Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fourth Anniversary

Four years ago this week, having read blogs for a year or two, I finally decided I had enough to say to some portion of the rest of the world that I decided to put one up myself.  I opened an account with Blogger and wrote my first post on December  22, 2006.  I went back to look at my first week's posts and found my writing about bluegrass to be naive and not very informed, even though, by that time, we had been attending increasing numbers of events and traveling further to get to them for three years. Little did we know the adventure we were embarking on when we went to our first Merlefest in 2003.

This year we've made several changes and additions to the blog.  While I resisted for quite some time, it became obvious to me that people wanted to hear as well as see some of the content on our blog, so I bought an inexpensive, but high quality, digital video camera along with a good shotgun microphone.  Used with a monopod, this combination provides a steady platform for recording songs during a performance.  Providing videos necessitated starting a YouTube channel, which generates some traffic separate from the blog. With the encouragement of Henri Deschamps of the Bluegrass Legacy, we also initiated a Facebook Fan Page, which has accumulated a number of friends.  The Fan Page has quite a different focus from the blog, emphasizing daily brief content focusing on an interesting bluegrass related post from another source, posting a video from our collection, or highlighting some other element.  The short and immediate focus of Facebook is a good complement to our blog.  Finally, we also reluctantly added a Tip Jar at the top of the blog.  The Tip Jar is designed to allow readers of the blog to help us continue offering the previews, reviews, and viewpoints unique to our blog at the level to which readers have become accustomed.  Initial responses have been slow to come, but they are very much appreciated. We like to think of the combination of our blog, FB Fan Page, and individual Facebook personal pages as an integrated whole presenting our story.

During the year, a number of highlights occurred in people's homes or in meetings at restaurants for more intimate visits than phone interviews and festival conversations allow.  Some of these, like our treasured visits with Tom T. and Dixie Hall or Terry and Cindy Baucom turned into stand alone formal blog entries. Steve Gulley again welcomed us into his home and studio and then took us on a tour, with friend and business partner Dale Ann Bradley, of their new venture in eastern Kentucky.  Others became a part of enriching our understanding and deepening our relationships with people who've become major parts of our lives.  When I met Tut Taylor, a few years ago at Main Street Music and Pawn in Wilkesboro, NC, we couldn't have imagined that this meeting and the subsequent interview would ripen into a series of visits that have become part of our most precious bluegrass memories.  We've watched with growing excitement the advance of Darin & Brooke Aldridge's musical career, often from the inside thanks to their friendship and hospitality. Our friendship with Dr. Tom Bibey and his wife, Marfar, in both his fictional and real personas has been a joy  A lunch date with Donna Ulisse and her husband Rick Stanley served to further enrich our growing friendship, as did an evening spent with Donna's friend and manager Kathy Anderson and her husband David.  Robert and Melissa Wilson have become close friends, and I treasure my nearly daily on-line chats with Robert as an important part of my day.  The combination of electronic, formal, and informal relationships has constantly served to enrich our lives and our understanding of the world we've been welcomed into.  There's no way to express our appreciation to these people, and others that I may have left out.

In 2010 we spent 205 nights on the road, mostly in our 26 foot travel trailer.  We spent a few nights in hotels and motels at festivals where that worked out better than hauling our rig, but mostly we took our home with us.  During that time we attended seventeen festivals, including two (Gettysburg and Dumplin' Valley) that were new to us.  We also attended at least twenty  other bluegrass related events including one night shows, concerts, and open mics.  We attended IBMA - World of Bluegrass for the third time, a week-long event we've counted as one.  Our ten days traveling along the Crooked Road in southwestern Virginia was one of the highlights of the year, as we visited important venues in the history of bluegrass and early country music. While we saw a lot out there, we'll go back for more, as it's a delightful part of the world filled with bluegrass people and music.  The day we spend in Jimmy Edmonds luthier shop in Galax reminded us once again of the vast array of skills that go into producing the instruments we play.  In Nashville, Kyle Cantrell kindly took time to give us a tour of the new studios at Sirius/XM radio.  We hope we've been successful at bringing these far-flung and important parts of bluegrass music to you. 

Many people deserve our thanks for their help and support in making this blog work.  People have increasingly been willing to correct errors I make or respond to my pleas for help identifying musicians.  I very much believe in picturing side-men as well as the stars on our blog, and I think they appreciate it.  Unfortunately, I don't always get their names right.  Whenever I'm stumped, a question mark or a plea for help always has brought results. When corrections come, I like to welcome senders of corrections to my "editorial board."  By now they are too numerous to mention.  I'm also grateful that people who disagree with me feel free to do so civilly, and when their responses are civil, I'm happy to post them in the comments section or respond to them on our Facebook pages or in the forums.  The discussion is always fun and instructive.  Thanks to Cindy Baucom, Katy Daley, Pete Wernick, John Weissberger, and Ken Irwin among many others for their help and thoughtful criticism.  I'm particularly grateful that though they may disagree with my opinions, they generally reserve themselves to my errors of fact.  In the end, my deepest gratitude goes to my wife, partner, and colleague Irene on this blog and our general bluegrass enterprise.  Without her enthusiastic support, direct criticism, and thoughtful input, as well as her many photographs that have graced the blog in the past years, it would never be as successful as it is.

Let's look at some stats.  Since December 22, 2006, this blog has been posted 548 times, about 2.6 times per week.  My best count is that I've posted something over 12,000 photographs and who knows how many words, probably way too many.  I use several counters on the blog.  The total number of page views during the full run of the blog is around 330,000 depending on how they're counted.  Probably the most accurate tool for analyzing a web site's usage is called Google Analytics.  Here's some data on this blog from Google Analytics for the past year.  The numbers in parenthesis represent the same statistic for 2009.  In 2010, this blog had 118,453 page views (87,394), in 74,508 visits (57,189) representing 40,469 individuals (30,890). Visitors to the blog stayed on each page an average of 1 minute and 26 seconds (1:30).  Visitors to the site came from 126 countries and territories, including every state in the United States, all of western Europe, and most of the rest of the world.  The least number of visitors came from Africa.  I am very pleased with the increase in readership from Australia and Japan.  In rank order after the U.S. come Canada, Italy, and the U.K, each with over 1000 page views.  The top five American states in terms of readership were North Carolina, Virginia, New York, Florida, and Tennsesse.  Nineteen states contributed over 1000 page views each.  South Dakota continued to bring up the rear.  I do wonder whether anyone there listens to bluegrass. Number of page views  represents about a 37% increase year over year and visitors increased by 33.5%. The most popular draws were Merlefest, IBMA, and MACC.   All told, I'm both pleased and gratified by the growth shown in the blog during the past year.

In the end, we owe it all to our readers, who come back to see what's up, to view the pictures, read the essays and commentaries, and participate in the experience.  We look forward to the year that's coming.  We don't know what it will hold, but it promises to be filled with lots of music, interesting people, and the joy of the bluegrass world.  Meanwhile:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
to
You and Yours
from
Ted and Irene Lehmann
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