Hobnobbing with bluegrass royalty at IBMA awards
For me it was the Oscars, only better. Everybody who was anybody in the bluegrass world showed up at sundown Thursday in front of Raleigh's Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts to get ready for the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual awards show.
Haywood County's own bluegrass-and-more band Balsam Range was up for seven awards and it was too big a deal for me to sit home. So armed with red carpet press credentials but no ticket to the sold-out show, I whipped down I-40 on a whim.
I figured I'd listen to the big blow-out on the car radio in the parking lot if I had to. Soon after I got there I ran into Balsam Range's Darren Nicholson and Marc Pruett. They assured me they'd come up with something if I couldn't. Good friends, those. Dr. Ann Melton, Buddy's mother, got her show ticket late and the box office had a few left.
I grabbed one before elbowing my way onto the edge of the red carpet. A beautifully blinged-out Rhonda Vincent connected with me and my Canon Coolpix. Every time I clicked, she posed. An IBMA media person introduced us. The super star said she knew about Waynesville and we had an interesting chat.
When it comes to bluegrass, I'm a little sexist. For me, mountain music means men. When Rhonda Vincent and the Rage stormed the stage, I became a believer. They played like their hair was on fire, the audience was electrified and I'm a fan for life. Artist and 2013 IBMA Broadcaster of the Year Ronnie Reno edged my direction during the elbow-to-elbow cocktail hour.
"I've got people in Haywood County," said the son of the legendary Don Reno. "You know anybody named Sorrells?" Reno said he'd been trying to get Balsam Range on his radio and television shows. "My audience would like them," he said. "Let's see if we can make that happen."
An east Tennessee producer and promoter told me he'd looked at the Carolina Nights venue in Maggie Valley. "They've done a good job with the building," he said. Talks with folks in Maggie Valley led him to decide the place wasn't a good fit for him, he continued. The former politician was a county commissioner in North Carolina's Piedmont area decades ago.
Everybody took a back seat to singer and guitar virtuoso Tony Rice Thursday night, and they were glad to do it. If you Google the IBMA Hall of Famer's acceptance speech, you'll get a lump in your throat as he clears his.
Balsam Range brought the Album of the Year award home to Haywood County. Earlier in the evening their medley of the band's chart-topping "Papertown" penned by Waynesville native and Tuscola graduate Milan Miller, now a Nashville songwriter, and "Any Old Road (Will Take You There), co-written by Balsam Range's Grammy-award winning banjo legend Dr. Marc Pruett, brought thunderous applause from the sold-out house.
For 25 years, politics propelled me on the long haul from the Balsams to the Beltway more often than I wanted to go. For the next two autumns my plans are to blow into town with some of the best folks anywhere and have a bluegrass blast.
Balsam Range will perform on Waynesville's Main Street Oct. 12 at the 30th Annual Church Street Fair.