Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why IBMA? - 2011 World Of Bluegrass Preview

Nashville Convention Center & Renaissance Hotel

Of all the events we attend during our bluegrass travels, there are two which require us to do extensive planning before we get to the site: Merlefest and IBMA. Each event offers a complex and varied selection of activities, many of which conflict with each other in terms of the schedule, forcing us to choose from seemingly equally attractive alternatives. In the case of the IBMA World of Bluegrass week, including both the business conference and Fan Fest, there are good choices all day long, and the day is long. It is easy, desirable in fact, to arrive at the Convention Center around 9:30 in the morning. This year scheduled events last until 1:30 AM the next day. Active jammers, or those who wish to observe jams, visit hotel suites for private showings, or just hang out can easily keep themselves entertained until three of four in the morning. There's a good reason that for many attendees IBMA is an acronym for “I've Been Mostly Awake.” 

IBMA Presidente - Stan Zdonik

A few months ago, Irene and I sat down with a friend who's retired from an active and highly successful business career. I expressed to him my amazement at how few members of bands appeared at the seminars and meetings during the day at World of Bluegrass. I noted that at these scheduled events I found good ideas flowing and my understanding of both the music and the business of bluegrass increased. I asked him how, during his business career, he approached getting the most benefit from attending a conference. “Before a conference,” he said, “I'd assemble my team [band] to examine the program and decide how we'd divide up the events. Each person would attend different seminars and meetings, take notes, contribute his own ideas, and bring away what he considered to be the best ideas offered there. Later, we'd meet and compare notes to share what we'd learned. Sometimes, for big or important meetings, we'd send two or more team members to make sure we were able to get different points of view included in our considerations. Once we'd compared notes, we'd begin developing a plan of action.” Our friend argued that such an approach helped to educate each member, improved the teams functioning, and put it in a position to improve its competitiveness in a highly competitive environment.

The Dailey & Vincent Team Tell Their Story
This leads me to ask a few questions. I believe whether you're a performer, a promoter, a content producer, an agent, a fan or any of the dozens of other kinds of people involved in what we call bluegrass music, you wish to improve your ability to maximize your competence, effectiveness, income, and enjoyment gained from your involvement. We live in challenging economic times where competition is often difficult and sometime cut-throat. It's hard for individuals to assess their own place within what some resent calling “the bluegrass industry.” Many people claim “it's all about the music,” resisting strongly the thought that they're also engaged in a business. Performers, particularly, seem to believe they come to IBMA to perform rather than to learn, resenting the idea they should pay to attend the conference or stating clearly the cost isn't worth the benefit. This preview, then, is designed to suggest ways of making sure you, whatever your role in bluegrass, get the most benefit from attending. The choices are there, and IBMA has widened them, adjusted the ways you can attend the events and the costs of attending, opened the door to many more alternatives, and listened to the complaints coming from both the membership and the disaffected bluegrass people who don't belong or who serve as internal and external critics.
Attending Seminar with Pete Wernick

As you begin your planning for IBMA, start by asking yourself a few questions:
  1. Could you learn anything from others that would help you improve your performance?
  2. Is there anything your peers and professionals from other fields have to say to you that could help you improve your performance?
  3. Have you reached the place in your profession you saw yourself going fifteen years ago?
  4. Is it more important for you to jam late into the night or to work to improve and develop your position within the “bluegrass industry?”
Your answers to these questions will help determine the choices you make during WOB week and help you to improve the cost to benefit ratio in your attendance. Planning your week at IBMA will pay dividends you can see, even if they aren't immediate. All the specific information you need to start planning NOW is available to you on the recently re-designed IBMA web site. All official events for the entire week are held in the Nashville Convention Center and the attached Renaissance Hotel. I'll make comments and then point you in the right direction.

Inside the Convention Center

Pricing: Prices for attending events surrounding WOB have been made into an ala carte menu. While registering for the entire conference still might be the most economical approach, not all people have the same needs. Therefore, attendees can purchase a Music Pass, visit the exhibits for free on Wednesday or for a $20 fee on other days of the business conference. Visitors wishing to attend artist showcases can do so for a daily $25 fee. A week long music pass providing access to all Official showcases, after hours showcases, and Fan Fest is available for $140. This pass does not include entrance to the exhibit hall, which is available as a separate admission or free on Wednesday. Remember, the exhibit hall for the business conference (Monday – Thursday) is different than for Fan Fest (Friday – Sunday). There doesn't appear to be a unified ala carte price menu, but people wishing to attend all events will benefit from purchasing a week-long ticket. They'll benefit still more from member pricing should they choose to join IBMA. At trending the awards ceremony requires an additional ticket, and events like the “Breakfast with the Stars” served by musicians and IBMA Board members are designed to benefit various IBMA functions and require additional ticketing.

Dan Hays, IBMA Ex. Dir., Greets Tut Taylor

The Business Conference: The WOB Business Conference presents what can be a bewildering number of choices for those attending. Changes in the Business Conference include opening common areas in the Convention Center to people who are not registered for the conference to facilitate networking and interaction and the provision of single day admission to the Expo Hall and evening showcases. Meetings and other ticketed evens offer a huge range of activities including: Educational Labs, Seminars, Constituency Meetings, Keynote addresses, Gig Fair, DJ Taping Sessions, and much more. Here's a look at the Business Conference Schedule. Conference topics range from “How to Get Endorsements” through “Fiddling Styles” with panelists Michael Cleveland, “Getting More Gigs Using Social Media,” and “Smart Phone Apps,” which deals with using smart phones to get more gigs. And this is just a sampling. Details for each seminar, workshop, or other event are in the Schedule on line and should be studied now, when there's time to make decisions about what will help you most. There's never a shortage of things to do at IBMA. 

Gig Fair


There's a strong emphasis on the works and legacy of Bill Monroe throughout this year's conference. Official Showcases particularly give promoters and bookers a chance to hear bands that are emerging, changed, or have new product available. Five bands are showcased during prime time each day of the Business Conference. Performers range from household names to bands you may never have heard or seen before. In the end, however, the informal interactions (remember – Networking is just a buzz word) with others in the business can yield long term benefits you didn't imagine when the conversation began. The Gig Fair on Wednesday afternoon is a good way to make initial contact with promoters from all over the country. And don't forget the Bill Monroe for Breakfast broadcasts by WAMU's Bluegrass Country.org, which this year are being held in a convenient location to allow people more easily to attend people to attend. 

Official Showcase in the Convention Center
The Boxcars

The Awards Show: The IBMA International Awards Show is IBMA's signature event held on Thursday night. Del McCoury and George Shuffler will be inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame, now located at the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, KY. The Awards Show is separately ticketed and lots of fun. If you don't have a vote (a prerogative of IBMA membership) you can still download the list of nominees and make your own choices to compare them with the final winners. Each year The Bluegrass Blog runs a poll for readers to make their own selections. I'll link to it as soon as they post it. Here are last year's final results. The Awards Show also functions as a convenient transition from the end of the Business Conference to Fan Fest, which begins the next day.

Lynn Morris with Husband Marshall Wilborn
Lifetime Achievement Award

Pete Wernick Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

 Russell Moore with Third
Male Vocalist of the Year Award
Doyle Lawson & Quiksilver Perform
Dailey & Vincent with Jimmy Fortune

IBMA Fan Fest: Fan Fest is a three day indoor bluegrass festival on steroids. The schedule is complex and filled with opportunities for fans to enjoy the music, meet the performers, spend time in the Expo Hall, attend discussion circles, and much more. Fan Fest is a benefit for the IBMA Trust Fund and IBMA itself, with funds providing financial aid in times of emergency and helping IBMA in its worldwide outreach efforts. This year there will be Master's Workshops of all kinds and Discussion Circles to allow attendees to interact with various bluegrass performers and personalities. Irene and I will be hosting a session on Friday morning before Fan Fest opens. The lineup for Fan Fest is always superb, featuring bands you love and ones you may be hearing for the first time. Special features this year include a rare Saturday appearance by Alison Krauss & Union Station, Peter Rowan's tribute to Bill Monroe, and a tribute to the late Harley Allen. Most sets are half an hour and the show moves along very quickly. When you want a break, visit the Expo Hall, attend a workshop, stop by the Grand Master Fiddler's Championship, jam with the pros, or join one of the many jams in open spaces provided for that purpose. Get information about ticketing here. As with other elements of IBMA this year, there are a number of attractive choices to make Fan Fest more affordable. If you still haven't had enough when Fan Fest closes each evening around 10:00, after hours showcases will continue until 1:30 AM and there's always more jamming. Fan Fest this year has again been organized by Carl Jackson and Mark Newton along with their team.
The Cleverlys Back Stage at Fan Fest
with Carl Jackson
Larry Stephenson & Connie Smith
Award Winning Song

Paul Williams, Doyle Lawson, J.D. Crowe
Old Friends at Fan Fest
JaeLee Roberts Catches a Nap

 Jamming in the Convention Center Hallway

After Hours Showcases & Special Events: After Hours Showcases are sponsored by a variety of organizations including record companies, agents, festivals, regions, and associations. The largest number of them are held from 10:00 PM until 1:30 AM every day of the Business Conference and Fan Fest except on Awards Show nights, when there are other post-show activities, some off site and others in the hotel by invitation. Other “after hours” events are scheduled during the day. Here's the schedule as of September 2, but it probably isn't complete yet. Attending after hours showcases requires planning and making difficult choices. Do you want to see your favorite band, maybe several times, or to see and hear bands you've heard about but never seen live before, or bands you've never heard about? If you book acts, these showcases provide a rich opportunity to hear new bands and book them early. If you're a fan, you may want to be able to say you heard them before anyone else. 

Grasstowne at Rural Rhythm Private Event

After Hours in the Convention Center

 Swedish Band G2 at After Hours Showcase
A Note About Accommodations: The official host hotel is the Renaissance Hotel, which is directly connected to the Nashville Convention Center. For convenience and comfort, the Renaissance can't be beat. But there are a number of alternative places in town where people can stay. For the past three years we've stayed at Two Rivers Campground on Music Valley Road out near the Grand Old Opry. There are two other campgrounds out there, too, a KOA and a Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park. While these are expensive for campgrounds, they're reasonable compared to in-town hotels and only about a twenty minute drive from the Convention Center. Other people stay at residence hotels in Davidson County for much more reasonable rates, This year we're staying Percy Priest Seven Points Corps of Engineers Campground. With our geezer card, the daily rate is $14.00. In other words, people willing to sacrifice a little convenience can save a great deal of money attending IBMA's World of Bluegrass.

Peter Rowan at Fan Fest

In the end, it's up to each person to decide whether it makes sense to attend IBMA World of Bluegrass from September 26 – October 2 in Nashville. Bluegrass professionals from all constituencies as well as fans can experience significant growth and have a good time. In terms of cost/benefit, the issue remains whether a person is willing to plan carefully enough and work hard enough to gain the most from attending part or all of the week. Many people resent the mere idea that bluegrass music can be conceived as a business, let alone an industry. Others hold that it's all about the music and choose to avoid efforts such as World of Bluegrass. It's extremely difficult to make a good living playing bluegrass music. The multitude of resources made available through membership and participation in IBMA can only be a tool to growth and improvement of an individual's ability to compete and prosper. The Board and staff of IBMA have spent the past year assessing these issues and responding to the data drawn from their comprehensive survey. They've listened to what people told them and rebuilt the conference. This would be a good year to attend and and to see whether they've succeeded in adjusting to help you succeed more.