Monday, August 27, 2012

IBMA's World of Bluegrass 2012 - Preview

Doctors, lawyers, teachers, firemen, police officers, and plumbers are all professionals. As such they must be certified or licensed by some agency and engage in continual education and retraining in order to maintain their professional status. Musicians calling themselves professionals define their status somewhat differently. If they do it for money, they're professionals. Even professional athletes go to spring training to sharpen their skills, learn the coach's system, and prepare for the rigorous season to come.  Fortunately there's no certifying agency or trade organization that defines what makes a bluegrass professional. But we do have an industry-wide organization that supports our efforts, offers benefits, and provides education and training as well as awards, and a richly rewarding annual meeting. Musicians wishing to build their careers, understand changes in the industry, and become a part of something bigger than their band and their instrument can do no better than become active in their trade organization, the International Bluegrass Music Association. Others involved in bluegrass music, whether for professional reasons or as fans can grow and benefit from attending and participating. With a new Executive Director in place in Nancy Cardwell and a Board dedicated to strengthening the organization internally and the vision of bluegrass music to the world, and a re-imagined annual meeting in Nashville for the last time, IBMA stands ready to serve its constituencies. Whether you wish to work towards being a national touring band, improve your status as a regional one, or begin building a local reputation, there's no organization better positioned to help you than IBMA and no single event better designed to serve that purpose than IBMA's World of Bluegrass to be held at the Nashville Convention Center from September 24  - 30, 2012.

 Renaissance Hotel
Nashville Convention Center

Stan Zdonik - IBMA President

The IBMA meetings are a week-long extravaganza for all the people involved in any aspect of bluegrass music. Its divided into three parts: The Business Conference, The Awards Show, and IBMA Fan Fest. The Business Conference functions as the bluegrass trade show. The Award Show gives bluegrass a chance to honor its best in two events. Musical performance is recognized and celebrated at the evening Awards Show held in the Ryman Auditorium, while industry awards are presented at the Special Awards Luncheon earlier in the day. Fan Fest is a large indoor bluegrass festival festival featuring over sixty performances as well as workshops, seminars and an exhibition hall. Proceeds from Fan Fest go to support the Bluegrass Trust Fund and IBMA's efforts to support bluegrass around the world. Let's look at each element separately and then try to sum it all up.

The Business Conference - September 24 - 27
Ronnie Reno Presents 2011 Keynote Address

It's difficult to capture the excitement opportunities represented by the program of The Business Conference, but here are some highlights. The World of Bluegrass has been made much more artist friendly this year with programs designed to enhance their outreach and create connections for them to exploit.  More important, Professional Development sessions, aimed directly at musicians, are being held in the afternoons, allowing for the prediliction of musicians to keep late hours and their desire to sleep in in the morning. Professional Development sessions include topics like: Creative Music Arrangement (with Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Harry Stinson and Bill Evans), Social Media Market, Getting Your Music on the Air, and New Technology for Live Performances. These and other sessions are designed to assist bands with their musical, technological, and outreach efforts, all important at every level of performance. Other sessions are focused on the specific needs of bluegrass business and life. Keynote addresses by Chris Jones and Missy Raines will establish a tone and theme for the Business Conference early on Monday afternoon. All told there will be nearly forty different Professional Development sessions held every day but Sunday, extending into Fan Fest.

Gig Fair

The Gig Fair is held on Wednesday afternoon and gives artists a chance to make a face-to-face connection with promoters who they usually communicate by phone or email. Gig Fair is like speed dating for bands. I'm told by promoters that it's bad form to interrupt someone else's appointment "to just drop of a promo packet," but it's a good idea to carry a well produced performance packet with you, and then follow up Gig Fair interviews with both a phone call and emails. Don't expect to get gigs at the Gig Fair, but be sure to follow up assiduously.

Betty Wheeler at a Seminar

The popular DJ taping sessions have been replaced by a DJ & Artists Reception, a meet and greet, on Tuesday afternoon at 2:30. A new DJ/Press room (quiet) has been established in room 207 of the Convention Hall where DJ's can make appointments with artists to record  interviews and those all important station ID announcements "starring" bluegrass artists. Sounds like a good idea, since the DJ taping sessions were something of a zoo.

Breakfast with Bill Monroe Stories - 2011

For early risers who would like to hear and share stories about the giants who were lost this year,  there willl be early morning story-telling sessions about Earl Scruggs, Doug Dillard, and Everett Lilly as well as a later hour called "The Doc Watson Hour." While bluegrass music may be experiencing an evolution in its sounds and subject matter, it continues to celebrate the pioneers who made it what it is. Last year each of the sessions devoted to Bill Monroe was well-attended despite the early hour. Convenient coffee and buns may make it more enjoyable.

 WAMU  Live on-air Showcases
for Five Afternoons

 Gibson Brothers at WAMU Showcase

Showcases, Official and After Hours,  are, for many attendees, the highlight of each World of Bluegrass. Eighteen bands have been invited by a committee to showcase for the entire convention. On Monday - Wednesday evenings from 7:15 to 9:45 and on Wednesday morning at the Artist Showcase Brunch, each band has twenty-five minutes to show its stuff.  Some are scheduled for afternoon and early evening. These bands are chosen because the are relatively new or, if they are established bands, because they have significant new material or personnel changes. Often these showcases will be the first introduction to the larger bluegrass world these bands have had and as such are particularly valuable for bookers seeking new bands and members who want to keep in touch with what's on the bluegrass horizon. At least one international band is usually included. Some of these bands seem later to sink into obscurity while others rise to fame and popularity.

Standing Room for After Hours Showcase

 Larry Cordle at After Hours Showcase

After Hours Showcases aren't "after hours" at all, they're just late at night, earning the sobriquet that "IBMAstands for 'I've been mostly awake." Offered during the hours from 10:00 PM - 1:30 AM, the after hours showcases generally feature five bands and are sponsored by recording companies, regional bluegrass associations, manufacturers, or others wishing to give bands an opportunity to showcase. They represent a fine chance for talent buyers, recording industry execs, fans, and other musicians to see bands which have chosen or been invited to showcase. Even individual bands may rent a room and offer themselves or a group of bands for showcases.  These events are always fun with people wandering from showcase to showcase to see particular bands and gathering in the hallways to network (read schmooz or chat), meet and greet, or visit.

Song Writers Seminar

  A strand of the conference has been dedicated to songwriters after a long campaign. Sessions for song writers include a songwriter showcase and song circles on Tuesday and a workshop on writing bluegrass gospel songs on Wednesday. There's also a new special award to be given on Thursday for bluegrass songwriter of the year. Since this is the first year this will be given, there's a huge backlog of deserving song writers and only three nominees per year. Songwriters are such an integral part of bluegrass music, its about time such an award has become a part of IBMA.

 Louisa Branscomb & Donna Ulisse
Co-Writers Seminar

Friends Meet & Greet in
The Exhibit Hall 

The Exhibition Hall is open during various hours from Tuesday through Thursday, closing early on Thursday afternoon for changeover to the Exhibit Hall for Fan Fest on Friday and Saturday. For people staying the enite week, the changeover between the two versions of the Exhibit Hall is remarkable. During the Business Conference Exhibits focus on instruments, equipment, and booths provided to showcasing bands. During the last few years, with attendance down, largely because of the state of the economy but also because of member dissatisfaction with the leadership and direction of the organization, the Exhibit Hall has been a bit dreary. It will be interesting, in this last Nashville World of Bluegrass, to see whether the Exhibit Hall returns to its more exciting incarnation.

April Verch Tries Out a New Fiddle

Some of the features making World of Bluegrass exciting are the proliferation of unscheduled events, jams, and private parties. Suites where promoters, associations, and festivals invite bands to showcase privately are peppered throughout the non-quiet floors of the hotel. Record companies hold invitation only receptions. Getting into these events is usually by invitation, but if you get one, be sure to show up and get a feel for some of these events. Jams can be found throughout the hotel and convention center in designated areas. The hotel reserves some floors as quiet floors, but otherwise...just look around. I remember being on the elevator one time when the door slid open on some floor where I saw Mike Cleveland joyfully playing in the foyer with a bunch of other people and a crowd of spectators. In other places you'll see kids jamming together with well-known professionals sometimes joining them.  The days of drunks coming in off the street to party and jam are gone for good, but there's plenty of unscheduled music during World of Bluegrass Week.

 Jamming in the Hallways

A word of caution is appropriate here. If you attend IBMA, you're going to spend a significant amount of money for registration and hotel fees. If you showcase, you're going to be spending even more. Musicians are musicians because they love to play and make music together. Bluegrass is a participatory music. Spend some time thinking about what your goals for IBMA's World of Bluegrass week are. If you're there to grow your career, don't use all your energy jamming all night and then expect to benefit from all the week has to offer.

Pricing Options
 The ticket pricing is structured such that the ticket price for those attending all seven days of the event is less that the cost of annual membership, a strong incentive to joining IBMA. 

Rates are Per Person IBMA Members Non-Members
Full Attendee Early-Bird (7 day) (pre 8/1) $325 $425
Full Attendee (7 day) (after 8/1) $375 $475
Single Day Early-Bird (pre 8/1) $100 $135
Single Day (after 8/1) $115 $150

Last year a new Music Pass, good for the full week, was quite popular. It allows attendees to attend all music events, but not meetings, seminars, exhibition hall, meal functions or the Awards. It seems like a particularly attractive option for Grass Roots members wishing hear the music and participate in the non-professional activities. Entrance to the exhibit hall may be purchased for $25.00 a day on an ala carte basis. 

IBMA Members Non-Members
Advance (pre 9/8) $140 $160
On-Site $160 $160

Individual tickets may be purchased for the Award Show and for Fan Fest, but the full attendance ticket price is still the most attractive tickets for those planning to be in Nashville for IBMA for the entire week.

Award Show

Del McCoury, inducted last year in the IBMA Hall of Fame, and Laurie Lewis will host this years Award Show, the premier event of each year's World of Bluegrass because it garners the most publicity for the organization and rewards for those who win the awards. The awarda themselves actually consist of two events. Although the major national attraction is the evening Award Show, scheduled this year for the last time at the Ryman Auditorium, many members look forward also to the Special Awards luncheon beginning at 10:30 on Thursday morning because it recognizes achievement for more arcane areas such as broadcasting, liner notes design, and promotion and gives Distinguished Achievement Awards to members whose entire career path has shown leadership and achievement benefiting bluegrass music.

Lily Pavlak Receives
Distinguished Achievement Award 

This year, Distinguished Achievement Awards will be given to the following people.

Byron Berline
Joe and Lil Cornett
Orin Friesen
Kitsy Kuykendall
Darrell "Pee Wee" Lambert

Gibson Brothers - Album of the Year Award 2011

Nevertheless, the signature event remains the Award Show, broadcast worldwide live over Sirius/XM radio, blogged live by Bluegrass Today, and the subject of commentary and controversy for months before and after the actual award ceremony on the various web sites and forums devoted to individual instruments and bluegrass music.  Bands, individuals, and recordings receiving IBMA Awards may get significant bumps in bookings, sales, and air-play. There's no question, that it's an honor to win such an award, or even to be nominated, and it's a good show fraught with rising tension as the announcements approach. A complete list of all nominees for IBMA Awards can be seen here. Winners are selected by the professional membership of IBMA in a three stage process overseen by an accounting organization. The choices are the subject of joyful controversy and commentary ranging from adulation to disparagement.  The Ryman comes close to selling out for this event, which provides lots of good fun. The Awards Show is a ticketed event.

Presenters Louisa Branscomb & Carl Jackson
Sonny Osborne Presents Banjo Player of the Year
Kristin Scott Benson & Ron Stewart

Fan Fest

Kids on Bluegrass
On Friday morning at World of Bluegrass the entire Convention Center has changed. Fan Fest is a three day indoor bluegrass festival featuring over 60 bands in performance but including all the elements you look for in a festival with a few wrinkles thrown in to make it even more special.  Performances on the main stage in the Nashville Convention Center Center Hall, seating about 4000, there's a workshop stage which also features band performances, bluegrass discussion circles (ex. Bluegrass Explorers and Pioneers with Tim Stafford, Sierra Hull & Pete Wernick) on both days, the Grand National Fiddle Championships held in a large room for two full days, celebrity jams, and an exhibit hall packed with instrument, equipment, and band booths. After hours showcases follow the proceedings into the wee hours and there's informal jamming throughout the building. Take a look at the Fan Fest Schedule.

 Alison Krauss at Fan Fest

 Blue Highway & Guests
Jacob Burleson & the Snyders

Convention Center Hallway During Fan Fest

Fan Fest is a separately ticketed event also included on the full seven day ticket.

Rates are Per Person IBMA Members Non-Members
Three Day Reserved Seat* (until Sold Out) $130 $145
Three Day Advance (general admission) (pre 8/1) $70 $85
Three Day Advance (pre 9/8) $80 $90
Three Day – At Gate $95 $95
Under 16 (w/ adult) FREE FREE

Eddie Stubbs Live On-Air on WSM
Darin & Brooke Aldridge

All performances at Fan Fest are donated by the artists to support the Bluegrass Trust Fund which provides financial aid to bluegrass professionals in time of need and to IBMA to promote bluegrass music around the world. Featured artists scheduled to appear are:

The Del McCoury Band 
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver 
The Steep Canyon Rangers 
J.D. Crowe & the New SouthRussell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out
 The Boxcars 
Balsam Range 
​Lonesome River Band 
The Grascals 
Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice 
Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time 
Claire Lynch Band 
Blue Highway  
Jesse McReynolds & The Virginia Boys 
The Nashville Bluegrass Band 
Dale Ann Bradley 
The Chapmans 
Marty Raybon 
NewFound Road 
The Sleepy Man Banjo Boys 
Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper 
The SteelDrivers
Kenny & Amanda Smith 
Jim Lauderdale 
​The Bankesters 
Josh Williams Band 
Sierra Hull 
The Skip Cherryholmes Quintet 
​Charlie Sizemore Band 
Della Mae 
The Roys 
Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers 
Volume Five 
Belmont University Bluegrass Band 
Tom Brantley & Missionary Ridge
...And More to Be Added 

J.D Crowe at Fan Fest

Producers Carl Jackson and Mark Newton always manage to put some interesting combinations on the stage in the evenings on both Friday and Saturday. Fan Fest in particular and World of Bluegrass in general represents one the strongest gatherings of bluegrass musicians to be found anywhere. Carl and Mark can call on their extensive networks to pull together surprises for everyone.

Co - Producer Carl Jackson

 Sierra Hull at Fan Fest

Sunday at Fan Fest is a quiet time for reflection, worship and music. The final event of the week, it presents a brief worship service, usually a testimony from a bluegrass star, and plenty of good bluegrass gospel music. People who can remain for this often moving event certainly find it spiritually and musically satisfying.  

Larry Cordle Gives His Testimony
Sunday at Fan Fest Gospel Hour
 Sonya Isaacs

 Conclusions: I've been informally polling participating bands and individual musicians for several years now. I hear a good deal of grousing from some musicians that IBMA events held in Owensboro and Louisville were much more fun, filled with jamming and excitement. Others who were there characterize events there as out of control drinking and carousing by people who came in from the streets to join the jammers without any controls or direction. I'll leave it to others to judge which description is more accurate. Meanwhile, bands I've spoken with, whether they're well-established or emerging, tell me that when they use World of Bluegrass as part of a well-coordinated campaign to raise their visibility, widen their range, and get more bookings, it seems to them to be a worthwhile investment. This is particularly true when they coordinate their efforts as a band to learn new approaches from others in the profession and associated industries to increase their skills in emerging areas. In a sense it's like this blog. I can't point to specific sales of CD's or purchases of tickets that have been directly generated by appearing here. All I can say is that promoters and artists seem to think my writing and photographs benefit them.  Similarly, good bands seem to move up the ladder when they invest not just money, but themselves in making IBMA part of total program of advancement.
Taking a Break
Pete Kuykendall, Kitsy Kuykendall, Bill Knowlton

Bill Clifton, Harry Grant, Bill Knowlton, Al Hawkes

The Future