NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two High Country locals were recently recognized at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Bluegrass Music Awards, each for their respective talents.
Behind the stage, after 20 years of writing, 10 nominations and a library’s worth of music articles under his belt, regional writer and regular Mountain Times contributor Derek Halsey has taken home the IBMA’s Bluegrass Writer of the Year Award.
Onstage, Avery-based singer-songwriter Brooke Aldridge, of the husband-and-wife duo Darin & Brooke Aldridge, took home her fourth award for Female Vocalist of the Year.
The award ceremony, which streamed online on Oct. 1, featured a variety of virtual performances by musical heavyweights such as the Del McCoury Band, Sam Bush and Billy Strings.
Halsey, a West Virginia native who has resided in the High Country the past eight years, has made a career out of writing about music, particularly bluegrass and folk. He began perfecting that niche in 2001, not long after the release of the film “O Brother Where Art Thou,” which Halsey credits with igniting a bluegrass revival.
“That soundtrack, it sold over 8 million copies and it literally spawned a whole generation of young people playing bluegrass music,” said Halsey. “I was just along for the ride, really.”
Although Halsey had gained recognition for his writing prior to his move to the High Country, gaining his first nomination for Bluegrass Writer of the Year in 2010, he credits the region’s rich musical heritage and work for the Mountain Times as a boost to his career.
“I came to work for the Mountain Times and moved to Western North Carolina and all of the sudden, I’m writing an additional 15 to 20 articles a year about Appalachian roots music,” Halsey said. “It was definitely a boost.”
Noting the various music programs such as the Junior Appalachian Musicians program and a variety of annual festivals such as MerleFest, Halsey continued by recognizing Western North Carolina as a central hub for musical Americana.
“Not every place has a hotspot like this, not every place has bluegrass music like this,” said Halsey. “It’s being cultivated by young people.”
During the course of his career, Halsey, who averages about 40 articles a year, has had the opportunity to interview many of the genre’s pivotal acts, including High Country folk legend Doc Watson. Halsey attributes Watson’s guitar style as being a key influence to a new generation of pickers.
This year’s IBMA Awards ceremony included a tribute to the late Watson, which featured musicians Billy Strings, T. Michael Coleman, Molly Tuttle, Bryan Sutton, Jake Workman and Trey Hensley, who played a rendition of “Black Mountain Rag.”
During the virtual ceremony, Halsey’s award for bluegrass writer of the year was announced by banjo pickers Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn. During his acceptance speech, which was pre-recorded at Linville Gorge, Halsey gave shoutouts to a variety of individuals as well as a warm thanks to the different publications he has written for, including Bluegrass Unlimited, The Herald-Dispatch and The Mountain Times.
Also plucked for honors, Brooke Aldridge of Avery County carried home the Female Bluegrass Vocalist of the Year Award for the fourth consecutive year.
“I’m proud, honored and so humbled to have won my fourth consecutive IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year award,” said Aldridge. “I am constantly pinching myself, thinking, is this really my life? I dreamed of these things as a little girl, never knowing my dreams would one day become my reality. I dreamed of singing my way through life and I get to do that, with the love of my life by my side.”
To learn more about the music of Brooke Aldridge and her husband Darin, visit www.darinandbrookealdridge.com.
The salute to Doc Watson, part of the IBMA’s virtual event, can be viewed on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_O7qbqMpBI.