Wednesday, October 22, 2008

IBMA - Why You Should Care

Irene and I spent the first week of the end of September and the beginning of October in Nashville attending the annual business meeting and Fan Fest of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). Gas prices and shortages as well as the weakening economy had caused us to question making the drive, but we went ahead, and we’re glad we did. Reading the Bluegrass-L, it’s easy to get the impression that IBMA only gives unsatisfying awards and generates complaints from traditionalists, progressives, neo-proto-pseudo bluegrassers. Instead, what we encountered was a vital organization seeking to increase professionalism, provide opportunities for musicians and promoters to meet and make connections, showcase new and experienced bands, examine the many issues confronting bluegrass music in these difficult times, raise money to support bluegrass people in distress through Fan Fest, and provide a great time for all those who attend. That’s a pretty big agenda, and IBMA fulfilled its goal.

Mentor Sessions

Mike Witcher - Photography

Mark Schatz - Practice Tips

Valerie Smith & Jim Lauderdale - Keeping Your Voice in Shape

Claire Lynch - Preparing Your Band for the Road

These Mentor Sessions are merely representative of the twenty-six sessions offered on an appointment basis for one-on-one sessions with professionals who knew what they were talking about from expeience.

Because so many people attend IBMA to hear and make music, it’s easy to underestimate or miss entirely the business conference that runs through the first four days. During the four days of the Business Conference, IBMA sponsors a broad range of seminars and presentations focused on the needs of all segments of the bluegrass music industry: Agents & Managers, Artists & Composers, Associations, Print Media & Education, Record Companies & Music Publishers, Luthiers & Music Publishers, Event Producers, and Broadcast Media. Presentations are designed to assist people seeking to improve their knowledge and professionalism by exposing them to experienced and successful practitioners in the industry. A look at the variety of programs suggests the range and diversity of the offerings. Mentor sessions were established to provide people seeking information opportunities to interact with people who had experienced some success. I was fortunate enough to be asked to participate in a Mentor Session dealing with bluegrass photography and writing. Co-mentor Mike Witcher and I sat with three people for scheduled sessions. Their questions were thoughtful, and I thought Mike and I worked well together to provide useful alternative ways to attack their issues. Other mentor sessions looked active and interesting. A Gig Fair provided bands with an opportunity to talk directly to promoters from around the country. A town hall session gave all members the opportunity to interact directly with members of the IBMA Board of Directors in order to air grievances and ask questions. Unfortunately, the session seemed to me not to be well-attended. Regardless, the sessions presented attendees with new ways to think about their profession and ways to point to increased success. As at any professional conference, sessions were provided to meet the needs of almost anyone there.

Gig Fair

Buller & Smith
Interview with Grey Fox

I’m told the Exhibit Hall did not feature as many exhibitors as in years past. Nevertheless, there were plenty of people showing instruments, highlighting services provided by agents and managers, and representing other useful products for musicians and others. Whether the Exhibit Hall was crowded with exhibitors or not, it served as a social center and meeting place for band members and others who rarely get as good a chance to interact as they did here. The Exhibit Hall was a lively and interesting center during the Business Conference and Fan Fest.

Seen In and Around the Exhibit Hall

Ned Luberecki in Deering Booth

Pete Kuykendall - Bluegrass Unlimited Founder

Andy Hall & Roger Williams Share Licks

Jamie Johnson (Grascals) Shows Baby Pics

Mark Schatz Watches as Jens Kruger Picks
Deering Booth

Kym Warner (Greencards), Jesse Cobb (Stringdusters)
Stephen Mougin (Sam Bush)

Andy Falco (Stringdusters) & Eric Gibson (Gibson Brothers)

$225,000 Lloyd Loar at Elderly Instruments

John Lawless & Brance Gillahan (Bluegrass Blog)
Kyle Cantrell (XM Radio - Bluegrass Junction)

Showcases, both official and “After Hours,” gave both new and established bands an opportunity to perform for the assembled membership with a particular eye to catching the attention of new ways to market themselves through their performance. Official showcases were offered after major sessions of the Business Conference – The Keynote Address & Banquet, The Special Awards Luncheon, A Showcase Brunch, and several showcase sessions. Held in the Grand Ballroom, these sessions featured five or six bands performing for a large audience. The Keynote Address by Dr. Roger H. Brown, President of Berklee School of Music in Boston, provided insight into the state of the music business at the time of Bill Monroe’s emergence, provided an interesting connection between bluegrass and bebop, and pointed the way for preserving the traditions of our music while making way for new interpretations of its intent.

Official Showcases

Red Wine - Italian Bluegrass Band

Donna Ulisse

Jr. Sisk & Ramblers Choice

Becky Buller & Valerie Smith

Alecia Nugent Performing at Showcase Brunch

Kitsy Kuykendall, Mark Schatz & Tom T. Hall
Showcase Brunch

IBMA President Greg Cahill Showcases

Kathy Mattea Showcases

“After Hours” showcases were held beginning from 11:00 PM until 2:00 AM in twelve rooms of varying sizes in the convention hall. No amount of scurrying around would allow anyone to see all the bands performing their twenty minute to half hour sets, but bookers and supporters, with plenty of hustle, could see more than they could take in. The “After Hours” showcases provide lots of exposure for plenty of bands. As if all that weren’t enough, several bands not lucky enough to be booked for showcases set up in the hallway and played for people stopping past to listen. Finally, informal or private showcases were offered in suites throughout the hotel. CBA sponsors a famous and, I understand, lively suite. We spent a little time in the Darrel Adkins suite where he auditions some bands for MACC. Other such suites were scattered about the hotel. Meanwhile, informal jams were taking place in spaces throughout the hotel. Once, on our way down stairs on the elevator, the car stopped at the sixteenth floor to reveal a jam with Mike Cleveland sawing away right in the center. It sure looked and sounded good as the door closed to take us back to the main action. In short, there was no shortage of great music available at IBMA all the time.

After Hours Showcases

Carolina Road

Phil Leadbetter (Grasstowne)

Darin Aldridge & Brooke Justice Quintet

In the Hallway

Dale Ann Bradley & Louisa Branscomb at Singer/Songwriter Showcase

Awards Luncheon Applauds Choice

Art Menius Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Bill Harrell Receives Lifetime Achievement Award from Larry Stephenson

Kyle Cantrell - Broadcaster of the Year

Alan Munde Receives Lifetime Achievement Award from Mike Bub

The Awards Show, held in the Ryman Auditorium, marks the official end of the Business Conference at IBMA. Since this was our first experience with this convention, we’re no judge of such things. Suffice it to say that attending a function in The Ryman is a thrill in itself. The production was well-paced, the big winner was Dailey & Vincent and they were received each time with huge enthusiasm. There was, to my mind, only one real surprise – the well deserved awarding of banjo player of the year to Kristen Scott Benson. The Award Show, although sold out, was not completely filled. I thought the Special Awards Luncheon on Thursday was, in many ways, more interesting as Lifetime Achievement Awards and a variety of “lesser” awards were presented with interesting and insightful comments.

Awards Show

Steep Canyon Rangers and Dancers Perform

Host Del McCoury
Dailey & Vincent Accept Award
presented by
Sierra Hull and Ron Block

Claire Lynch & Larry Cordle Present Award

Del McCoury Band Performs

Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford Accept
Song of the Year Award

Daily & Vincent Accept Award
(One of Seven)
Lynn Morris and Marshall Wilborn

Rickey Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder
Close the Awards Show

Fan Fest created a complete change in the tenor of the event. For two days, IBMA focused on performances by some of the top bands in the business for fans and professionals. Produced by Carl Jackson, the legendary performer and Grammy winning song writer, Fan Fest presented twenty bands in half hour sets for each of two days as well as a worship service and five bands playing Gospel sets on Sunday morning. There were, in addition, a number of workshops on the Master’s Workshop stage and a Roots and Branches Stage offering another fifteen or so groups. In other words, Fan Fest offered wall-to-wall music. I was briefly able to get out to the Exhibition Hall for a few minutes during Fan Fest and found it crowded, with many new exhibits, and lively. The hallways were filled with band merchandise tables and the general environment of a well-run, large festival prevailed. I was not bothered by the fact that Fan Fest was held indoors, and being in a smoke free environment for the whole week proved novel for the bluegrass environment.

Sierra Hull & Cia Cherryholmes at Showcase

So why should you care about IBMA? Because it’s about you. If you want to have a voice, IBMA is the place to have it. If you want to learn about the world of bluegrass, IBMA is the place to do it. If you want to luxuriate in an abundance of great bluegrass music from all the schools and strains of the genre, IBMA is the place to hear it. If you want to see your favorites and get a chance to talk with them, IBMA is the place to interact. We’re eager to get on board for next year’s event.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Carolina in the Fall - The Kruger Brothers Festival

The Kruger Brothers
Jens Kruger, Joel Landsberg, Uwe Kruger

Carolina in the Fall is an event characterized by small, intimate, personal moments in conjunction with big musical ideas and the best on-stage jamming you can experience anywhere. Always at the center of this day and a half salute to the Kruger Brothers are the two Swiss men, and their long time colleague who hails from Brooklyn, who immigrated to the the United States in 1997 and showed the country that wonderful bluegrass could come from abroad. Then they listened more closely to their own muse and infused their trio with sounds and sensibility that emerged from their European upbringing infused with their experience in rock music, classical repertoire, American folk music, and traditional bluegrass. From this fusion they have offered the world new sounds and continuously creative new compositions. While we missed their Friday evening concert event from fear of a too cold and wet evening for our own well-being, Saturday brought a mix of music, personalities, and sounds so thoroughly satisfying as to make any music lover float away from the Shepherd Farm as the evening drew to a close.

The Shepherd Farm is a lovely, rolling piece of farmland lying on the edge of N. Wilkesboro, NC owned by Robert and Brenda Shepherd, long-time friends of the Krugers, who host the festival. The festival began when Robert Shepherd suggested to the Krugers that they should go ahead and let the world and the local music community hear the full range of the Kruger's musical imagination. What has emerged is a weekend devoted to Jens and Uwe Kruger along with Joel Landsberg, their longtime bass player taking center stage and welcoming a number of their close friends and recent finds to perform alone and to play with the trio. This year's combination of players and music yielded a rich a varied day.

The day began with the first annula North Carolina Banjo Championship. While only eight competitors appeared for this year's contest, they were distinguished by a variety of backgrounds and their high skill level, ranging from seasoned professionals to young up and comers. The contest was won by Steve Lewis whose performance was characterized by particularly clear tone and phrasing making his delivery both interesting and exciting. Interestingly, Lewis has such high respect among his fellow competitors that he was tapped by at least two of them to accompany them on guitar, an instrument on which he has also won contests.

Steve Lewis Accompanying Eric Ellis

Billy Ray Summerlin Competing

Steve Lewis - Banjo Contest Winner

Due to an equipment problem, I missed the Waddington Family from North Dakota's performance as well as most of the Johnson Family, a Gospel choir. Back Porch Bluegrass, an able local bluegrass band performed a set, permitting the Krugers a bit of a rest.

Back Porch Bluegrass

We had last seen Zeb and Samantha Snyder in Conway, SC in May. During the ensuing six months, each has matured as a performer while they remain engaging and interesting youngsters. Samantha is only nine and Zeb is reaching into adolescence at age thirteen. Each was seen on stage on several occaisons during the day. Samantha particularly distinguished herself during the final fiddle madness jam at the end of the evening, holding center stage, listening carefully, contributing appropriately, and looking sprightly and lovely. Zeb, whose flat picking has improved enormously, really shone in the Guitar Frenzy portion of the program where, seated on a stage with Ron Block, Steve & Penny Kilby, and Uwe Kruger playing Blackberry Blossom, Way Downtown, and Alabama Jubilee. In each case, Zeb contributed mature and tasteful guitar solos on each round, holding his own with a pretty distinguished group.

Zeb Snyder

Zeb & Samantha Snyder with Jens Kruger, Adam Steffey, and Uwe Kruger

Bobby Hicks & Samantha Snyder

The Kruger Brothers debuted a new bluegrass band on Saturday. The still unnamed band features Jens Kruger on banjo, Uwe Kruger on vocals and guitar, Adam Steffey on mandolin, Bobby Hicks on fiddle, and Joel Landsberg on bass. The Krugers hope to schedule this new band for a limited tour this spring and summer. This band has the potential to meld traditional bluegrass with the unique Kruger sound and to hit the bluegrass world with a similar impact to that created by Dailey & Vincent or the Dan Tyminski Band in 2008.

Cindy Baucom, Bobby Hicks, Terry Baucom
Jim Brooks (Cindy's Dad) & Uwe Kruger

Cindy Baucom (Knee Deep in Bluegrass) Sings!

One of the true pleasures of this day was watching Bobby Hicks, at age 75 providing a connection to bluegrass music's early days, adding humor, the joy of playing, and flavor to the event. During one somewhat tedious performance during which George Hamilton IV, a veteran Grand Old Opry member, recited a tribute to Hank Williams, Hicks started playing background fill using phrases from Hank's songs, and grew the entire flavor of the moment into something special.
Other delightful moments grew out of his play with Samantha Snyder, and his wonderful bluegrass phrasing.
Bobby Hicks

There were too many great moments to detail them, but here's a collection of shots during the day that I hope will give a flavor of the experience.

Joyful Jens Kruger

Singer Maynard Holbrook

The Kruger Brothers On Stage

Steve Kilby & Uwe Kruger

George Hamilton IV

Wayne Henderson & Jens Kruger

Hillside Crowd

Evening Crowd

Mr. & Mrs. Lehmann with Mr. & Mrs. Steffey