Author: Cornish, Rick


I’ve been chewing on this since October, trying to decide if I should write about it, and if so, how I should write about it. My son Peter, my youngest and the one who’s served as a sounding board for me since he learned to talk…..and listen…..helped me decide. Let me explain.

At the annual Fall Campout a CBA member complained to me that the Association….actually the board of directors…..had become consumed with the idea of making money. “You’re always asking for money…..always selling this or promoting that. I thought this was supposed to be about the MUSIC, not the MONEY.” Given the situation, (he and I were involved in resolving another issue at the time), I didn’t respond to the criticism, but it’s been floating around my brain, coming to the fore without invitation, usually late at night, when I replay the guy's words and come up with some new, more biting retort. I’ve been feeling defensive about the member’s remarks, and resentful and, I don't know, maybe even a little guilty as charged. Then, last week, I shared what I was thinking with my son, Pete.

“Well, he asked, “what do you think the guy was referring to? Was he just making stuff up? Blowing smoke?”

“Yes,” I said, “absolutely.”

“So you and the rest of the board aren’t preoccupied with money. Right?”

“Well,” I hesitated, “I wouldn’t use the term preoccupied. We certainly do discuss money issues. I mean, there are a lot of money-related items on our agendas.”


“You know, contracts for various things, budgets, setting prices, reviewing financial reports.”

“And your angry critic accused you of trying to worm money out of members. True or false?” I was beginning to feel like Peter was the prosecuting attorney.

“I take offense at the term ‘worm’. Sure we encourage people to come to our events, you know, buy tickets.”

“Anything else,” he asked with just a trace of aggression.

“Well, sure. We campaign for folks to renew their memberships. And we sell raffle tickets each year. Oh, and there’s the mercantile.”

“Um,” Peter said, “and aren’t you heavily promoting a new music camp? I’ve been seeing that on the CBA web pages a lot. Is that a money-making deal?”

“Well, we sure hope it is,” I said.

“And speaking of the web site, you guys sell advertising on it don’t you?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“And you sell ads in your newspaper? And you have sponsors for your events? Yes?”

“Yes,” I said flatly, “yes, we do all that. We do all that and more to raise money, but it’s not for the sake of raising money. It’s to promote the music. And to keep the Association on a sound financial footing. We have a mission and we pursue it aggressively. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Peter smiled. He’d had me make his point for him. It can seem like it’s all about money sometimes, until you look a little deeper. The California Bluegrass Association is a business and, as such, it runs on money. The more events we take on and programs we institute, the more the CBA looks and acts like a business. That, I suppose, can seem like a good thing or a bad thing to members. (Clearly there’s at least one member who doesn’t like it.)

In the ten years that I’ve served on the board I’ve been asked by folks from well over thirty organizations what the CBA’s secret to success is. Why the large membership, the diversity of programs, the national reputation? I think I’ve got a new answer for them. Besides the hard work and the solid underpinning that was laid by our founders and the tremendously vital bluegrass community it serves, the California Bluegrass Association has prospered and grown because its leadership has been willing to take financial risks. It’s true, the leadership has screwed up on more than one occasion but, in the long haul, the decisions it’s made have panned out okay.

So, okay, I’ll say it. Buy a new festival t-shirt when they come out. Get your Early Bird tickets. Sign up for Music Camp. Contribute to the Kids on Bluegrass Program, or the Lending Library or the Heritage Fund. And renew your membership. Get down to the Gibson Brothers concert in Morgan Hill and up to our Sonoma Festival in Sebastopol. See, money grubbing isn’t so bad if you’re grubbing for the right reasons. I think I’ll write that guy from the campout and explain. On second thought, I’ll let him figure it out for himself. If I can do it, he can do it.

Posted:  12/28/2009

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