|Photo by Justin Weber|
Tony Rice – known as one of the greatest guitar players of all time and a classic bluegrass baritone who started with J.D. Crowe and The New South and went on to a storied solo career – spoke in his real voice for the first time in two decades in front of an awed Memorial Auditorium crowd during the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards show.
Rice was inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame last night. It was clear all night it would be a special moment. People cheered at every mention of his name. Nobody knew just how monumental it would be.
After a meandering but deservingly long introduction, Rice, looking frail and sickly, stepped to the podium and expressed deep gratitude in a thin and raspy voice strangled by muscle tension dysphonia.
Then, mentioning that his friend Alison Krauss is struggling with a similar vocal disease, Rice told the audience that he believed he could get his voice back through intense physical therapy. Then it happened.
Tony Rice spoke in a voice long lost to the world. The scratchy, disjointed sounds were replaced with a smoother, full vocal that he continued to speak in as he finished his speech.
The audience gasped, cheered and cried. It was an Earth-moving, soul-stirring moment that shook the foundations of the impossible. If Tony Rice can recover his voice, what else is possible? It cannot be exaggerated how awesome this moment was.
Rice promised that he would work toward being able to sing again, the crowd went wild and the rest of the awards were overshadowed.
That’s not to say there weren’t other memorable moments. The Steep Canyon Rangers did their home state proud as light-hearted and charming hosts. There was a moving tribute to the great fiddle player Paul Warren by his son. Rhonda Vincent and the Rage sounded huge and powerful during their performance. Junior Sisk had a heartfelt acceptance speech for Male Vocalist of The Year.
“I about melted and fell outta the seat,” he said when he got to the podium.
North Carolina’s own Balsam Range won Album of The Year for Papertown and had one of the best performances of the night with “Any Old Road (Will Take You There)”.
The big winners on the night were The Gibson Brothers who took home awards for Entertainer of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year and Song of the Year (“They Called It Music”). Eric Gibson also won the award for Songwriter of the Year.
Bluegrass and North Carolina legends Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson were invoked all night to celebrate the IBMA’s return to this bluegrass hotbed, but the first awards back in the Tar Heel state will be remembered for the triumph of Tony Rice rather than the celebration of the genre’s roots.