International Bluegrass Music Association Awards
Photo by Dan Schram
Del McCoury, far right, had his whole family in tow at the IBMA awards.
Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh
Thursday, October 1, 2015
It felt like a wonderful, satisfying joke Thursday night when, at the big awards show for an institution I called "self-codifying
," a group that is essentially a Flatt & Scruggs cover band cleaned house. The Earls of Leicester (pronounced “Lester”—get it, kids?) are a collective led by dobro master Jerry Douglas, who, as he himself said last year
, attempt hyper-faithful recreations of Flatt & Scruggs’ original tunes.
As a unit, the Earls took home four awards: gospel recorded performance of the year for “Who Will Sing For Me,” instrumental group of the year, album of the year and entertainer of the year. Two players took home awards of their own. Douglas netted his ninth trophy as dobro player of the year, and the band’s Shawn Camp won the honor of male vocalist of the year.
Other contemporary acts took home awards too, of course, but none as many as the Earls. That’s not to say the Earls didn’t deserve some
recognition—they’re inarguable experts at their craft. But the emphasis of dressed-up tradition over bona fide innovation at the awards show was clear, even just a few hours after their Distinguished Achievement award recipient Steve Martin praised the energetic, youthful spirit of this generation’s bluegrass players. INDY
music and managing editor Grayson Haver Currin summed it up succinctly
—heaviest chuckle, deepest sigh.
The show, overall, was a pleasant if meandering affair. Speeches rambled past their allotted times, and two Hall of Fame inductions stretched to a painful 45 minutes. Alison Krauss read remarks by esteemed guitarist Larry Sparks for a good 10 minutes before he himself spoke and played. Performances sprinkled throughout the show, however, were reined-in and respectable—everyone was on their best behavior. Krauss joined Sparks for abbreviated takes of a few songs, and the three-generation, toddler-including stand of the McCoury family early in the show was a sweet highlight.
Praise be to Sam Bush and Noam Pikelny, the evening’s final presenters, who helped give the three-hour show a final boost of energy. Of all the presenters, including Raleigh mayor Nancy McFarlane, their chemistry was the most natural, and their quick wits were a welcome break from the otherwise formal proceedings. One of the show’s best moments was entirely unplanned. As the Earls of Leicester accepted their award for album of the year and the band members passed it around, bassist Barry Bales dropped and shattered the trophy.
The Earls’ lighthearted mischief and jokes surrounding the accident—Douglas cradled the band’s subsequent entertainer of the year award away from Bales—were a good reminder of how much more fun it is when institutions loosen up and get comfortable. The awards show is a fun opportunity for fancy dresses and suits, sure, but it was most memorable when it felt like more than that.