Tuesday, October 26, 1999
Grass Always Bluer at Awards Time
By David Royko
Special to the Tribune
LOUISVILLE The International Bluegrass Music Association's annual awards show,
trade show and Fan Fest, which ran over the weekend at the Galt House,
was a mix of predictable brilliance and surprising moments.
The gala brought to the stage a dazzling parade of stars past and
present, beginning with Earl Scruggs, the creator of bluegrass banjo,
playing "Home Sweet Home" with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band alumnus John
McEuen on second banjo, and bassist Tom Gray.Surprising for this event
that rarely veers from bluegrass orthodoxy was the roar elicited by John
Cowan during the grand finale. A member of the legendary rule-breaking
(and defunct) New Grass Revival, Cowan stepped to the mike to sing with
Ricky Skaggs on the last verse and chorus of "Walls Of Time." The
response was the type one expects for traditional legends such as
Scruggs or Hall Of Honor inductee Kenny Baker, not bad boys like Cowan.
But even as they try to keep the music tethered to tradition, most
bluegrass fans cannot help but respond to quality.
The schedule for Friday night's Fan Fest--an indoor
festival--slammed the audience with four straight award-heavy sets:
IIIrd Tyme Out (vocal group of the year); The Del McCoury Band
(entertainer award for the band, mandolinist award for Ronnie McCoury);
Lonesome River Band (guitarist award for Kenny Smith, male vocalist,
gospel and song of the year awards for Ronnie Bowman); and Skaggs'
Kentucky Thunder (instrumental group award for the band, instrumental
album and banjoist awards for Jim Mills). Other winners performing at
the festival were Missy Raines (bassist), Lynn Morris (female vocalist)
and Rob Ickes (dobro), while the Ralph Stanley album, "Clinch Mountain
Country," took two major prizes. Sadly, the fiddle award came too late
for Randy Howard, who died in June.
Perhaps the most startling performance, and one of the festival's
finest hours, came Saturday courtesy of the Kruger Brothers. Hailing
from Switzerland, they took apart and reassembled bluegrass in the most
creative yet entertaining ways, blending folk forms of their native
continent with a wry sense of humor, and pulling it off with devastating
Another high point was Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike's set, where
Smith's sweet and sunny vocals soared atop her band's rounded sound.
Some of the most intriguing action took place in various hotel
suites that presented intimate (and free) concerts into the early
morning hours. Dede Wyland remains best known for her vocal work in Tony
Trischka's 1980s band, Skyline, but her gorgeous singing and charismatic
presence during a 30-minute set in the California Bluegrass Association
suite proved once and for all that she belongs in the national
PHOTO: The Del McCoury Band (from left) Jason Carter, Ronnie
McCoury, Rob McCoury, Del McCoury and Mike Bub play at the bluegrass
awards. AP photo.