The ubiquitous duo of Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent won a combined total of seven trophies at the 37th annual Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America awards ceremony held Sunday evening (Feb. 6) at the Sheraton Music City hotel in Nashville.
Suspenseful as the awards competition was at times, it's a safe bet that many of the several hundred fans gathered for the four-hour event would have abandoned it early to watch the Super Bowl or start the long drive home had it not been for the spectacular musical performances threaded throughout.
Instead of being confined to one or two songs, the five acts featured on the show had time to stretch out and show their depth and versatility in sets that lasted from 20 to 30 minutes. The young husband-and-wife team of Darin & Brooke Aldridge opened the show and immediately displayed their bluegrass creds with an assertive rendering of "Something Out of Nothing."
They then drove the point home again and again with such memorables as "Sweetest Waste of Time," the beguiling marriage proposal "Corn" and the cinematic gospel lyrics of "Last Thing on His Mind." Their vocal harmonies were enchanting, and they worked the stage with a reassuring level of self-confidence.
Grasstowne, a more seasoned group anchored by lead vocalist Steve Gulley and mandolin whiz Alan Bibey, blended country into their bluegrass. Gulley unlocked memories with an especially compelling reading of
The band Rarely Herd served as hosts, cracking jokes that were often funny but which occasionally fell flat -- a fate perhaps to be expected when five guys cluster around a single microphone at the same time.
The Herd was mesmerizing, though, when it stuck to its music. In a strong program that included "Anybody Else's Heart but Mine," "Keep on Walkin'" and "Rain All Night," the gem of the set was lead vocalist Jim Stack's stunning performance of "The Waving Girl." It virtually rolled out over the audience like the bleak seascape the Harley Allen song describes.
Looking gorgeous and fully engaged, Rhonda Vincent led her band, the Rage, through a show perfectly packaged to push all the right emotional buttons. This was evidenced by the fact that she opened with the breakneck "Ragin' Live for You Tonight" and closed with a stately singalong version of "The Old Rugged Cross."
Apart from her vividly demonstrated musical skills, Vincent is a master storyteller whose between-songs patter is as entertaining as her music. She told of storming the tonier sections of New York City last year -- from Times Square to the Empire State Building -- to introduce her current album, Taken.
She said her former label (Rounder Records, which she did not mention by name) declined to let her record a full gospel album. Now that she runs her own label, she said she's considering launching an all-gospel project.
Three songs into her set, she urged her band into the old fiddle tune, "The Eighth of January," promising it would give each member a chance to strut his stuff. It became the sonic equivalent of watching the Blue Angels do aerial acrobatics, with each round of play getting faster, cockier and more intricate. Had it not come so early in the show, it would have been a showstopper.
Vincent told the crowd she was webcasting her segment, partly to show executives at Martha White Flour the kind of talent they've been sponsoring for the past 10 years. Naturally, she sang "The Martha White Theme" and made sure the audience joined in.
The Grascals were likewise in top form. Starting with
But the emotional centerpiece was Jamie Johnson's "I Am Strong," his tribute to children who must bear the burdens of a life-threatening illness. It was absolutely majestic.
Dailey & Vincent took the stage after the last award had been handed out. By this time, perhaps half the original crowd had departed. Those who stayed, however, had their faith rewarded.
Like a Rubik's Cube that yields a fascinating pattern regardless of how it's twisted, Dailey & Vincent's show was by turns folksy, comic and reverential. The two principals played off each other, both musically and comically, with verve and surefootedness.
They began with "Sweet Carrie" and "Cumberland River" and then scored an emotional body blow with their torrential cover of the Statler Brothers hit, "Elizabeth." From there, it was on to the a cappella grace and gravity of "Don't You Want to Go to Heaven When You Die" and "Brother Moses Smote the Waters."
The band then walked into the wings to allow Dailey (on guitar) and Vincent (on mandolin) to recreate their breakthrough song, "By the Mark."
To the surprise of many, the biggest hit of the show was mandolinist Jeff Parker's imaginative cover of
However, when Parker continued into the second verse, still singing in English, Dailey stopped the music to point out that Fender had sung that verse in Spanish.
With great fanfare -- and to the clear delight of the audience -- Parker whipped a paper from his back pocket, theatrically held it up in order to focus properly and broke into what sounded like Fender's precise Spanish intonation. The crowd roared its approval. But Parker's linguistic triumph was short-lived when his Spanish ran out and he was forced to end the verse by distinctly uttering "Taco Bell." What the performance lacked in furthering international relations it compensated for with enthusiasm.
Dailey & Vincent and band said farewell with another Statler Brothers song, "One Less Day to Go."
Before the main awards were handed out, the SPBGMA inducted singer and songwriter Aubrey Holt into its Preservation Hall of Greats. Holt was a founding member of the Boys From Indiana and writer of the bluegrass standards "Atlanta Is Burning" and "Listen to My Hammer Ring."
"I don't know if this is symbolism or not," said Hall when he came forward to accept the award, "but I just found a penny on my way up here. That's probably the most money that anybody in bluegrass has made today."
Here is the complete list of winners:
Entertainer of the Year: Rhonda Vincent
Entertaining Group: Dailey & Vincent
Album: Dailey & Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers
Song: "Train Without a Track," Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice
Best Bluegrass Band: Dailey & Vincent
Female Vocalist (Contemporary): Rhonda Vincent
Female Vocalist (Traditional): Alecia Nugent
Male Vocalist (Contemporary): Jamie Dailey
Male Vocalist (Traditional):
Vocal Group: Dailey & Vincent
Instrumental Group: The Grascals
Gospel Group (Contemporary): Dailey & Vincent
Gospel Group (Traditional):
Songwriter: Tom T. and Dixie Hall
Top instrumental performers: Darrin Vincent (bass fiddle), Tim Graves (Dobro), Josh Williams (guitar), Danny Roberts (mandolin), Kristin Scott Benson (banjo), Michael Cleveland (fiddle)
Promoter: Adams & Anderson LLC
Radio station: WDVX-FM/Knoxville, Tenn.
DJ: Joe Mullins, WBZI-AM/Xenia, Ohio