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Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers Win Top IBMA Honors

Alane Anno

During an evening filled with numerous references to Bill Monroe, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday on September 13 this year, the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) handed out more than a dozen awards and inducted two veteran performers into its Hall of Fame at the 22nd annual IBMA Awards at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville Thursday night (Sept. 29).

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers earned the night’s top prize as they were named Entertainer of the Year. The Boxcars and the Gibson Brothers picked up two awards each, as did bluegrass veterans J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson and Paul Williams.

Steve Martin, the man most people know as an actor, comedian and author, has become prominent in the bluegrass community in the past few years, recording two bluegrass albums and touring with the Steep Canyon Rangers. Receiving a standing ovation when the Entertainer of the Year award was announced, Steve told the crowd, “This is a great honor. I’d like to thank John McEuen, Tony Trischka and Pete Wernick for their help and support.”

Earlier in the evening, Steve told The Boot that he has enjoyed traveling the country with the band, adding that one of the things he discovered about bluegrass was that it was a lot of hard work. “It’s pretty tough on musicians, touring and being out on the road,” he said. “I had to learn to be part of a band. I think that when people come to our concerts they might not know a lot about bluegrass music when they walk in, but they leave loving the music.”

Del McCoury of the Del McCoury Band and innovative guitarist George Shuffler were inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame during the ceremony, the most prestigious honor for anyone in bluegrass music. George, who played with the Stanley Brothers while developing his walking style on bass, later became known for his signature style of cross-picking on songs such as ‘Don’t Cheat in our Home Town’ and ‘Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.’

“I thank Carter and Ralph (Stanley) for giving me the opportunity to play my feelings and what I thought fit their music,” George told an audience who gave him a standing ovation for his honor. “They never tried to tie me down with my playing.”

“Every kid thinks his dad is a hero and belongs in the Hall of Fame,” said Ronnie McCoury as he and brother Rob inducted their father into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. “I remember him teaching me to use a pick and how to sing — come to think of it, he’s still teaching me how to sing!”

Rob recalled announcing that he wanted to be a banjo player when he was eight. “My dad worked hard all day and at night he had to be so tired, but he would come home and teach me to play banjo,” he said.

“Dad’s music is traditional, steeped in the music of Bill Monroe,” Ronnie added, “but he always keeps an open mind. He’s always open to anything new in music.”

“The good Lord gives each of us talent, and I believe he can also take it away,” Del said when accepting his award. After receiving a standing ovation, Del gathered his wife, sons, daughter, grandchildren and band members around him, and said, “This is a great night. I have to start off by thanking Bill Monroe, who took a chance on me. Ricky and Sharon Skaggs encouraged me to move to Nashville. We thought we’d move here in the late 1980s and see how it went. It worked out great.”

Dierks Bentley, who has been friends with and worked with Del the past few years, tells The Boot that Del is a living legend. “He’s been in the business 50 years, he was a Bluegrass Boy with Bill Monroe,” Dierks explains. “Bill is gone, and a lot of the people we love in country music … Johnny Cash, Waylon … these guys are gone, but there are people around us who not only know their music but they played with them and toured with them.

“People like me need to be spending time with them if you care about those people, because they know them. Del recorded with Bill, toured with Bill, and when those guys are gone, you have to find someone who knew their music and played with them and can pass down those stories and the subtle things about the music you can’t pick up off their records.”

Russell Moore of IIIrd Tyme Out was named Male Vocalist, while Dale Ann Bradley picked up the Female Vocalist honors, both earning their respective awards for a fourth time. “I cherish this and your support for my career over the years,” she told the audience. “Anybody whose hugged our neck, bought tickets or records, or fed us soup or beans and cornbread, I love you all,” Dale Ann said in her acceptance speech.

Of special note, Rob Ickes of Blue Highway, earned his 13th Dobro Player of the Year award, the most trophies any instrumentalist has ever earned in IBMA history.

The 2011 IBMA Award Winners:

Bluegrass Hall of Fame Inductees:
Del McCoury, George Shuffler

Entertainer of the Year:
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

Album of the Year:
‘Help Me Brother,’ Gibson Brothers

Song of the Year:
‘Trains I Missed,’ Walt Wilkins, Gilles Godard, Nicole Witt (songwriters), Balsam Range (artist)

Male Vocalist of the Year
Russell Moore

Female Vocalist of the Year
Dale Ann Bradley

Emerging Artist of the Year
The Boxcars

Vocal Group of the Year
Gibson Brothers

Instrumental Group of the Year
The Boxcars

Recorded Event of the Year
‘Prayer Bells of Heaven,’ J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson and Paul Williams

Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year
‘Prayer Bells of Heaven,’ J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson and Paul Williams

Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year
‘Goin’ Up Dry Branch,’ Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper

Instrumental Performers of the Year
Banjo (tie): Kristin Scott Benson, Ron Stewart
Bass: Marshall Wilborn
Fiddle: Michael Cleveland
Dobro: Rob Ickes
Guitar: Bryan Sutton
Mandolin: Adam Steffey

For more details of the IBMA Awards and the annual World of Bluegrass conference, visit IBMA.org

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