The 2013 IBMA entertainers of the year, The Gibson Brothers, started the evening. The pair will be busy Thursday evening while hosting the annual awards assembly at Memorial Auditorium, where their own Jesse Brock is up for mandolin player of the year. The group featured material from their latest, Brotherhood, a collection of songs originally recorded by other brother acts. "Bye Bye Love," an Everly Brothers cover, stood out, as the fraternal harmonies fit well with solos from Brock and fiddle player Clayton Campbell. The group also played "Singing As We Rise," the award-winning number by local singer-songwriter Joe Newberry. The group picked up the number after playing with Newberry a handful of times on A Prarie Home Companion.
Up next came Nashville's Bradford Lee Folk and his Bluegrass Playboys. Bradford has been at the last few iterations of the IBMA festival in Raleigh and continues to be a shining light for the future of bluegrass, with well-crafted songs and a thin, high-lonesome voice that pairs perfectly with the solid instrumentation around him. Bradford Lee Folk references tradition in his songs and singing style but does not rely on it as much as so many at this week's festivities will.
Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys closed out my early evening. The Michigan-based group have frequently performed in the Triangle, but they have refined their sound since my last time catching them, at IBMA 2013. The group struck me as strong and more certain of their sound, which borders on the contemporary. Lou's vocal power was especially evident on the song "River Jordan," which brought one of the evening's loudest cheers.
Just like that, three excellent bands opened up the first day of Bluegrass Ramble for me, and I was home by 9 p.m. That's bluegrass for you.
The Gibson Brothers, "Bye Bye Love"
Bradford Lee Folk and his Bluegrass Playboys, "Somewhere Far Away"