Author: Campbell, Bruce

Stark Contrasts in Autumn

October provides some stark contrasts for the bluegrass world, at least for us CBA folks. Early October features (often simultaneously) the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, and the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) signature industry event, the World of Bluegrass (in Nashville, for the time being). Then, later on in the same month, the CBA has the annual Fall campout. One genre, three very disparate events, which serve to juxtapose the size of this music with its depth.

The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival has become something of a phenomenon, attracting (by some estimates) as many as three quarters of a million people to a multiday, free musical event. The promoters of this event, by using the modifiers “hardly strictly” in the title, have blown apart any pretense of bluegrass orthodoxy.
Yes, you will see and hear some of the biggest names in bluegrass at HSB, but you’ll also see acts that have only the most tenuous connection to bluegrass.

HSB has appropriated the spirit of bluegrass to pick up where Woodstock left off. It’s most decidedly NOT a rock festival, but some of the performers might have a rock background. What founder Warren Hellman did is take bluegrass, and its notion of simple pure music, and extended it like a metaphor. And in doing so, he exposes REAL bluegrass to tens of thousands of people who would probably never otherwise hear it. Make no mistake: Hellman is a huge bluegrass fan, but he’s not as concerned about boundaries or definitions as evangelizing the music.

IBMA, on the other hand, has a more focused mission. Bluegrass (as we all know) is a well established, revered and respected musical genre, and there’s an industry that supports and promotes the music and the professional artists who ply that trade. It’s an important function – we all benefit from their efforts. And if you ever get to attend the IBMA event, it is unforgettable. The music you love, and beat your head against the wall trying to get people to appreciate – here’s the international, professional machine that supports it. The very juice that permeates this event is very heady. And you will never encounter such a large bunch of folks that pick and sing like the folks at IBMA. (Check out Ted Lehmann's excellent Welcome Message yesterday for news from the IBMA event).

So, if the broad vision of Warren Hellman, Hardly Strictly and the IBMA are the grand designers and evangelists for bluegrass, who’s in charge of hearts and minds? Organizations like the CBA, that’s who! The CBA is bigger than a lot of other bluegrass associations, but in every local bluegrass organization is where the rubber meets the road.

We are the channel that reaches the masses (such as they are). Let the big guys make the introduction – but WE are the closers, and we manage the accounts. And nothing manages those accounts like campouts. Without star power, the attraction is everything that’s best about bluegrass: RVs, fiddles, campers, banjos, tents, mandolins, lanterns, guitars, laughs, bottles, tall tales, tuners, lawn chairs, capos, and..... what am I forgetting? Oh yeah: the music!
Posted:  10/12/2011

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email