Author: Cornish, Rick

Time for Regime Change?

You can’t switch on the TV or pick up a newspaper without hearing the phrase. We wanted regime change in Iraq and got it, want it in Libya and will probably get it by the end of the week, would love it in a dozen other places in the world but should probably not hold our collective breath.

So what is regime change and how does it work. I think of it as a ‘start over with prejudice’. In chess, it would be a concession with mutual agreement that the next game will start immediately, though with at least one new player. Or there’s the bankruptcy analogy. You get to through up your hands, admit defeat, be treated like a pile of dog poo for a while but, ultimately, you get to re-begin with a clean slate.

So, okay, I won’t beat around the bush. Is it time for a CBA regime change? I’ve actually wondered about this for the past few years but haven’t dared discussing it with anyone. I’d say my reluctance to bring it up with a leadership team colleague or with a general member is that I’m probably just too close to the situation. I’ve been on the CBA board for eleven years, I’ve served in a key position, I do the CBA web site, etc. etc. I’m not altogether sure I can see the forest from the trees. But then again, somebody’s got to bring it up. As crazy as this sounds, we’re moving into yet another elections cycle. We’ll be at Grass Valley in just a couple months and that’s when, we’ve told you over and over again, a serious candidate should let their candidacy be known.

A while back Ed Alston wrote a Welcome column about the slide in Association membership, and his column triggered a lengthy thread on the Message Board. Lots of thoughts were expressed, some opposing, some not, but nothing, at least that I recall, was written about regime change. That could have been the time to get this discussion going, but that didn’t happen.

Now, here’s what I know about the CBA’s membership numbers. When we first started reporting numbers on the web site, we’d just moved our membership database to a web-based system and we were showing right around 3,000 souls. Three years later, when Carolyn Faubel took over the Membership VP job, she did a thorough clean up of the db and ended up purging about 150 records, bringing our number down to approximately 2,850. That’s where the total hovered until a couple of years ago, maybe eighteen months; then we started seeing a gradual decline. At this writing, we’re at 2,748.

I watch our membership numbers very closely; I talk with Darby and with Carolyn about them; I study the people coming and the people going. Every month of every year since 1975 the Association has lost members; and, by the same token, every month we gain new members. (I know, obvious, but I had to say it.) What I’ve personally seen happen in the past 18 to 24 months is that some long-time, high-visibility members, members you see at Grass Valley every year, people you see at all the major bluegrass events, have simply decided to not renew their memberships. Carolyn writes them, reminding them their membership is about to lapse, then she writes them to say their membership HAS lapsed, then two months later Darby and I send a co-written letter asking one last time if maybe they just have forgotten to send din their renewal. Nope, they haven’t forgotten.

So, if you’re a hardened, rank and file volunteer of the organization, you find yourself asking why. Has the CBA become irrelevant? Are the decisions made by the board of directors bad ones, one that are taking the Association in a direction that is somehow wrong. Or are these long-timers who are opting out…not opting out from bluegrass or even opting out from CBA events, just opting out from supporting it with an annual $25 or $30…just jaded? Tired of hearing from the same people year after year about the always new, bigger and better projects and initiatives we’re taking on?

Here’s a new letter that Darby and I are about to send out to three hundred or so people whose memberships have lapsed during the past three years…..


This month we’re writing to you and a number of other folks whose membership in the CBA has lapsed over the past few years; we’re writing to ask you to consider renewing your membership in the California Bluegrass Association.

As a former member we know that you’re aware of the benefits of belonging to the Association: members are eligible for heavy discounts on all CBA events; receive our award-winning monthly newspaper, the Bluegrass Breakdown; and are able to vote in the CBA’s annual elections. But what you may not be aware of are some of the new and exciting initiatives we’ve taken on in the recent past.

• The Association is now offering a second music camp, this one taking place each February on the North Coast.

• We’ve established a third annual camp out, the Golden Old-Time Camp Out held each August.

• Each January in Bakersfield we’re now gathering with our southern California counterparts for the GREAT 48 Hour Jam.

• We’ve added two new stages to the Association’s centerpiece Fathers Day Festival and are hiring a few dozen more California bands.

• Our Children’s Program has been greatly expanded and now includes a Children’s Lending Library and a scholarship program for the CBA’s Music Camps, all in an effort to engage more young people and keep the music and the Association vibrant for the next generation.

We’re sharing these developments with you because we want you to know that the California Bluegrass Association is striving to stay relevant, and to do that we need the support of everyone who loves our music.

If you’d like to renew, you can: 1) go to the CBA web site (, click on ‘Join the CBA’ button at the top of the page and follow the instructions; or 2) fill out the enclosed renewal form and send it snail mail in the enclosed envelope. If on the other hand, you’ve consciously let your membership lapse and feel comfortable sharing your reasons, we’d love hearing from you: 209-588-9214 or 510-533-2792

Please know that your membership in the CBA is important to us. Obviously member dues help financially, but most importantly support from folks in the bluegrass community lets us know that the work we do is worthwhile.

Darby Brandli, President

Rick Cornish, Chairman,

Note that a central theme in the letter is what the Association is doing NEW. Could that be it? Has too much changed in the past ten years? Too much new stuff? Or is it that the same people do the same deciding year after year after year? Or is it both?

I honestly believe that, if we, the eleven board members, truly had some unmistakable sign or message from the general membership that it’s time for a regime change, we could make that happen. Might be a little bumpy, but I’ll bet it’s doable.

What do you think?

Posted:  3/29/2011

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