Author: Sargent, Geoff

My Foggy CBA Crystal Ball

Last month I posted a column discussing the proposed amendment to our by-laws to allow formation of an executive committee to help with the day-to-day management of the CBA. The column stimulated two of the better discussion threads on the message board that I have seen in a long while and I appreciate everyone that commented, whether they were for or against. But the discussion on the proposed by-law change got me thinking again about how we envision the CBA, and our various events, 5 or 10 years into the future.

I have my own ideas and visions about the CBA future; frankly those ideas have changed since becoming a board member and have matured with the understanding and knowledge that comes with working on the day-to-day CBA issues at board meetings. Those ideas also heavily borrow (or steal) from the thinking of board members that have been worrying about the CBA future a heck of a lot longer than I have, so I hope they won’t mind if I talk about a few of them here.

So I’ll start with what I think is the easiest stuff. What do I envision for our events?

One of the things we all have to understand from the beginning is that our events are what bring in a large part of the operating revenue for the CBA…the membership dues just don’t cover it all. We need the capital our events bring in to produce the events, we need the capital to periodically replace equipment for the FDF festival, we need the capital for our operating costs, which includes things like insurance and publicity, and occasionally we have to cover costs for events that fall short of breaking even. Then there is revenue from the mercantile and raffles, some of which is earmarked in advance for our youth and scholarship programs. I think it is fair to say that the CBA board spends a lot of its time discussing, struggling over, and making financial decisions.

With that in mind……we produce some great events. I think our flagship events are hands down the summer music camp and the Father’s Day Festival. In fact, I should say music camps because not only do we have the “adult” music camp but thanks to Darby Brandli we have the new CBA Bluegrass Academy for youth, and then there is the Kids on Bluegrass program. Frankly, I think our education programs, and this incudes the lending library, are some of the most underappreciated events we have going. And I want to build on them, because they are a great way to bring in new pickers, whether those are young pickers or the parents of pickers. I think we will see the education programs forming a couple of new camps, and I strongly believe we need to find a way, somehow, to make some real, systematic inroads into our college campuses and high schools. So my crystal ball is pretty clear on the future of the education programs, but fuzzy on how to accomplish the goals.

But how about our festivals, in particular the FDF? My crystal ball is a little fuzzier here on what I envision. We have a really good festival with a long history and I think we got the formula about right. There are a couple of things I personally would like to try, for example maybe have another stage that would allow us to hear more edgy bluegrass and old time bands. Some of what we consider edgy bands have come and played great bluegrass sets on the main stage, why not give them the opportunity to also play some edgy stuff off the main stage. Wiser minds probably are shaking their heads and tsk tsking, but actually what I am hoping is that this would be a sneaky way to bring in those listeners that would go hear a band like the String Dusters or Deadly Gentlemen play edgy stuff at the Fillmore, but might not catch them for a trad bluegrass set. The other experiment would be to have some “multi-media” offerings. There are several bluegrass documentaries scheduled for release, or rumored to be in the works,….one of which “The Tao of Bluegrass”, a documentary of the bay area’s own bluegrass boy Peter Rowan, is being released and screened next month at the Mill Valley film festival. Maybe it is a little out of the box, but what better place to show a bluegrass documentary than at one of the premiere bluegrass festivals in the world…..and maybe even get the subjects to reminisce on stage about their time playing with Bill Monroe.

Regardless of experimenting around the edges of FDF, the one thing I would definitely like to see, more than anything else, is higher attendance at Grass Valley. I know there are folks that think the FDF is already too big, but the margin for attendance that can push us into a profit, or drag us into a loss, is too thin for my comfort. One of the hot topics of discussion among board members every year at Grass Valley is “do you know the gate for today….and did it do better than last year?” I’m not suggesting that we get Merlefest-big, but a few more attendees sure would make life a little less stressful for those of us that worry about the finances.

But basically, I like the Father’s Day Festival the way it is and want to keep the vibe we have going.

My crystal ball starts going absolutely cyclonic for some of the behind-the-scenes issues and now I am talking about how we govern the CBA. If I do only one project for the CBA next year, it will be updating our by-laws. However, I already have a few pet issues. One issue is the executive committee idea and I laid out my thinking on that on the message board last month and with last month’s welcome column and breakdown article. One other pet issue is that our by-laws make it difficult for anyone that has to travel as part of their profession to be board members. The basic rule is miss three meetings and you are off the board. So……it is not too difficult to imagine why it would be difficult for professional bluegrass musicians, sales professionals, medical or legal professionals, etc, etc, etc, to make the commitment to serve on the CBA board. One solution would be to do what other boards do and that would be to allow some level of participation by conference calls into board meetings. We have this thing called the internet, and we have cell phones, and we have motivated talented candidates that might contribute their service to the CBA if we could update our procedures.

Right….I’ve painted a few pretty big targets for folks to comment on and take potshots at. These are only ideas and I like to point out that ideas are worth exactly the money you spend on them and I didn’t spend anything except a cup of tea and a shot of bourbon. More than anything I want to hear your ideas about where you would like to see the CBA and our events in five years. Things aren’t going to “not change” and I would rather have some goals to work towards than constantly be responding to events that get thrown at us. One of the harsh realities that appear to be facing the CBA is an aging membership and I don’t have a good sense that we have a large group of younger members that are waiting in the wings to step in to fill those shoes. Maybe I’m wrong...I hope so, but in the meantime I try to think of ways to attract younger attendees to our festivals and attract younger volunteers for our board and officers.

So here’s a ground rule I’m going to suggest for making message board comments on this welcome column…….if you want to criticize my ideas then have at it, but try to make a positive suggestion or idea as well.

Posted:  9/16/2013

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