What A Night! - 10/1/2011

People kept telling us we were going to bring home awards from the International Bluegrass Association in Nashville. I thought with seven nominations that we might have a chance, but I purposely kept my expectations low to avoid being crushed if we came away with nothing. I told people that we had already won because we had seen an uptick in interest from promoters since the news of our nominations came out. In my private moments, I would look at every category and think there was a very good possibility that we'd have to be satisfied with the nominations alone. I was steeling myself for that to be enough. I had a friend text me saying, "I'm praying for you." I texted back, "Pray I can handle losing." We don't do this for awards. We do it for the love of the music. However, the awards help us to continue making music because they can really help a career. I pray for other things. I pray for my family and all my loved ones. I pray for strength. I don't pray for trophies. Not usually. God doesn't love the winners any more than He does the losers, on a stage or an athletic field. That said, I thank God for putting me with the group of guys he has and that our music is touching hearts, touching them enough that we get to come home with trophies for Vocal Group of the Year and Album of the Year.

After all the waiting, the show at Country Music's Mother Church, the Ryman Auditorium, went by in a blur for me. Sam Bush was an excellent host. I love how he recounted hearing a musician play a Monroe-style mandolin song for Bill Monroe. Monroe said, "That's good. Now what can you do?" What can you do? That rang in my head all night. We heard wonderful performances throughout the evening and applauded as people we now count as friends were announced and won or lost awards. I was happy for every single person who won, even in categories we hoped to win. You cannot argue with Russell Moore for Male Vocalist. He is a machine. The same can be said about Gospel Performance. Three of my heroes, Doyle Lawson, J.D. Crowe, and Paul Williams won. I love that record. I knew Song of the Year would be tough because "Trains I Missed" is an incredible song done by a wonderful band (and new friends), Balsam Range. Entertainer of the Year? No one is bringing bluegrass to the masses more than Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers. Millions of people are getting a taste because of Steve's unabashed love for the banjo. I was so happy to see the bluegrass faithful at the Ryman treat him him so warmly. 

As the names were being announced for Vocal Group of the Year, I thought the odds were against us. We are a duet. The other acts were wonderful, and all featured duos, trios, even quartets. What chance did we have? When our name was announced, we were backstage getting ready for our performance. I don't even rermember who announced us. I heard our names and asked Jason Carter of the Del McCoury band to hold my banjo. I said, "Man, that makes you look a lot smarter." I know I didn't thank everyone I should have. We didn't prepare any kind of speech because we didn't want to jinx ourselves. We also wanted to be in the moment. Remember, we're the band who never writes a setlist for the same reason. Leigh was great. He thanked me and said he couldn't have done it without me because we really don't sound that good apart. The crowd laughed. The band had asked me if we won the award whether or not they should join the singers on stage. I insisted. I told the audience that our vocals were allowed to shine because our band supports our singing so beautifully. Mike, Clayton, and Joe are so selfless. They never take a night off, never take a song off. They give us their all every single time. I was so glad they were standing with us.

We set up to play "Help My Brother" while the legendary Del McCoury was being inducted. I was so happy that both Del and George Shuffler were inducted into IBMA's Hall of Honor, both so deserving. I was proud of how we performed. I mean, there's more than a little pressure when the best pickers in the world are either in the audience or waiting in the wings. We didn't get caught up in that. We just did our thing. After our performance, Leigh and I settled back in our seats in time to hear the nominees announced for Album of the Year as the other guys milled around in the very cramped backstage area. I won't lie. Leigh and I really wanted this one. I told my closest friends leading up to Thursday night that if we could get one, this is the one we wanted. All the other albums in our category were worthy as well and it would have been no shame to lose to any one of them. As Tim O'Brien paused before reading the winner, I'll admit I prayed silently, "Please God." Maybe it was selfish, but I did it. I felt "Help My Brother" was the culmination of Leigh, Mike (co-producer, of course) and I pounding the roads together for eighteen years. The record represented some of our best writing and wonderful writing by Chris Henry, Joe Newberry, Tim O'Brien, and Jon Weisberger. It included songs by influences Jim and Jesse, the Louvins, and O'Kanes and performances with Ricky Skaggs and Claire Lynch, two real-life musical heroes who were willing to join us. It has been #1 for five months in Bluegrass Unlimited. I felt we had a legitimate chance and wanted it badly enough to pray for it. "And the winner is..."Help My Brother" by the Gibson Brothers!" Thank you, Tim O'Brien, for reading it. Thank you, Lord, for everything else, for keeping us safe and for giving us talent and inspiration, and for putting people in our lives who make this possible. There are people I neglected to mention in the rush of it all, but I'm so happy I was able to thank Corina and the boys. I hadn't planned on saying it, but I meant it. Corina has been married to me for sixteen years. It is not easy being married to a musician, but she has never made me choose between her and the music. God bless that girl. I thought of my parents and the farm I still dream about. I thought about a lot of things. I hope I made sense.

I have never seen Leigh or Mike happier. Clayton and Joe were flying high as well, but I haven't spent eighteen hours in a van with them since the show like I have Leigh and Mike. We laughed and joked all the way back to New York. I think it was just a feeling of "we did it." We will not rest on our laurels. We know there is always room for improvement and that goal stays the same, but for once we're not the baseball team that says yet again, "Wait 'til next year." This year, next year is now for the Gibson Brothers. We are so grateful to all who made it possible. Thank you.