierra Hull 

Ricky Skaggs, Paul Williams, Tom T. and Dixie Hall were honored at as the 2018 inductees into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.

Earlier in the day, the IBMA gave out its Special Awards, including 2018 Distinguished Achievement Awards for George Gruhn, Christopher Howard-Williams, Curtis McPeake, Walter Saunders, and Chris Thile. In a speech accepting his award, Thile emphasized the spirit of community in music in general, and bluegrass in particular. After presenter Sierra Hull recalled Thile jamming with her, when she was 10, at MerleFest, Thile pointed out that bluegrass festivals are “our living room,” where conversations are had both in speech and in music, and strong bonds are formed.

Music offers hope for humanity, he said, through good times and bad. “When we find something beautiful, our first instinct is to find someone to share it with,” he said. “That bodes well for us.”

Here are the winners of the Special Awards: 

BLUEGRASS BROADCASTER OF THE YEAR:
Steve Martin (Northern Kentucky-based host of “Steve Martin’s Unreal Bluegrass”)

BLUEGRASS EVENT OF THE YEAR:
Bluegrass on the Green– Frankfort, IL 

BEST LINER NOTES FOR A RECORDED PROJECT (tie):
Craig Havighurst – The Story We Tell by Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers 
Peter Wernick – Carter Stanley’s Eyes by Peter Rowan 

BEST GRAPHIC DESIGN FOR A RECORDED PROJECT:
Lou Everhart for A Heart Never Knows by The Price Sisters 

BLUEGRASS PRINT/MEDIA PERSON OF THE YEAR:
Neil Rosenberg

BLUEGRASS SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR:
Jerry Salley

SOUND ENGINEER OF THE YEAR:
Ben Surratt

Balsam Range showed its appreciation to IBMA and Raleigh last night with a sterling set to a packed crowd, including a lot of young people you would expect at a rock concert, on one of the festival's free stages.  Not only great musicians but really nice down to earth guys. I have tried many times to put bluegrass in my past as I listen to many of the other roots music genres celebrated in No Depression but folks like Balsam Range, Blue Highway, and Seldom Scene keep me in the game.  Great harmonies all.