Chicago TribuneTuesday, October 1, 1996
OWENSBORO, Ky. The International Bluegrass Music Association held its annual trade show, convention, awards ceremony, and music festival last week, and paid tribute to the music's founder, Bill Monroe, who died recently, by acknowledging the past while casting its gaze on the future.
More than half of the 31 acts that performed at the IBMA festival fell into the "contemporary" camp, and while the traditional roots were ably represented by giants such as Curly Seckler and Hazel Dickens, the emphasis was on youth and subtle innovation.That said, however, traditionalist Del McCoury and his band, who delivered a typically impassioned set, were the stars of the weekend, as he and his group walked away with a total of six awards, in the best-of-the-year catagories of entertainer, instrumental group, instrumental recording (won by sons Ronnie & Rob McCoury for their self-titled album), bassist (Mike Bub), mandolinist (Ronnie McCoury), and male vocalist (Del McCoury).
For many younger listeners, Charlie Waller and his Country Gentlemen's performance probably sounded traditional as well, which is testament to Waller's dogged pursuit of originality in his early professional years. He and his current version of the Country Gentlemen loaded their set with signature tunes such as "Matterhorn" and "Bringing Mary Home," and Waller's unique voice, which combines an edgy "high lonesome" tenor with a brawny baritone foundation, sounded as fresh and compelling as it did four decades ago, when the original Country Gentlemen were formed. The early-'60s lineup included, besides Waller, banjoist Eddie Adcock, bassist Tom Grey, and mandolinist John Duffy, were inducted into the IBMA's Hall of Honor during Thursday's awards.
That band was noted for introducing rock, pop and non-traditional songs into the bluegrass repertoire, and its legacy was manifested in performances by two of today's most successful young groups.
IIIrd Tyme Out, which won the Vocal Group of the Year Award, proved that they know how to plow ancestral soil with a potent rendition of Monroe's "White House Blues" that allowed banjoist Steve Dylan to display his machine gun picking alongside Mike Hartgrove's raging fiddling. But the tune that brought this Owensboro crowd to its feet was an a cappella treatment of "Only You," which melded hints of bluegrass gospel and barbershop quartet with 1950s doo-wop.
Blue Highway, a band that had no "stars" when it was formed only two years ago, won this year's Emerging Artist Award, and then emerged immediately with album-of-the-year honors for their CD "It's a Long, Long Road." Though their set of smooth, streamlined contemporary bluegrass emphasized the ensemble over individual exhibitionism, Rob Ickes, who unseated Jerry Douglas for this year's Dobro Player of the Year Award, impressed as much with his back-up work as he did on the instrumental "Reuben," one of Blue Highway's few show-off numbers.