The International Bluegrass Music Association award show in 2023, hosted at the Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, North Carolina, marked significant shifts in the bluegrass community. While Billy Strings secured his third Entertainer of the Year award and Sierra Hull clinched her sixth Mandolin Player of the Year title, the standout was Molly Tuttle’s triple win: Female Vocalist, Song, and Album of the Year.
However, these accomplishments were mere chapters in a broader narrative. The transition observed over the last decade in the bluegrass genre has come full circle. Young talents like Strings, Hull, and Tuttle have solidified their roles as the genre's torchbearers.
Ketch Secor of the Old Crow Medicine Show, who co-hosted the awards with Tuttle, emphasized the influx of young talents in bluegrass. The genre's simplicity and purity, as Cody Tinnin of Stillhouse Junkies observes, have continually drawn young enthusiasts.
Bluegrass Legends Bid Farewell
Yet, 2023 was also a year tinged with melancholy, as bluegrass mourned the passing of legends Bobby Osborne and Jesse McReynolds. With their departures, a chapter in bluegrass history ended, reminding the community of the perpetual cycle of life, growth, and renewal in the genre.
C.J. Lewandowski, leader of the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, noted that even as the early giants of bluegrass are remembered, there's exhilaration in anticipating the genre's future. His sentiments were echoed by Terry Baucom, a retiree from the scene and an iconic banjo player.
Meanwhile, the IBMA dropped a bombshell, revealing that the awards' long-standing venue in Raleigh would change post-2024. Speculations are rife about the new location, even as a new festival is announced for Raleigh. The event also celebrated the induction of three Hall of Famers: Sam Bush, the “King of Newgrass”; mandolin genius David Grisman; and Wilma Lee Cooper, dubbed “The First Lady of Bluegrass”.
Their contributions, particularly those of Bush and Grisman, have paved the way for artists like Strings, Hull, and Tuttle, upholding bluegrass's evolving yet rooted spirit. Bush, looking back at his journey, recognized the importance of innovation within the genre.
Recalling a story about bluegrass founder Bill Monroe, Bush highlighted the importance of originality in the genre. Monroe's legacy, along with other pioneers, lays the groundwork for today's artists, ensuring bluegrass continues to thrive and evolve.