Even for someone like myself, who’d never been to the IBMA Awards Show before last night, one could tell that the association made every effort to point out its move to Raleigh during the nearly three-hour celebration. It’d have been a dangerous drinking game to sip at every mention of Doc Watson or Earl Scruggs, and the program was loaded with North Carolina-based nominees and performers.
Hosts Steep Canyon Rangers now hail from Brevard, but they feature UNC graduates among its members. They initially promised “no basketball trash talk” after opening the show with a performance of “Tell The Ones I Love,” which includes a lyrical nod to the quintet’s home state. But that didn’t last very long: A pair of Rangers soon came out in UNC basketball jerseys, and they were promptly showered with boos. For the first time, Raleigh seemed to be a less-than-hospitable host for the IBMA festivities, though it was truly just one of many lighthearted moments of a night that seemed refreshingly genuine for such a music industry event.
Even in the back rows of Memorial Auditorium, there was almost an ACC-like atmosphere when the winners were announced for each award, with a few folks standing and whooping when their horse won the race. Exclamations such as “There you go, Junior!” were common encouragements; indeed, Sisk’s win of the Male Vocalist of the Year award was one of the most crowd-pleasing results.
The most raucous reactions, of course, came when a home state winner was announced, and there were plenty of those throughout the night. Haywood County’s Balsam Range—who also performed early in the program—won Album of the Year for Papertown, named for the mill town of Canton. Raleigh resident Joe Newberry co-wrote “They Called It Music” with The Gibson Brothers’ Eric Gibson, which was awarded Song of the Year. Guitarist of the Year Bryan Sutton grew up in Asheville, and Monroe’s Terry Baucom received the Recorded Event of the Year.
But the evening’s undisputed magical moment belonged to another North Carolinian. Iconic guitarist and vocalist Tony Rice, who lives in Rockingham County, was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame with a humorous but reverent speech from collaborators Peter Rowan and Sam Bush. Accepting the honor, Rice—who hasn’t sung in nearly 20 years due to damaged vocal cords—graciously accepted, then spoke about singer Alison Krauss, who had been scheduled to perform Friday night before being diagnosed with dysphonia, a vocal condition.
After some hesitance, Rice—who had been speaking in his characteristic rasp—summoned the ability to talk in what he referred to as his “normal speaking voice” to provide some encouragement to Krauss, moving many in the audience to their feet in an inspiring moment that was referenced in nearly every acceptance speech and conversation that followed. The Manzanita Band—including Rice and his brother Wyatt along with Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and other all-stars—capped the magic with a special performance. It was an unforgettable moment.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Wyatt Rice as the son of Tony Rice. Wyatt is Tony’s brother.