Author: Varner, Mark

February Bluegrass Breakdown
Dear friends,

We fans of West Coast bluegrass suffered a loss this weekend. Ken Orrick of Lost Highway passed away. I think one would be hard pressed to find any among our ranks who has not enjoyed Lost Highway’s music over the years. They were special to many, with an approach to the music that differed from other California bluegrass bands. They sure had their own sound and a big part of that was the wonderful, rich voice of Ken Orrick. There was something about his singing that could sooth any jangled nerve, something that could take us into a world of calm beauty. I know I will miss seeing that smiling tanned face of his at the many events that were graced by the talents of Lost Highway. We will feature a bio of Ken in the March Bluegrass Breakdown.

Speaking of the Breakdown, you may notice that it looks a bit thin this month. When I took on the editor’s job the paper was 40 pages, sometimes 48. Quite a huge periodical to create each month, but that was the standard set by longtime editor, Suzanne Denison. Suzanne was and is a force of nature who could round up and wrangle every bluegrass event and story into the pages of the CBA’s paper. Under Suzanne’s watch the Breakdown featured a stable of regular feature writers and presented wonderful photographs of bluegrass happenings. The paper has been honored by the IBMA thanks to her work. When I came on duty over two years ago I did my best to continue Suzanne’s mighty “newsletter”.

Fast forward to the present, a world where the wheels are coming off our country and the world. Last year’s economic meltdown has made everyone think differently about spending. Naturally this horror show casts a pall on so-called disposable income like entertainment dollars. Organizations like the CBA are hunkering down, determined to weather the storm. We have done it before, after all. This time the financial milieu seems pretty dire and we are girding our loins for a big battle. One thing’s for sure, the CBA is here to stay.

One of the association’s biggest expenses is producing and mailing the Bluegrass Breakdown. It costs more to mail our big ole paper than your membership dues cover. We are funded in large part by our Father’s Day Festival and that contributes the difference.

Why is the paper so big? Well check it out and you’ll notice that we have writers providing excellent monthly columns. We try to feature as many photographs by our world-class CBA photographers, Bob Calkins and Mike Melnyk. Naturally we offer bluegrass and old-time promoters and organizations a chance to get the word out regarding shows that our members need to know about. Then there’s CBA info like the President’s Message, minutes from the monthly board of directors meeting and a huge calendar of events. I was talking to James King a couple weeks ago and he told me he loves the Breakdown cause when he’s on west coast tours he can pick it up, check out the calendar and know where he’s supposed to be.

Of course we take any display ads we can get and that helps offset the cost of the paper. Our new ad salesman, Chris Smith has been doing a great job. (He can always use your help with sourcing advertisers. If there is a business you can think of, big or small, maybe local to you, that could advertise in the Breakdown give Chris the lead. It can be any kind of business, not just music related. You can reach Chris at This is one of the biggest things you can do for the CBA!)

Leadership is counting on all CBA coordinators to find ways to cut costs while still offering you every bit of quality one would expect from the largest and best bluegrass association in the universe. Naturally that would include the big ticket item that is the Bluegrass Breakdown. In the February issue I made an effort to shrink the paper to bare bones, while keeping all our regular features. Well, all but one, I had to give the Hooked On Bluegrass column a rest for the month. There is only one section of 24 pages. This saves the CBA almost $500 in monthly printing cost over the 40 page version. It also saves mailing and shipping costs.

Personally I cannot say I like the stripped down Breakdown much. The hallmark of what we do with our paper and the CBA website is lively fun. Some of that is lost when we have to cut photo spreads and have to turn away or postpone the running of articles.

To me the best answer to maintaining a fleshed out Breakdown is sponsorship. Advertising in the Bluegrass Breakdown is extremely cheap and gets right to the eyeballs of thousands of folks. We can have a complete and enjoyable paper and still pack in many, many more ads than we currently run. As I said before, helping us find this sponsorship is an easy and very effective way to help the CBA and to ensure we continue to produce a wonderful paper.

Another way to cut costs is to receive the Bluegrass Breakdown by pdf and not by mail. You can contact me if you want to take this option and we will be grateful. We know that “paperless” is not everyone’s cup of tea and we will always produce a newsprint copy of the paper.

CBA leadership is only asking that I get costs down. I think we can do this by keeping the paper as trim as possible without losing its flavor. This may mean the occasional 24 or 36 page paper, depending on how tight we can squeeze things and how much advertising we get.

If you have a comment on any aspect of this issue or the Bluegrass Breakdown in general please contact me at or call 831-338-0618.

Your pal,
Mark Varner
Posted:  1/26/2009

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