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BLUEGRASS MOMENTS: Gibson Brothers excited to host IBMA awards

Band to headline Plattsburgh Bluegrass Festival this weekend

September 10, 2015
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor ( , Lake Placid News

The Gibson Brothers are working on their script for the annual International Bluegrass Music Association Awards Show, which Eric and Leigh Gibson will host Oct. 1 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Meanwhile, those interested in seeing the two-time IBMA Entertainers of the Year can attend their sets at 3 and 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12 at the Plattsburgh Bluegrass Festival at the Clinton County Fairgrounds. It is a homecoming of sorts, and the audience will be filled with friends and family. The brothers grew up on a dairy farm a short distance away, just north of Ellenburg Depot, and they were given honorary doctorates in May at SUNY Plattsburgh, their alma mater.

Even with all the success they've had lately, the IBMA awards job caught Eric and Leigh by surprise.

Article Photos

From left, Eric and Leigh Gibson perform July 16 at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, New York.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

"Not to be overly dramatic, but it almost took my breath away," Eric said in the musicians' lounge backstage at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival on July 16, the day after the announcement was made. "It was one of those pleasant surprises. Immediately I started thinking of all my heroes who have hosted the show like Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Alison Krauss, Del McCoury and Jerry Douglas. It was followed immediately by, like Leigh said, fear. We both had the same kind of response, like, 'Oh, Lord, are we going to be up to the task? Are we of high enough stature in people's minds to pull this off?'"

"It's a little intimidating, but it is exciting," Leigh said. "I hope we can bring whatever people like about our stage show to the awards show as well."

Once the news set in, the brothers began thinking about the opportunity hosting the IBMA awards will give them.

"You need to try new things," Leigh said. "How else do you grow?"

The Gibson Brothers had enjoyed a string of IBMA awards before they were named Entertainers of the Year in 2012, an honor that was repeated in 2013. Last year, they were nominated again, but the award went to Balsam Range, a band from North Carolina. The Gibson Brothers are up for Entertainers of the Year again this year, along with four other nominations: Vocal Group of the Year, Album of the Year for "Brotherhood"; Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year for "What a Wonderful Savior Is He"; and the band's Jesse Brock as Mandolin Player of the Year.

What does hosting the awards ceremony say about their careers?

"Maybe we're doing something right," Eric said. "A lot of things have happened that I never dreamed would happen in the last three or four years. Sometimes you get in the day-to-day grind of everything of just living life and you lose sight of what's going on. Once in a while, you have to stop and think, 'Gosh, we just played the Ryman. We just had a display in the Country Music Hall of Fame. We were just given honorary doctorates. We're being asked to host this show.' On top of the awards that have come our way in recent years, we're doing OK."

Eric and Leigh knew they were going to host the IBMA Awards Show before the official announcement was made, and they met with some of the writers in Nashville before playing the Ryman Auditorium with Hot Rize on July 9.

"I think the main thing is we're just going to have fun, not a goofy night, but to be light-hearted and fun with a lot of energy, keep the show moving," Eric said.

Eric and Leigh are well-known for entertaining their audiences with humorous banter that plays on sibling rivarly. It's all done in fun, Leigh making jokes about Eric's silver hair, for example, calling him the "Silver Fox" while his brother tunes his banjo.

"I want it to sound like us," Leigh said. "I want to have the same kind of vibe that you witness when you come to one of our shows. It, of course, will be more scripted, but I want it to seem natural coming from us."


Industry support

The success of the Gibson Brothers has not caught their friends in the music industry by surprise. Festival organizers, radio personalities, musicians and record executives sang their praises at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival this year.

Asked about Eric and Leigh's secret to success, Ken Irwin of Rounder Records said there is no secret.

"Talent as writers, as singers, as performers," Irwin said. "I think hard work ethic. They seem to give their best every show, and they're very consistent. ... They're pretty much the complete package."

In February, the Gibson Brothers released their first album for Rounder Records, "Brotherhood," a tribute to brother acts in bluegrass and country music. It is currently No. 1 on the Bluegrass Unlimited album chart, setting a record for the first band in the chart's history to reach the top spot over eight consecutive albums. That run began with "Bona Fide" in 2003 and continued with "Long Way Back Home" in 2004, "Red Letter Day" in 2006, "Iron and Diamonds" in 2008, "Ring the Bell" in 2010, "Help My Brother" in 2011 and "They Called It Music" in 2013.

Katy Daley, a radio personality and executive at WAMU's Bluegrass Country in Washington, D.C., has been a big supporter of the Gibson Brothers for many years. That support didn't go unnoticed. When Eric and Leigh learned about WAMU's budget cuts, Daley received a phone call from the Gibson Brothers.

"Out of all the bands that we work with, one band called up and said, 'What can we do to help?' And it was Eric and Leigh," Daley said. "These are the people you want as your neighbor. It's often been described that bluegrass is a music, it's a community, and it's a business. And, man, we're really better off having them in all three parts, especially the community part."

The Gibson Brothers raised money for WAMU by performing to a sold-out crowd Aug. 6 at AMP by Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland. The benefit was a success.

Closer to home, North Country Public Radio's Barb Heller, host of "String Fever" from 3 to 5 p.m. every Thursday, has known the Gibson Brothers since their full-time bluegrass careers began more than 20 years ago. She's seen them transform from the North Country's favorite bluegrass band to one of America's.

"We have a certain hometown pride that comes from being from the same general locale that the Gibson Brothers are from," Heller said. "We think of them as our boys from the North Country, from northern New York. But when I listen to other people from other parts of the country talk about Eric and Leigh, they have that same sense of ownership that we have. There's something about Eric and Leigh's personalities that lend themselves so well to fitting in everywhere they go. You talk to people from Florida, and they'll say, 'Those Gibson Brothers, they're my boys.' And the same thing about people from Virginia, you talk to people from California, they love to just own these guys."

In North Carolina for the IBMA Awards Show, there's a good chance the Gibson Brothers will run into one of the state's most revered bluegrass singer-songwriters, Joe Newberry, who co-wrote "They Called It Music" with Eric Gibson. Although the Gibson Brothers are a northern band in a southern genre of music, Newberry said their appeal knows no boundaries.

"Bluegrass started in Kentucky," he said, "but the Gibsons are a great example of the fact that it belongs everywhere."

There are five musicians in the Gibson Brothers band. Eric Gibson (banjo, guitar and vocals) lives in the Franklin County hamlet of Brainardsville. Leigh Gibson (guitar, vocals) lives in the Schenectady County village of Scotia. Mike Barber (upright bass) lives in the Clinton County hamlet of Jericho. Clayton Campbell (fiddle) lives in Nashville. Jesse Brock (mandolin) lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

The IBMA Awards Show will be held Thursday, Oct. 1 at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Memorial Auditorium, in Raleigh. The show is usually streamed live on the Music City Roots website. For more information, visit online at



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