The Boxcars, The Gibson Brothers and Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers were the top winners at the 22nd annual International Bluegrass Music Assn. (IBMA) Awards, held last night at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.
"It was incredibly thrilling," Martin told Billboard.biz just minutes after accepting the Entertainer of the Year award with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. "I like to think of bluegrass musicians as a society without prejudice, and that's the way it's been. From the new picker to the experienced picker, everybody seems to be welcome. That's what I love."
It was the first IBMA win for Martin and the second for the Rangers, who won the Emerging Artist honor in 2006. Martin, who has also seen success as a novelist when not pursuing his comedian/acting day job, has released two bluegrass albums on Rounder Records -- 2009's Grammy winning "The Crow: New Songs for the Five String Banjo" and "Rare Bird Alert," issued last March.
"In terms of him being an ambassador for the music, there's so much great he's done this year," IBMA executive director Dan Hays told Billboard.biz, citing the exposure and media attention he's brought the genre as well as Martin's generosity in establishing The Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. "His heart is there and I think the industry recognizes that and wants to honor it."
The Boxcars won Emerging Artist and Instrumental Group of the year. The Boxcars' Ron Stewart tied with the Grascals Kristin Scott Benson for banjo player of the year. Boxcar member Adam Steffey was named mandolin player of the year for the eighth time. Steffey and Stewart are former members of the Dan Tyminski Band, who recruited Harold Nixon, John R. Bowman and Keith Garrett to form the Boxcars.
"It was a great evening," Steffey told Billboard.biz after the show. "We didn't know what to expect. All the nominations were telling us we were doing something folks were enjoying and liking. It's lucky for us cause that's the music that we like to play. We try to do as much original stuff as we can and it's a good confirmation that we're on the right track. It's very rewarding and humbling that folks think of us that way."
IIIrd Tyme Out's Russell Moore repeated his win in the male vocalist category. "I thought y'all was crazy last year. I think this kind of confirms it," he told the audience. "I can't tell you how your I appreciate this. I'm honored that you feel this way."
Dale Ann Bradley took home her fourth female vocalist award and delivered on of the night's most endearing acceptance speeches. "Oh goodness! I cherish this. Bluegrass has been a wonderful thing in my life," Bradley told the crowd. "God bless you all. Anybody who bought a ticket, hugged our necks or fed us soup beans and corn bread, thank you!"
During the evening, which was hosted by Sam Bush, Del McCoury and George Shuffler were honored as the 2011 inductees into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. A pioneering bass player and guitarist, Shuffler was a key member of the Stanley Brothers Band and also worked with Don Reno and Bill Harrell.
McCoury, who got his start with Bill Monroe in 1963, is IBMA's most awarded artist with nine entertainer of the year titles. Earlier in the week, McCoury performed a concert on the grounds of the Ryman in celebration of Bill Monroe's centennial. The founding father of bluegrass would have turned 100 on September 13.
The Gibson Brothers won Vocal Group of the year and also captured the prize in the album category for "Help My Brother." "Trains I Missed" by Balsam Range was named Song of the Year. "Prayer Bells of Heaven," a collaboration between J.D. Crowe, Paul Williams and Doyle Lawson was named gospel recorded performance of the year and recorded event of the year. Michael Cleveland also picked up a pair of awards, winning in the instrumental recorded performance category with his band Flamekeeper for "Goin' Up Dry Branch" and earning his sixth consecutive fiddle player of the year accolade, his ninth overall.
The IBMA Awards are the centerpiece of the annual World of Bluegrass event, which started Monday with a four-day industry conference and will continue through the weekend (Sept. 30-Oct. 2) with the annual Bluegrass Fan Fest at the Nashville Convention Center. Alison Krauss & Union Station, the Grascals, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, Dale Ann Bradley, J.D. Crowe & The New South, Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out and The Isaacs are among those slated to perform.