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Scott Vestal Wins Steve Martin Banjo Prize


Scott Vestal, center, is this year’s recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.

Shelly Swanger

Scott Vestal received the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass on Saturday night in a surprise ceremony at the 45th annual RockyGrass Festival in Lyons, Colo.

The award, endowed by Mr. Martin, the actor, comedian and bluegrass musician, carries a cash prize of $50,000 and a bronze sculpture created by the American artist Eric Fischl. It honors “a person or group who has given the board a fresh appreciation of this music, either through artistry, composition, innovation or preservation, and is deserving of a wider audience,” according to the prize’s mission statement. Mr. Martin congratulated Mr. Vestal in a tweet published after the ceremony.

Mr. Vestal picked up music from his grandfather, a fiddler, and began his professional career at age 18 playing with the bluegrass musician Larry Sparks. In the almost 40 years since, he has played banjo in a number of other influential bluegrass acts, including Livewire, Continental Divide and the Sam Bush Band. He has also recorded as a solo artist and regularly serves as a session musician in Nashville.

Previous winners of the Steve Martin Prize include Noam Pikelny, Sammy Shelor, Mark Johnson, Jens Kruger, Eddie Adcock and Danny Barnes. Last year the award went to its first female recipient, Rhiannon Giddens. The prize is bestowed by a board consisting of respected banjoists, including Mr. Martin, and his wife, Anne Stringfield, a journalist.

In 1996, Mr. Vestal was named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s banjo player of the year. He is also a banjo designer and studio engineer.

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