Author: Campbell, Bruce

IBMA - The Bluegrass Wonderland

It’s not surprising that bluegrass music – with its tons of local associations – also has an all-encompassing international association as well. However, the local bluegrass associations and societies are primarily fan-based. They provide a focal point for like-minded aficionados and a way to pool demand for a variety of events.

The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) is an industry-focused group, by contrast. “Bluegrass as an industry!?”, you gasp. Of course it is. There are professional bluegrass musicians, and they have managers (also professional) and there are other professionals who run record companies, put on shows – the list goes on and on.

There is a bluegrass festival “attached” to the yearly IBMA, but for a full week prior to that, it’s all about the Business Of Bluegrass. Bluegrass does a mighty find job of selling itself as an “aw shucks” art form that appears spontaneously on front porches, like mushrooms on a dark damp lawn, but there is a lot of concerted, highly energetic effort that goes into making bluegrass go.

If you ever have a chance to go to IBMA’s annual World of Bluegrass event, you should try it. (You’ll notice that CBAers refer to the IBMA World of Bluegrass event as "IBMA" - as in, “Are you goin’ to IBMA?”. The event positively crackles with the energy that we all love about bluegrass.

If you go, you’ll learn a few things, or here’s what I thought I learned anyways. Two important lessons:

Bluegrass is much closer to a populist art form in the states that are the cradle of bluegrass. It sounds obvious, but it’s odd to a born-and-raised Calfornian to hear bluegrass coming out of the canned music at a gas station or the local Cracker Barrel eatery. It’s also a shock to discover that there are a lot of obscenely talented musicians out there – of all ages. You get in a jam, and some little 4 year old joins the circle with a ¼ size fiddle. “Oh, how cute!”, you think. Then she rips off a version of “Rawhide” that causes your fingers to grow instant blisters just watching her.

Bluegrass is not considered as much of an endangered species out there, either. We Californians love to fret, spit and argue over the outside forces of non-orthodoxy that threaten the very existence of the music we “promote” and “foster”. They take on all comers out there, and bluegrass isn’t harmed in the least.

Lastly, if you “go to IBMA”, you will learn a few things about the worldwide bluegrass community and the industry as well. First, for the most part, they are the happiest, most generous people you can imagine. They will tease you a little about the way you talk, or if you play a bluegrass standard in a “California” way (whatever that means!), but everyone is made to feel very welcome.

You’ll also learn that the California Bluegrass Association is held in high esteem in the international bluegrass community. We have contributed world-class musicians to the pantheon of bluegrass stars, we have a large population of dedicated bluegrass fans, and we have great weather. Bluegrass bands ALL want to play at the CBAs suite at IBMA, and they all want to play the Father’s Day Festival. You can thank yourself, and the leaders of the CBA, for that!

Posted:  9/25/2013

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