Last week marked the seventh year that the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) has hosted its annual business convention, awards show and Wide Open Bluegrass Street Festival in Raleigh.
The Wide Open Bluegrass Street Festival portion of the convention features more than a dozen stages spread out over many blocked off streets in our state capital. Impressively, upward of 170,000 people attended the weekend event, which is billed as “the largest free urban bluegrass festival in the world.”
Before the Wide Open Bluegrass Street Festival got under way, however, the bluegrass community met to honor the best in genre with the IBMA Momentum Awards on Wednesday, Sept. 25, and the IBMA Awards Show held on Thursday, Sept. 26.
In an amazing feat, Avery County’s Brooke Aldridge won her third straight IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year award putting her in rarified air when it comes to the top vocalists in her field. Darin and Brooke Aldridge continue to produce great music and they are about to release a new album on Rounder Records called Inner Journey.
Dropping on Oct. 18, the new recording finds the award-winning Aldridge duo putting their unique spin on songs written by Kasey Chambers, the First Aid Kit, Nanci Griffith, the Louvin Brothers, Graham Nash, Richard Thompson, Vince Gill, Earl Scruggs, Randy Scruggs and our local music hero, the late Doc Watson.
At the IBMA Momentum Awards, which are given to up-and-coming artists that are already making their mark on the bluegrass genre, Deep Gap’s own Cane Mill Road won the IBMA Momentum Band of the Year award. The group’s banjo player, Ashe County’s Tray Wellington, won his second IBMA Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year award as well.
Front and center in Cane Mill Road is 17-year-old multi-instrumentalist Liam Purcell. Despite his young age, he is a master of quite a few instruments. Purcell is partly a product of the Junior Appalachian Musicians organization, which hosts jams and music lessons for kids in 40 towns located in four states including in Boone, Banner Elk and West Jefferson. Here in Boone, the Junior Appalachian Musicians jam and lessons happens on Thursday afternoons at the Jones House.
The rest of the award-winning group Cane Mill Road features Casey Lewis on guitar and Dylan Lawrence on bass.
As a part of the IBMA convention week in Raleigh, Purcell was asked to do a workshop on the clawhammer style of playing the banjo with music veteran Joe Newberry.
“I have known Liam for a long time and played with him at informal jam sessions in places like the Surry County Fiddler’s Convention,” said Joe Newberry. “Working with him today will be great because that is what this circle is all about. The thing that I like about this kind of music is I have friends in their 80s and friends in their teens like Liam who play music. At the end of the day, it is all about the good tune, and Liam is a brilliant player. The young people today are playing at such a high level that I am not worried about the future of the music because I see players like Liam, and I see people like Liam, who is a fine young man, and that is just as important. He knows that he is a part of something bigger. You can tell in the way he interacts with people, in the way he plays, and how he is looking into the past yet reaching for the future. It’s pretty amazing.”
Purcell is honored to be able to collaborate with older artists such as Newberry, and he is thrilled to be winning awards at such a young age.
“Winning the Momentum Award was very validating for us,” said Liam Purcell. “Just to be on the list with the other nominees in the first place was great as they work so hard. I see those other bands working their tails off. A. J. Lee and her group, Circus No. 9, the Price Sisters, and the Slocan Ramblers are all friends of ours, and for all of us to get a nomination is just incredible. It feels good to be recognized for the work we have been putting into this band.”
Cane Mill Road has been nominated for awards in the past, but it is always different when you actually hear your name called out from the podium when the award has been won.
“I usually don’t get nervous that often, but when we won the award, I was nervous about trying to remember who to thank because a lot of people that we know deserve a chip of that award for helping us to get where we are now,” said Purcell. “But, it has been the kind of week where that incredible feeling about winning is there, but it hasn’t sunk in yet because we have been so busy here at the IBMA Convention, running from show to show. So, to sit back and think about it is going to take a while. And, to step up and do this workshop now with Joe Newberry is great because he has been a mentor to me for a long time. It is cool that they want me up there for a different perspective on the music.”
Boone was also wonderfully represented at the Wide Open Bluegrass Street Festival by the Burnett Sisters. With crowds walking the blocked off streets of Raleigh to the tune of 100,00-plus, the group put on their usual wonderful show on the IBMA Youth Stage in the afternoon. Then, the Burnett Sisters played the 8:15 p.m. prime time slot on the Hargett Street Stage preceding a headlining set by the newly crowned IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year Alan Bibey and his band Grasstowne.
The Hargett Street Stage was expertly managed by Boone’s own music impresario Billy Herring and featured many acts that perform often in the High Country, including Bill and the Belles, Hoot and Holler, ShadowGrass featuring Wilkes County teenage guitar phenom Presley Barker, Zoe and Cloyd, and yearly Jones House performers Hank, Pattie and the Current, who shared a wonderful set with a string quartet under the lights.