Bluegrass industry folks are a pretty responsible bunch, says Amy Reitnouer, co-producer of IBMA’s awards show, but things can still get hectic when you’re trying to put on a live show in a theater full of them.
There are performers to wrangle, presenters and award winners to shuffle on and off stage, and a script to stick to. But somewhere amid all that bustle is where the magic happens – and that’s what Reitnouer hopes for in Thursday night’s show.
Last year, her first for the International Bluegrass Music Association, the opening dance number was what got people talking. In 2013, when she was shadowing that year’s producers, she saw Hall of Fame inductee Tony Rice astonish the audience by speaking in his natural voice after years of struggling with dysphonia, a disorder that can cause speech difficulties.
“It was like time just stopped,” she remembers. “Everyone was so floored when that happened. I think that’s something really amazing about IBMA – there has been a magical moment at every awards show that I’ve been to.”
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There’s magic in store for this year’s show, too, Reitnouer promises, though she’s keeping the element of surprise in her pocket. What she does reveal is that the closing number will involve “a collaboration of some of our very favorite people in the genre, I’d say a mix of some legendary talent and some of the most exciting, up-and-coming talent out there today.”
All of the Album of the Year and Entertainer of the Year nominees will perform, and Hall of Fame inductee Larry Sparks and many others will be on hand, as well.
The proceedings will be guided by this year’s hosts, the Gibson Brothers.
“They are just consummate professionals, they’re incredible musicians, and they’re also wickedly funny,” Reitnouer says. “That’s a package you can’t really turn down.”
“Hosting an awards show is a tough gig,” she continues. “It’s harder, I think, than people expect. You’ve got to be funny and charming, and you’ve also got to be very professional. You’re kind of like setting the tone for the entire show. Who’s the person you want to hang out with at your family reunion? It’s usually your fun uncle or something. You want to spend time around people who make you feel good, and the Gibson Brothers, that’s just who they are.”
Plus, she adds, they fit right into the theme of this year’s show: family and community. After a few years of change at IBMA – many new board members, a new executive director and the not-all-that-long-ago shift of the annual conference to Raleigh – Reitnouer feels that the community is coming back together and settling in. She wants the awards show to celebrate that. “Now we feel like we’re returning home.”
There’s a lot of planning that goes into the show – what Reitnouer calls organizing “all the moving parts.” She and her co-producer, Megan McNair Bedford, have assembled the technical crew, worked on sets and lighting, arranged performances, and worked with the hosts and scriptwriter Craig Shelburne.
For rehearsals, “it’s a lot of sitting and waiting and watching, and then running around frantically trying to find people before they go onstage,” she says with a laugh.
“When the shows actually runs, you kind of sit back and just hope it goes the way you imagined it in your head and the way you’ve worked to make it come together.”
If the show is a homecoming for IBMA artists and members, it’s an especially familiar place for Reitnouer now that it’s in North Carolina.
Originally from Pennsylvania, she graduated in 2009 from Elon University, where she studied film. But she got an education in bluegrass while she was there, too.
In her first semester, Reitnouer’s housemate dragged her out to a show in Chapel Hill. The band onstage was Nickel Creek, and she was hooked.
“That night kind of just changed everything for me,” says Reitnouer, who now is executive director for The Bluegrass Situation website. “Before, I had thought of bluegrass as kind of this old-timey backwoods music, and it was so young and fresh and exciting and different from anything else I’d heard before. I looked around the room and I was like, ‘these are the people I want to be friends with, these are the people I want to hang around with.’”
Later in her time at Elon, she caught on to North Carolina’s Steep Canyon Rangers and would see them every time they played The Cave in Chapel Hill. Nowadays, she’s friends with the band and gets to see them in much larger venues.
“We’ve both had significant changes in our careers,” she points out. “It’s just really special to be back in town and be able to book them on the awards show. … And I’m like, ‘Wow, guys, we’re a long way from The Cave. This is pretty cool.”
Stacy Chandler: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go
What: The 26th Annual International Bluegrass Music Awards
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh
Tickets: $50-$100 for IBMA members, $60-$110 for nonmembers. The show will be streamed live on IBMA’s website by Music City Roots and televised on PBS in January.