The International Bluegrass Music Association will be holding its annual, all-encompassing trade show get together in Raleigh, NC from September 29 - October 3 this year. Designated by IBMA as "World of Bluegrass," the conference heeds its commitment to leave the name "bluegrass" largely undefined. By doing so, it creates some controversy about being too inclusive, but encourages bands and individuals wishing to identify with bluegrass music the freedom to choose a wide and varied selection of string band music to represent the name and be represented by it. As a trade show, WoB (I'll use that abbreviation for what is generally known as IBMA as in "See you at IBMA" which actually should belong to the organization as a whole) doesn't necessarily meet everyone's needs, but taken all together the IBMA Business Conference, the Awards Show, and the two-day festival called "Wide Open Bluegrass" represent the most bluegrass-filled, musical extravaganza available to bluegrass fans anywhere. Incidentally, IBMA (the organization) needs to sit down with the folks in Raleigh (Pine Cone, the City, the Local Organizing Committee, and the Greater Raleigh Visitors and Convention Bureau) to clarify the confusion that can arise when two acronyms for different elements of a larger event are the same.
A new blog called Bits & Bogs of Bluegrass & Beyond written by a writer new to bluegrass, a country music and bluegrass fan and part-time radio broadcaster, a longtime and well-known professional broadcaster, and a fulltime fan, merch-table helper, part-time photographer and line editor for this blog (Linda Orlomoski, Amy Orlomoski, Katy Daly, and Irene Lehmann) is filled with useful information about what to see and what to do in Raleigh as well as specifics concerning World of Bluegrass that will prove very useful. Check the archives to see it all.
Accomodations: Raleigh, for a state capitol and convention center city, is remarkably reasonable in cost. Rooms at the two official hotels, The Marriott and The Sheraton, are inexpensive by city standards and both have sold out their IBMA blocks. However, people often find they have conflicts as the date of an event approaches, so it's worth while to keep trying both to see if any openings have occurred. Here's a list of available hotels offering IBMA rates. There are, additionally, dozens of hotels within easy commuting distance of the Convention Center. Online registration for hotels has closed. Contact the hotels directly to book rooms. Make sure you ask for the IBMA rate.
We stay at the campground located on the grounds of the NC State Fairgrounds. The fairgrounds major camping facility is a large area adjacent to the John Hunt Horse Ring, a large and busy facility. The Campground has set aside at least 100 sites for IBMA, each having water, electric, sewer, and free Wi-fi. Hot shower facilities and flush toilets are nearby, but require a short drive to access. A shuttle runs regularly to the Convention Center. The cost has just been raised to $30.00/night, still a bargain in an urban setting. There is an area set aside for jamming, with more improvements planned. Don't worry about the lack of shade, you won't be there anyway. The downtown Convention Center is about fifteen minutes away. Parking in the convenient parking garages costs $7.00/day or take the free shuttle. (Compare in availability and price to Nashville lot prices of over $25.00 a day and huge fines if you're fifteen minutes late.)
The area surrounding the Convention Center and the Duke Energy Center provides sufficient inexpensive parking to easily meet the needs of IBMA. Both Convention hotels have their own garages, and the City parking decks charge $7.00 per day to park. If you leave, you'll have to pay again for re-entry. Their's vertical space for even pretty tall vans.
Interactive Schedule: The schedule for IBMA World of Bluegrass has been posted, although, as of this writing, it is not fully populated. On the IBMA web site there's an interactive schedule allowing the user to schedule activities and synch them directly to their computer or smart phone. This Schedule can be searched by Schedule, Speakers, Artists, Venue, and Attendees. Two smart phone apps, one for World of Bluegrass and one for Wide Open Bluegrass are also available for Android and IOS operating systems. I know....this is complicated, but apparently the logistics of combining the two are more daunting than I would suppose. Also, keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter for announcements from individual performers and presenters. This blog entry will be adjusted as more information comes online and I'll be putting up notices on my FB page and Twitter feed.
You can get a jump on it by downloading the 2014 Apps to your Android or iPhone device. I understand the apps will automatically update to the 2015 versions when they become available. Careful study of the offerings should help you to plan your days and nights at the business conference. Meanwhile, some features are becoming more obvious.
Continuing Legal Education Track: This track is open to practicing lawyers to obtain required continuing legal education and to all people registered for the Business Conference. Topics include Starting a band, changes in music licensing law, ownership rights to music, and an update on entertainment law litigation. Should be great for lawyers and interested laymen. Go here for more information and to register for these sessions
The Talent Buyer Track: Designed as a forum for people who buy talent (an unfortunate phrasing) to discuss problems and opportunities within their communities and to meet talent they might wish to hire, this track is both social and business, featuring a networking events, Agent Pitch Sessions, the Gig Sessions (see below), networking opportunities in the Exhibit Hall, panels, and sponsored showcases. Register and get more information here.
The Gig Fair can best be described as speed dating for talent buyers and bands. During ninety minute period, bands can meet with up to ten representatives of festivals, concert series, and other events for five minutes each with one minute between meetings. The Gig Fair takes place at 2:30 on Thursday afternoon. Bands should arrive with a well-prepared presentation folder including a CD, pictures, examples of festivals where they've appeared, or other material designed to let a talent buyer know quickly what they have to offer. Some bring a laptop computer with them to show clips of their performances. This is a good opportunity to establish initial contact and recognition that should (MUST) be followed up later. There's an initial signup sheet available now. Later in September, after talent buyers have registered, bands will be able to sign up online for Gig Fair appointments soon. Keep an eye on this space. Don't make the mistake of trying to come to Gig Fair without having signed up online. Over time I've seen bands hurt their chances by not following the rules.
Showcase bands receive a valuable package from IBMA including a booth in the Exhibit Hall, full conference registration for band members, their profile in the Conference Program and on the Apps, and more. Bands selected to Showcase can turn the opportunity into greater name recognition and more gigs with hard work and attention to detail. Applications to become a showcase band are early in the year. Some buyers prefer to see bands in a formal presentation in the Convention Center. Others like the live setting in clubs. Some prefer a combination, and you can design your own approach.
The Exhibit Hall, located below ground level in the Convention Center is a huge flexible space where two incarnations of Exhibits, with considerable overlap, are located during World of Bluegrass and Wide Open Bluegrass. Open on Wednesday afternoon and all day Thursday for Business Conference registrants with credentials, the Exhibit Hall for the first two days is focused on Business to Business (B2B) interactions. Exhibits include large and small instrument makers, music publishers, book publishers, individual band booths, organizations, and more. If it's bluegrass related, it's probably represented there. For Friday and Saturday, during Wide Open Bluegrass, the Exhibit Hall is turned over and made free to the public. You will notice a more consumer oriented, commercial vibe, but many of the same vendors and organizations are present. As a part of their showcase fee, all Official Showcase Bands have a booth. The Exhibit Hall is always a bustling, busy, happy place. The opportunity to play instruments and try out gear will tax the most dedicated gear-head, while there's plenty of meet and greet networking going on, too. The Exhibit Hall is both a commercial and a social center of action at IBMA.
Award Show Hosts - The Gibson Brothers
Many attendees also enjoy the Special Awards Luncheon held earlier on Thursday when industry awards for such seemingly more arcane, but, to many, equally important awards are given. The presentations for Distinguished Achievement Awards are often heartwarming and enlightening. Given to industry pioneers who've served the industry, often in quieter, but important roles. Nominees for Special Awards can be found at the bottom of the list above.
This year, Distinguished Achievement Awards will be given to:
2014 Entertainer of the Year - Balsam Range
Day Crowd at Red Hat Amphitheater
One of the great delights of the StreetFest is seeing the number of people who might not otherwise ever even discover that bluegrass has something to offer them. Families with young children, people of all races and ethnic groups, casual drop-ins, and dedicated bluegrass fans came together during the free StreetFest to discover and enjoy the music.
Summation: While I encounter people at festivals everywhere we go who say that IBMA isn't for them, that it's deserted bluegrass, that they don't "get" anything from it, or that it isn't worth the investment, I couldn't disagree more. IBMA doesn't represent Nashville or Raleigh, it doesn't stand for traditional bluegrass or for interpretations of bluegrass that reflect changes in how music is made and consumed. It isn't designed to have immediate payoff in bookings or merch sales for every band and performer. It's not just about the commercial elements of the music, nor is it "all about the music." Three or five days spent (invested in time and money) at IBMA represent a chance to affirm that each individual attending is a member of a community of people who love a musical genre and seek to spread its appeal, appreciate its history, and treasure its development. It's a place to meet your musical heroes and recognize their accomplishments while participating in nurturing its youth and up-and-comers. It's a place to treasure sounds you're familiar with and be exposed to musical ideas that might be new to you. In short, its a place that people who have attended regularly and belong to its organization look forward to all year long and glory in for five short days.