The IBMA’s Bluegrass Live Festival: Hurricane-Proof

So what happens when you have the largest urban bluegrass festival in the world, with most of it outdoors, and a hurricane decides to pay a visit? The Raleigh Convention Center and Duke Energy Memorial Auditorium step up, and things work out just fine. The International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual meeting and festival managed to pull off “the most important week of bluegrass,” and the crowds stayed nice and dry in the ballrooms and exhibit halls that were rapidly converted to live music venues. Memorial Auditorium took the place of the Red Hat Amphitheater, and the Awards show and music went on as scheduled.

 

📷: Rick Davidson

The Awards Show was hosted by Dan Tyminski and Ronnie Bowman, whose long-term friendship made for some hilarious interaction, and the music was as good as it gets. There were tributes to Peter Rowan (who dueted with Molly Tuttle), Norman Blake and Moon Mullins, who were inducted into the Hall of Fame, and great performances by Béla Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart. For this show, his group included Michael Cleveland, Jerry Douglas, Molly Tuttle (who won Female Vocalist of the Year), Dom Leslie, and Mark Schatz. The night also included Del McCoury (who won Male Vocalist of the Year), Sister Sadie, the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, and some great jam-a-thons featuring some of the best pickers in the world. Fleck was the big winner, taking home Album of the Year, Instrumental Group of the Year, Instrumental Recording of the Year, and Banjo Player of the Year. Billy Strings, who couldn’t make the show, won Entertainer of the Year for the second year in a row; his recording of “Red Daisy”, written by his mandolin player Jarrod Walker and great fiddler Christian Ward won Song of the Year.

Molly Tuttle, Raleigh Memorial Auditorium  📷: Rob Laughter
Awards Show Finale 📷: Dan Schramm

The five street stages were moved into the Convention Center, and there was lots of great music there as well. If I came home with a message, it’s that bluegrass is in good hands. I’m guessing that Bill Monroe would be astonished at some of the musicianship of younger bands. And three of the very best I saw this weekend were primarily women-centric:  Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway, Sister Sadie, and Della Mae, the first two being nominated for Entertainers of the Year. Sierra Hull took home Mandolin Player of the Year, and Tuttle’s amazing fiddle player, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, was the winner of the Fiddle Player of the Year. And Dolly Parton even came through, winning two awards, including the Collaborative Recording of the Year.

Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway 📷: Willa Stein
Della Mae 📷: Rick Davidson
Sister Sadie 📷: Rick Davidson

The best thing about this festival is that you always get to see bands you’ve never seen before, bands that catch you by surprise, and there were several that stuck out in my mind. The California Bluegrass Reunion is composed of California bluegrass legends Bill Evans, Darol Anger, John Reischman, Chad Manning, Jim Nunnally, and Sharon Gilchrest.  Great instrumentals and vocals, a high point being Reischman playing his classic “Silver Spring.”

California Bluegrass Reunion 📷: Rick Davidson

East Nash Grass is a band I was really looking forward to, and they didn’t disappoint. Growing out of a bunch of great pickers playing part-time at Dee’s Lounge in Madison, TN, the band is now becoming better known. They’re fantastic musicians but don’t go for flashy; instead, their songs are solid and tasteful with great moments of virtuosity. They are also great fun; they don’t take themselves too seriously, and it’s clear they’re having fun on stage. Three members of the band are also members of Dan Tyminski’s band: fiddler Maddie Denton, dobro player Gaven Largent, and Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year, mandolin player Harry Clark. James Kee, lead singer and guitar player, founded the band. Banjoist Cory Walker has played with multiple artists, including Keith Urban, The Steeldrivers, and David Grier, and his brother Jarrod, who plays mandolin with Billy Strings. East Nash Grass are not to be missed.

East Nash Grass 📷: Rick Davidson

And then there was the Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra. This Norwegian band is hard to describe. They do everything from Fleetwood Mac and Bob Dylan covers to traditional bluegrass songs (“Wayfaring Stranger”) to fine original songs. Their arrangements and vocals are lush and varied, and their album Migrants spent 11 weeks on the Billboard bluegrass charts. Lead singer Rebekka Nilsson has a crystalline voice that centers the band.

Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra 📷: Rick Davidson

The headliners performed up to expectations; this was a loaded lineup, with Béla Fleck’s group, Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway, Sierra Hull, Balsam Range, Della Mae, and The Infamous Stringdusters playing to a packed crowd at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium.

Béla Fleck 📷: Rob Laughter
Peter Rowan Band 📷: Willa Stein

Additional highlights: Darin and Brooke Aldridge played multiple times and participated in educational and workshop sessions. There is no other band that rivals their vocals, and Samantha Snyder’s fiddle provides a real uptempo addition to Darin’s great flatpicking. Kristin Scott Benson sat in on banjo; a great collection of talent on that stage.

Darin and Brooke Aldridge 📷: Rick Davidson

One of my favorite bands, Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, provided the uptempo progressive set that had the audience stunned. Amazing instrumental prowess, great vocals… this band has it all. Along with Frank’s lead vocals and blazing mandolin, we get Mike Munford‘s jaw-dropping chromatic banjo runs, Chris Luquette’s flatpicking, and Jeremy Stapleton’s solid bass and great tenor and lead vocals. Their version of The Box Top’s “The Letter” is a whole story unto itself.

 

Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen 📷: Rick Davidson
Frank Solivan and Mike Munford 📷: Rick Davidson

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was awarded a Distinguished Achievement Award celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of  the Will the Circle Be Unbroken album; John McEuen and Les Thompson collected the award.

Les Thompson, Jerry Douglas, John McEuen 📷: Rick Davidson

The City of Raleigh and the IBMA deserve a huge amount of credit for being flexible enough to completely relocate multiple venues and I heard several attendees say they actually liked the idea of the street stages being in one physical location that made it easier to get from one performer to another. Regardless, it was a noble effort and greatly appreciated by the performers and the crowd. This was the tenth year of Raleigh hosting the IBMA, and for lovers of bluegrass, traditional or progressive, it’s become the mecca for seeing the best talent, upcoming artists, and workshops. And it’s one of the few places on earth you’ll find spontaneous jams going on in hotel lobbies, under stairwells, in the Convention Center lobby, and even in elevators.  I’ll be there next year for sure, hopefully without a hurricane. And the music….well, there’s such a broad palette at this point, and that diversity and youth involvement holds great promise for the future. It’s in great hands.

The recipients of the 2022 IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards

 

ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: Billy Strings

 

VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR: Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

 

INSTRUMENTAL GROUP OF THE YEAR: Béla Fleck My Bluegrass Heart

 

SONG OF THE YEAR: “Red Daisy”

Billy Strings

Written by Jarrod Walker/Christian Ward

 

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: My Bluegrass Heart

Béla Fleck

 

GOSPEL RECORDING OF THE YEAR: “In the Sweet By and By”

Dolly Parton with Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, Bradley Walker, and Jerry Salley

 

INSTRUMENTAL RECORDING OF THE YEAR: “Vertigo”

Béla Fleck featuring Sam Bush, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Bryan Sutton

 

NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Rick Faris

 

COLLABORATIVE RECORDING OF THE YEAR: “In the Sweet By and By”

Dolly Parton with Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, Bradley Walker, and Jerry Salley

 

FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Molly Tuttle

 

MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Del McCoury 

 

BANJO PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Béla Fleck

 

BASS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jason Moore

 

RESOPHONIC GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Justin Moses

 

FIDDLE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Bronwyn Keith-Hynes 

 

GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Cody Kilby

 

MANDOLIN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Sierra Hull

 

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