On the strength of a busy touring schedule, a string of national television appearances and the release of a new album, Rare Bird Alert (read our review HERE) on Rounder Records, Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers took home the Entertainer of the Year award at the 22nd annual International Bluegrass Music Awards Thursday night, September 29 at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Steve, who always included banjo picking in his early stand-up comedy routines, has become more serious about recording and performing bluegrass music during the past two years, with the release of two albums of original music.
Steve appeared at the microphone to receive the bluegrass music industry’s highest music award, leapt a few times into the air, congratulated the other Entertainer of the Year nominees and jokingly thanked them for losing. He went on to thank producers John McEuen and Tony Trischka as well as his band mates, and then he talked about how hard they’ve been working on their music, as well as the humor and entertainment aspects of their show, while never denigrating the music. Martin said that while half of their audience usually comes to see him not knowing anything about bluegrass, “they all leave loving it, and maybe they seek out other musicians. We’re really, really honored to win this award tonight.”
Steep Canyon Rangers lead singer, Woody Platt quipped, “Working with Steve, we might be the most entertained of all. Most of all we thank Steve for giving us this most amazing ride.”
Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers, a young group based in North Carolina named IBMA’s Emerging Artist of the Year in 2007, played “Me and Paul Revere” during the Awards Show—a song Steve wrote from the perspective of Revere’s horse and performed on national television at the Capitol 4th Concert in Washington, D.C. July 4.
Hosted by legendary mandolin player and band leader Sam Bush, the 2011 IBMA Awards Show were a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bill Monroe, recognized as the Father of Bluegrass.
Sam Bush told a story about how a young musician once approached Bill Monroe and played a tune he’d written squarely in the Monroe style. The older mandolinist listened carefully and said, “That’s real good. What can you do on your own now?” The question was answered at the IBMA Awards, as band after talented band hit the stage.
As bluegrass music heads into the second hundred years after its founder’s birth, the genre is stronger than ever—as evidenced by a number of virtuoso level, high energy live performances from The Sam Bush Band, The Grascals, Balsam Range, The Del McCoury Band, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Sierra Hull & Highway 111, Lonesome River Band, The Boxcars, The Gibson Brothers, Dailey & Vincent, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver—later joined by J.D. Crowe and Paul Williams, George Shuffler, Hall of Famer Tom Gray and new Distinguished Award recipient Roland White.
The moment that probably would have made Bill Monroe smile was when White kicked into “Wheel Hoss,” with the next break played in twin harmony by Sam Bush and Ronnie McCoury on their mandolins. Dailey & Vincent thrilled the crowd with triple fiddles added to their usual line-up for “Close By,” and The Grascals brought two young girls from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital who are battling cancer onstage with them to sing “I Am Strong,” a song inspired by the band’s trip to St. Jude.
Ronnie and Rob McCoury inducted their father into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, and guitarist James Alan Shelton inducted George Shuffler, the bass and cross-picked guitar stylist known as “the third Stanley Brother.” The evening ended with a guitar rendition of “Life is Like a Mountain Railway” from Shuffler and Shelton, backed by Gray, and a medley of Del McCoury songs delivered in his trademark, scalding tenor range.
Congratulations to the following winners of 2011 International Bluegrass Awards:
Hall of Fame Inductees – Del McCoury, George Shuffler
Entertainer of the Year – Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers
Vocal Group of the Year – The Gibson Brothers
Instrumental Group of the Year – The Boxcars
Male Vocalist of the Year – Russell Moore
Female Vocalist of the Year – Dale Ann Bradley
Emerging Artist of the Year – The Boxcars
Album of the Year – Help My Brother by The Gibson Brothers (artists), Eric & Leigh Gibson and Mike Barber (producers), Compass (label)
Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year – ”Goin’ Up Dry Branch,” Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper (artist), Buddy Spicher & Jimmy Martin (songwriters), Jeff White & Michael Cleveland (producers), Rounder (label)
Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year – “Prayer Bells of Heaven” by J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson, & Paul Williams (artists), Ben Isaacs (producer), Mountain Home (label)
Song of the Year – “Trains I Missed;” Balsam Range (artists); Walt Wilkins, Gilles Godard & Nicole Witt (songwriters)
Recorded Event of the Year – “Prayer Bells of Heaven” by J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson & Paul Williams (artists); Ben Isaacs (producer); Mountain Home (label)
Banjo Player of the Year – Kristin Scott Benson and Ron Stewart (tie)
Guitar Player of the Year – Bryan Sutton
Fiddle Player of the Year – Michael Cleveland
Bass Player of the Year – Marshall Wilborn
Mandolin Player of the Year – Adam Steffey
Dobro Player of the Year – Rob Ickes
Distinguished Achievement Award Recipients – Greg Cahill, Bill Knowlton, Lilly Pavlak, Geoff Stelling, Roland White
Broadcaster of the Year – Katy Daley, WAMU Bluegrass Country
Print Media Person of the Year – Juli Thanki, Engine145.com
Bluegrass Event of the Year – Silver Dollar City’s Bluegrass & BBQ Festival; Branson, Mo.
Best Graphic Design – Ricardo Alessio & Erica Harris (designer & artist), Abigail Washburn (artist), Rounder (label)
Best Liner Notes – Colin Escott (writer), A Mother’s Prayer, Ralph Stanley (artist), Rebel (label)