Tuesday, October 25, 2011

IBMA 2011 - Fan Fest Sunday & Final Assessment

Each year, Sunday at IBMA-WOB provides a fitting end to a demanding, useful, and convening of bluegrass people to grow together, share, and make music.  The day combines a joyful expression of Christian spirit through song and testimony as well as an almost sad sense that the week is over for another year.  As the hotel empties and people head for their cars or their airport to return home, a few hundred people return to the Convention Center's Center Hall for a morning of gospel music and celebration.

LeRoy (Mack) Macnees Opens Gospel Service

LeRoy Macnees
Jan Macnees Weaves a Story of the Spirit

 Larry Cordle Offers His Testimony
Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa
Wayne Taylor
The Trio - Emory Lester, Lee Marcus, Wayne Taylor
The Audience on Gospel Sunday
Mike Scott & Friends
Mike Scott

America's Bluegrass Gospel Show
Charles Lewis

Melvin Goins
Don Rigsby
Jenee Fleenor
Rebecca Long

 Larry Cordle

The Isaacs
Ben Isaacs

Sonia Isaacs

Rebecca Isaacs
The Isaacs

IBMA World of Bluegrass 2011 - Assessment

Attendance figures for the 2011 World of Bluegrass have not yet been released, but, to me, the event seemed filled with activity, thoughtful design, an intriguing mix of musical styles all related to, reflecting, or derived from the music of Bill Monroe, whose 100th birthday was celebrated in song, story, and spirit throughout the week. Overall, the program was varied, presenting seminars, workshops, and other educational events designed to appeal to all the constituencies represented at the conference.  By extending these sessions into Fan Fest, the IBMA organizers reached out to a broader range of people, offering opportunities to examine as well as to enjoy.  Many sessions were held in the afternoon, making it possible for those who wished to jam late into the night to get some sleep and still attend. For us, the event, as usual, served up such a rich smorgasbord of ideas, events, and music that we developed a sleep debt that took us nearly to weeks to recover from.  The people who couldn't find new approaches, insights, ideas, and strategies to take home and apply to their situation just wasn't trying.  Gig Fair and DJ taping sessions provided huge opportunities for bands to spread the word and seek employment. Both events were very crowded and might benefit from being extended.  Song circles, I'm told, were richly rewarding for the participants and song writing was highlighted in this age of the singer/songwriter.  

By concentrating the event in the Convention Center and, generally, removing activities from the hotel itself, the event seemed more accessible and enjoyable. The new ala carte approach to admission tickets seemed to encourage people to attend those parts of the World of Bluegrass most relevant to them.  Meanwhile, many seminars were very well attended with those attending active interest in the presentations. There was almost always plenty of discussion with many sessions running overtime, a good indication of the level of interest.  The Convention Center often buzzed with activity, with the busyness increasing as the evening turned to after hours showcases.  The hallways became an exciting mix of networking, jamming, and moving from room to room to catch after hours showcases from familiar favorites and new bands.  For bookers wishing to get ahead of the curve in discovering and booking new bands, the evenings, including the Official Showcases, provided rich opportunities.  Volume proved to be a problem with some of the Official Showcases with at least one fully plugged in band being presented so loudly that some listeners were driven from the room.  Music was everywhere, however. There was plenty of jamming in the hallways as well as on the jamming floors in the hotel.  

The Awards Show is always both a satisfying spectacle and somewhat problematic.  This year the pacing was brisk, and it would be churlish of me to say much about the emotionally satisfying places where it may have dragged a bit.  I've never seen an awards show, either live or on TV which didn't have its wooden moments of forced humor that sometimes falls flat.  Writing funny material for people who aren't comics to deliver is a thankless, perhaps impossible task.  While I didn't agree with all the awards given, i.e. I didn't vote for all the winners, the outcomes seemed pretty much right on target as a reflection of the year just past.  The only exception would be in the area of individual instrument awards which are much too repetitive from year to year. I wonder why the membership doesn't look more closely at each individual in terms of the year just past rather than along larger career-based assessments.  What would happen if individual instrument awards were selected by people who actually specialized in those instruments?  Just a thought.... Each year we think we'll pass on the Awards Show, and each year we decide we don't want to miss the excitement and ceremony. I think our second thoughts are the right ones.

Fan Fest, produced by Carl Jackson and Mark Newton, is a large, complex, comprehensive indoor bluegrass festival.  It is comprised of many components including a compelling main stage lineup, a subsidiary Master's Workshop Stage offering performances and instrument workshops, and a separate event, The Grand Master Fiddler Championship, a two day event of its own.  This year, a number of Special Events were initiated for the first time. These included seminar sessions like those held during the Business Conference, an opportunity to jam with professional bands, and instrument sessions. The sessions were I stuck my nose in between sessions spent photographing the Main Stage (my primary role at Fan Fest) were very well attended. The Exhbition Hall was also open with a somewhat changed group of exhibitors from those at the Business Conference.  Throughout Fan Fest, the entire Convention Hall seemed to buzz with enthusiasm and activity. I thought the single most moving set during Fan Fest was the "Tribute to Harley Allen" during which his life and music were celebrated by his friends and his widow, Debbie Allen.  Another highlight was the jam-packed performance by Alison Krauss & Union Station.  There are always more bands wishing to perform than there are spots available. Net proceeds from Fan Fest are divided between the Bluegrass Trust Fund and "IBMA's efforts to promote bluegrass around the world." All performers donate their efforts. 

This was the fourth IBMA - World of Bluegrass we have attended, all in Nashville. Despite traveling on a budget, we've found ways to make the event affordable to us, mostly in terms of how we manage our housing and eating.  This year's WOB was the most exciting and satisfying we've attended. I learned a lot, made lots of new acquaintances and friends and felt as if I were attending a much looked-forward-to annual homecoming event.  We limited ourselves, with the exception of attending the Del McCoury concert outside the Ryman Auditorium on Tuesday at noon, to official events taking place in the Convention Center and the Awards Show. There were, however, for those interested a variety of subsidiary bluegrass events taking place around town - at the Hard Rock Cafe, The Bluebird Cafe, and the Station Inn, among others.  The week provided enough food for thought to charge us up for the coming year, help us grow in our love and understanding of the music, and make us feel a part of a large, vital, and varied community.
It's All Over for Another Year