Author: Lehmann, Ted

IBMA De-Brief
 
Irene and I spent the first week of the end of September and the beginning of October in Nashville attending the annual business meeting and Fan Fest of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). Gas prices and shortages as well as the weakening economy had caused us to question making the drive, but we went ahead, and we're glad we did. Reading the Bluegrass-L, it's easy to get the impression that IBMA only gives unsatisfying awards and generates complaints from traditionalists, progressives, neo-proto-pseudo bluegrassers. Instead, what we encountered was a vital organization seeking to increase professionalism, provide opportunities for musicians and promoters to meet and make connections, showcase new and experienced bands, examine the many issues confronting bluegrass music in these difficult times, raise money to support bluegrass people in distress through Fan Fest, and provide a great time for all those who attend. That's a pretty big agenda, and IBMA fulfilled its goal.

Because so many people attend IBMA to hear and make music, it's easy to underestimate or miss entirely the business conference that runs through the first four days. During the four days of the Business Conference, IBMA sponsors a broad range of seminars and presentations focused on the needs of all segments of the bluegrass music industry: Agents & Managers, Artists & Composers, Associations, Print Media & Education, Record Companies & Music Publishers, Luthiers & Music Publishers, Event Producers, and Broadcast Media. Presentations are designed to assist people seeking to improve their knowledge and professionalism by exposing them to experienced and successful practitioners in the industry. A look at the variety of programs suggests the range and diversity of the offerings. Mentor sessions were established to provide people seeking information opportunities to interact with people who had experienced some success. I was fortunate enough to be asked to participate in a Mentor Session dealing with bluegrass photography and writing. Co-mentor Mike Witcher and I sat with three people for scheduled sessions. Their questions were thoughtful, and I thought Mike and I worked well together to provide useful alternative ways to attack their issues. Other mentor sessions looked active and interesting. A Gig Fair provided bands with an opportunity to talk directly to promoters from around the country. A town hall session gave all members the opportunity to interact directly with members of the IBMA Board of Directors in order to air grievances and ask questions. Unfortunately, the session seemed to me not to be well-attended. Regardless, the sessions presented attendees with new ways to think about their profession and ways to point to increased success. As at any professional conference, sessions were provided to meet the needs of almost anyone there.

I'm told the Exhibit Hall did not feature as many exhibitors as in years past. Nevertheless, there were plenty of people showing instruments, highlighting services provided by agents and managers, and representing other useful products for musicians and others. Whether the Exhibit Hall was crowded with exhibitors or not, it served as a social center and meeting place for band members and others who rarely get as good a chance to interact as they did here. The Exhibit Hall was a lively and interesting center during the Business Conference and Fan Fest.

Showcases, both official and "After Hours," gave both new and established bands an opportunity to perform for the assembled membership with a particular eye to catching the attention of new ways to market themselves through their performance. Official showcases were offered after major sessions of the Business Conference, The Keynote Address & Banquet, The Special Awards Luncheon, A Showcase Brunch, and several showcase sessions. Held in the Grand Ballroom, these sessions featured five or six bands performing for a large audience. The Keynote Address by Dr. Roger H. Brown, President of Berklee School of Music in Boston, provided insight into the state of the music business at the time of Bill Monroe's emergence, provided an interesting connection between bluegrass and bebop, and pointed the way for preserving the traditions of our music while making way for new interpretations of its intent.

"After Hours" showcases were held beginning from 11:00 PM until 2:00 AM in twelve rooms of varying sizes in the convention hall. No amount of scurrying around would allow anyone to see all the bands performing their twenty minute to half hour sets, but bookers and supporters, with plenty of hustle, could see more than they could take in. The "After Hours" showcases provide lots of exposure for plenty of bands. As if all that weren't enough, several bands not lucky enough to be booked for showcases set up in the hallway and played for people stopping past to listen. Finally, informal or private showcases were offered in suites throughout the hotel. CBA sponsors a famous and, I understand, lively suite. We spent a little time in the Darrel Adkins suite where he auditions some bands for MACC. Other such suites were scattered about the hotel. Meanwhile, informal jams were taking place in spaces throughout the hotel. Once, on our way down stairs on the elevator, the car stopped at the sixteenth floor to reveal a jam with Mike Cleveland sawing away right in the center. It sure looked and sounded good as the door closed to take us back to the main action. In short, there was no shortage of great music available at IBMA all the time.

The Awards Show, held in the Ryman Auditorium, marks the official end of the Business Conference at IBMA. Since this was our first experience with this convention, we're no judge of such things. Suffice it to say that attending a function in The Ryman is a thrill in itself. The production was well paced, the big winner was Dailey & Vincent and they were received each time with huge enthusiasm. There was, to my mind, only one real surprise the well deserved awarding of banjo player of the year to Kristen Scott Benson. The Award Show, although sold out, was not completely filled. I thought the Special Awards Luncheon on Thursday was, in many ways, more interesting as Lifetime Achievement Awards and a variety of "lesser" awards were presented with interesting and insightful comments.

Fan Fest created a complete change in the tenor of the event. For two days, IBMA focused on performances by some of the top bands in the business for fans and professionals. Produced by Carl Jackson, the legendary performer and Grammy winning songwriter, Fan Fest presented twenty bands in half hour sets for each of two days as well as a worship service and five bands playing Gospel sets on Sunday morning. There were, in addition, a number of workshops on the Master's Workshop stage and a Roots and Branches Stage offering another fifteen or so groups. In other words, Fan Fest offered wall-to-wall music. I was briefly able to get out to the Exhibition Hall for a few minutes during Fan Fest and found it crowded, with many new exhibits, and lively. The hallways were filled with band merchandise tables and the general environment of a well-run, large festival prevailed. I was not bothered by the fact that Fan Fest was held indoors, and being in a smoke free environment for the whole week proved novel for the bluegrass environment.

So why should you care about IBMA? Because it's about you. If you want to have a voice, IBMA is the place to have it. If you want to learn about the world of bluegrass, IBMA is the place to do it. If you want to luxuriate in an abundance of great bluegrass music from all the schools and strains of the genre, IBMA is the place to hear it. If you want to see your favorites and get a chance to talk with them, IBMA is the place to interact. We're eager to get on board for next year's event.
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Posted:  10/24/2008



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