Steve Martin Gets Bluegrass Award, Injects Comedy

Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers turned the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards into funny business Thursday night.

Martin and his group of crack bluegrassers took entertainer of the year, the night’s top award at The Ryman Auditorium, while super group The Boxcars took home a leading four awards.

“I want to thank all the other nominees … for losing,” Martin joked after accepting the award.

Photo: AP Photo
Performing with the Steep Canyon Rangers during the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards.

Martin, the Grammy and Emmy award winner best known as a comedian and writer, is also an accomplished banjo picker who has taken the medium to a wider audience with two albums of mostly original music and a high-profile series of performances. Entertainer of the year goes to the act that does the best job representing the genre.

“It really means a lot, sort of like winning two Oscars,” Martin said afterward. “It’s something we work very hard at and I kind of started from scratch. I mean I’ve been playing banjo for 50 years, but performing in a band I’ve never done. I’ve done it for about two years … You know, the hardest part was talking and tuning.”

It is the first IBMA award for Martin and the second for the Rangers, winners of the 2006 emerging artist of the year award. They snap Dailey & Vincent’s three-year winning streak in the entertainer category.

The Boxcars took home four awards. Three other acts, Michael Cleveland, The Gibson Brothers and a collaborative effort among J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson and Paul Williams, each won two awards.

The Boxcars are made up of former Dan Tyminski band members Adam Steffey and Ron Stewart, who enlisted John R. Bowman, Keith Garrett and Harold Nixon to form the new group. They were the night’s lead nominees with 10.

The quintet won emerging artist and instrumental group of the year, while Steffey won mandolin player of the year and Stewart shared banjo player of the year with Kristin Scott Benson of the Grascals, who has won that trophy four years in a row.

“We’re grizzled veterans, heavy on the gristle,” Steffey joked after the group won instrumental group of the year.

The IBMA honored Bluegrass Hall of Fame inductees Del McCoury and George Shuffler and host Sam Bush paid tribute to the late Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, who would have turned 100 this month.

The Gibson Brothers won album of the year for Help My Brother and the vocal group of the year award, crediting Ricky Skaggs “for teaching us how it’s done.”

Cleveland, which his band Flamekeeper, won instrumental recorded performance of the year for “Goin’ Up Dry Branch” and won Cleveland won his sixth straight fiddle player of the year award and ninth overall.

Crowe, Lawson and Williams won recorded event of the year and gospel recorded event of the year for their “Prayer Bells of Heaven.” Russell Moore won his second straight male vocalist of the year award and Dale Ann Bradley won female vocalist of the year. Both have won those categories four times apiece.

Martin fell in love with the banjo as a child listening to legends like Earl Scruggs, Pete Seeger and Doug Dillard. He often incorporated a banjo into his humor but gave little public hint for his love of bluegrass until later in life. He released his first album with the Rangers in 2009 called The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo. That album won a Grammy Award. They released Rare Bird Alert earlier this year.

Martin previously won a Grammy for his 2001 “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” collaboration with Scruggs.

Photo: AP Photo
Keith Garrett, right, Adam Steffey, left, and Harold Nixon, center perform at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards show.

The 66-year-old and the Rangers have taken bluegrass to “The Ellen Show,” ”The Late Show with David Letterman,” ”The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and the Capital Mall over the last year.

“And when I play a concert hall somewhere I know half the audience isn’t even familiar with bluegrass,” Martin said before the awards. “That way we really reach a really wide audience for this music I love and that I love listening to.”