As Tommy Scott and I wound our way through the endless horde of pickers filling the lobby of Louisville’s Galt House, it was difficult for me to imagine the humble beginnings of the annual International Bluegrass Music Association’s event in Owensboro, Ky., back in the late eighties.
My first appearance at the event came when I arranged for The Marksmen to appear at the IBMA World of Bluegrass in 1988.
I returned in 1992, this time as a presenter at the IBMA Awards, presenting a couple of awards including a Male Vocalist of the Year award to my old friend, Del McCoury, who this year took home Entertainer of the Year.
In the time that has passed since then, the event has grown by leaps and bounds.
As we tried to find our way through the crowd to find the elevators to the 14th floor, it was not an easy task. We had already been up the elevators in the other wing only to discover our goal was not there.
When we finally arrived at room 1449, we knocked on the door to be greeted by Eloise Seckler, wife of Curly Seckler, who was sitting on the couch visiting with his former Nashville Grass partner, Willis Spears, and some of Spears’ family.
We visited just long enough to gather our tickets for that evening’s awards show scheduled to begin in a couple of hours.
“You certainly are drawing well,” Tommy told Curly with a big smile.
The two friends began a road in music together 65 years ago with Charlie Monroe in Wheeling, W.Va. To see them together on this special day was a treat.
That night, Oct. 7, Curly was to be inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor — the industry’s highest accolade.
Many of you may remember me writing a bit about Curly’s career gracing the music of Flatt and Scruggs, Jim and Jesse, The Stanley Brothers and so many others a few months back saying how he deserved more recognition.
Now he was going to receive it.
We arrived early at the Kentucky Center for the Arts, and we were escorted to our seats by the floor manager. She took us down to the front row and seated us in front of the presenter’s podium.
As we visited with other artists as they arrived, the hall, including its two balconies, filled to capacity of 2,500 waiting for the very best in bluegrass to titillate their musical senses.
The more than three-hour event combined the baby boomer and gen X and even gen Y generations of bluegrass performers in a unique evening of tight harmonies, such as those delivered by Recorded Event of the Year producer Carl Jackson, Alecia Nugent and Rebecca Lynn Howard, and intricate musical arrangements such as those performed by nominees Sam Bush and David Grisman.
Hosts Allison Krauss and Dan Tyminski — the singer who gave George Clooney his voice in “O Brother Where Art Thou” — kept the event flowing with a variety of wit and cold style readings of script.
Award winners Doyle Lawson, J.D. Crowe, Ricky Skaggs, Blue Highway and so many others kept the musical offerings flowing as award after award was bestowed.
It was great to see fellow fiddler Michael Cleveland land two awards including Fiddle Player of the Year and Instrumental Album of the Year for Rounder Records’ “Live At The Ragged Edge” with Tom Adams and Michael Cleveland.
Cleveland is a young fiddler who performs with nominee Dale Ann Bradley. I met him a number of years ago when his folks bought some of my fiddle releases for him at an event in Nashville. Cleveland’s wins are even more poignant when you learn that to become a touring fiddler, he excelled in his field without his sight.
The evening was topped off with the greatest honor: enshrining one of my heroes, Curly Seckler, in the Bluegrass Hall of Honor. Grand Ole Opry announcer and music historian Eddie Stubbs gave an outstanding introduction of his long list of accomplishments.
Seckler walked up on the stage from his seat just down the row from us. As he reached the top of the stairs, the thousands that had gathered were on their feet cheering and applauding.
Curly turned and waved somewhat like the presidents do when they get ready to enter Air Force 1. He made his way to the presenter’s podium about three feet in front of us.
With his dry wit he brought the house down as he said, “Aw, sit down.”
Over the next few minutes, Curly walked down memory lane recognizing those who had meant the most in his life: his family at home and those who made up his musical family, from Charlie Monroe to Lester Flatt.
His first musical recognition came when he asked the audience to give a round of applause for his friend throughout his life and his first tent show partner from 65 years ago, Ramblin’ “Doc” Tommy Scott.
Scott rose as the spotlight hit him. He did his classic pop of his red top hat and placed it upon his head as the audience applauded.
As Curly finished, he said, “You got to watch him though; he’ll try to sell you some snake oil,” which once again brought a laugh from the audience.
Curly’s remarks, which were obviously off the cuff, flowed like a polished acceptance speech giving credit everywhere it was due. He then went over to join J.D. Crowe and the New South in a performance of the classic Flatt and Scruggs song “I’ll Go Stepping Too.”
Although one more award was to be given, for us the evening was complete. After the hall cleared and hugs and handshakes were through, the night was over for my mother, Pearl, Tommy and his sister, Cleo Cheek, and I.
We were honored that Curly wanted us to be a part of his special night.Randall Franks is an award-winning musician, singer and actor. He is best known for his role as “Officer Randy Goode” on TV’s “In the Heat of the Night,” now on Turner South. His latest CD release, “God’s Children,” is by etrecordshop.com. He is a columnist and staff writer for The Catoosa County News and can be reached at email@example.com.