Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Wide Open Bluegrass: Sept. 24 - 28 in Raleigh, NC - Preview

Imagine a great tree. Perhaps it's that great southern tree the live oak. Its trunk is strong, difficult to cut or split. It grows straight from the ground and branches out with strong limbs that can withstand wind, some fire, and surely the change of seasons. Its leaves grow and stay green while, at the same time growing brown and carpeting the ground beneath with rattling and slowly decaying food for the future. Its roots reach deep into the ground, spreading and holding tight while feeding the tree with nutrients that flow upwards, never stopping. No wind can knock it down. Its branches all draw on the atmosphere around it, taking sustenance from the air, the sunshine, and even the wind. That tree is bluegrass music. The trunk is Bill Monroe. Monroe stands strong on the musical roots he gathered together: mountain song, gospel music, jazz, western swing, rockabilly, and its nearest cousins country music and folk music. The live oak hosts a variety of parasites and saprophytes that live off it. The parasites try their best to kill it, but don't succeed. The saprophytes live cooperatively with the tree, some thriving while never really becoming a fully functioning part of it. The branches grow further and further apart, reaching for the sky and never ceasing their growth and reach. Not every branch communicates too well, but they all get sustenance from sturdy old Bill Monroe and the roots from which he sprang.

Raleigh Convention Center
No analogy is perfect, and I've drawn this one out long enough. But bluegrass music will continually gain in strength and stature as long as it keep acknowledging both its glorious past and its unlimited future. Each year, the people of IBMA come together at the World of Bluegrass meeting to celebrate its past, explore its present, and get some hints of what its future might bring. This year, after several years of declining membership in a disastrous economy that has forced us to examine many of our deepest assumptions about who and what we are, the people of bluegrass will meet for five days of exploration, discussion, performance and celebration in Raleigh, North Carolina. The city has reached out to us, has embraced us, has made us welcome as the widespread world of bluegrass prepares to assemble in Raleigh from September 24 – 28 for its annual meeting. It won't be flawless. The meeting and the music it celebrates in three parts (like any good song) composed of a business meeting, an expansive awards show, and a breakout festival renamed Wide Open Bluegrass won't be perfect, it will always need change and adjustment, but it will be stimulating, challenging, exciting, and even ennobling. It will mirror the World of Bluegrass.

 It's always been difficult to encompass all of what the IBMA Convention is about, just as it's difficult or impossible to pigeon hole the music itself. Perhaps that's because bluegrass isn't a single community. It consists of people who not only love to listen to the music, but many of whom love to play it, too. These jammers are at every bluegrass event. They carry their instruments with them and go off into corners, meeting rooms, hotel lobbies and rooms, the streets - anywhere they can find space to draw four or five people with instruments together to make music. They come to play, the best of them all, as well as the hobbyists, the novice players, and more come to jam, to watch, and to participate. They are one of the strengths of bluegrass music even though they're more likely to be seen and heard at 2:00 AM playing and singing than they are to be found attending a session on how to increase band revenue by improving the "merch" table or how to find support from grant writing. But there are other centers of bluegrass music, too. The people who organize and run bluegrass festivals, the many people who build and sell instruments, those who buy talent to package and resell it to consumers as well as those who are seeking employment making the music. There are record companies, equipment manufacturers, local preservation and performance societies...the list is nearly endless. So let's look more closely at the three components, remembering that World of Bluegrass as it's re-imagined in Raleigh has yet to be held, so much that I write and that's being said about it is nothing more than speculation about plans that excite many and challenge others to find the parts that meet their  own particular needs best. This entry will remain an overview. The best detailed discussions of it can still be found by exploring the IBMA web site and it's newest addition, Bluegrass Nation and planning how you can best use and contribute to its success. Here's a link to an excellent map of the area in which World of Bluegrass is being held. Download and Print it. All the locations for the entire week are clearly shown on it.

The Business Conference

The Business Conference at World of Bluegrass continues from the opening registration on September 24 through its end in Wide Open Bluegrass on Saturday, September 28. Each day there will be seminars, meetings, workshops, and showcases at a variety of locations, designed to educate, inform, expand, and provide forums for discussion of the many issues and ideas roiling around the increasingly large and complex World of Bluegrass. Here's the overall schedule. (Hint for Bands: When the finalized more precise schedule is published, sit down as a band to see which seminars and meeting might contain relevant material for your band. Divide responsibilities among band members to attend and participate. After World of Bluegrass is over, when you've had time to process it all, sit down and discuss what each of the seminars might have contained that is relevant to your particular band's mode of operations: business plan, the merch table, using bluegrass radio for publicity, negotiating contracts, foreign travel, and many more.)

Raleigh Convention Center 

 The Business Conference is designed to put all elements of the bluegrass community together into a situation where unimpeded networking can take place. Whether it's in the halls, at formally constituted meetings of various kinds, at receptions, or on the streets, the World of Bluegrass gives each person a chance to meet and get to know other people in the profession who can help them to further develop their business. (Hint to Musicians: You can't spread your knowledge and increase your business if you've been up until 4:00 AM the night before jamming and imbibing liquid refreshment. Keep your eye on the objectives of spending all that money to attend this event.) The Exhibit Hall is the center from which all the rest expands, but there is the DJ reception, Gig Fair, the Town Hall meeting, and, now, the streets as you ramble from venue to venue during the showcase periods every evening.

Convention Center Lobby

One highlight worth mentioning here is the live radio broadcast being conducted in Room 201 of the Raleigh Convention Center by WAMU's Bluegrass Country.org. The staff of WAMU has brought a full studio to Raleigh and will broadcast what amounts to a mini-festival from Tuesday through Friday. Broadcasts will feature six bands a day from noon until 3:00 PM. Ticketed attendees are invited to attend. You can see the details and get additional information HERE. (HINT: This is a live broadcast, so silence is requested until the hosts ask for applause. Lots of fun.)

Sample Meeting Rooms

The Bluegrass Ramble
Showcases remain a centerpiece of the Business Conference. This year they are divided between sessions in the Convention Center and The Evening Showcases, to be held in various convenient locations surrounding the Convention Center, and no longer called unofficial. Called "The Bluegrass Ramble" the evening showcases take some management. (HINT to All: A very good list of all performances along "The Bluegrass Ramble" can be found HERE.) These events, which begin at 6:00 in the evening and run until 2:00 in the morning, are another crucial core in the business of putting performing artists before the people in the business of helping them present their art, whether they're record company executives, festival promoters, writers, photographers, radio dj's, talent buyers for arts centers, or the myriad of fans who buy records and attend events, these showcases are the place for established and emerging bands to be seen and heard. (Hint for All Participants: FOLLOW UP! Shaking hands and saying hello isn't enough. Take a goodly supply of your business cards and demo CD's with you. Hand them out liberally. Establish a face-to-face contact. And then call, email, message, post on social media. Do what you need to do to keep your face and name in front of the constituency you wish to reach out to.)

City Market Area

Moore Square

In the past, showcases were presented in the Convention Center as official and "after hours." The "after hours" showcases have now become part of the official showcase process held in a variety of venues within convenient distances from the Convention Center and even a shorter distance from the fronts of the Marriott and Sheraton Hotels. The "R" bus runs from in front of the Convention Center (across the street from the Marriot) to all the venues, or you can take the short walk to get to Moore Square and City Market, around which most are clustered. Here's a list of the venues with their menus, and an overall map showing the routes and R buss stops. 

When you click on the map, use the up and down arrows and the in and out arrows to manipulate the map and familiarize yourself with the venues. The direction below are for walking. If you plan to use the "R" bus to get to the Bluegrass Ramble venues, click the Bus button on the map.

The Exhibit Hall

The IBMA Exhibit Hall will be open from Thursday to Saturday in the Raleigh Convention Center, Exhibit Hall C. The Exhibits will be open only to ticketed attendees at World of Bluegrass from 1:00 - 5:00 on Thursday and then open to the public on Friday and Saturday from Noon until 7:00. The space is easily accessible from the hotels, the Convention Center Stage and Meeting Rooms and from the Red Hat Amphitheater. Exhibitors will have much greater opportunity to interact with the public and, presumably, bluegrass professionals will also be able to have many interactions with other members and the public.

Be sure to visit the North Carolina Pavilion, which will be located inside the Exhibit Hall and at Longview. It will include exhibits, a hospitality center, and a stage to include performances by forty bands and over thirty panels. Schedule to come.

The IBMA Awards
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts

Thursday is the day that bluegrass music takes to recognize its own, to pat ourselves on the back and say "Well done!" The day was once quiet, as a golf tournament was held for those interested, and their were few events other than the Awards. With the shortening of the week, each hour has become more precious. This shows in the full schedule provided for Thursday, September 26.  Meetings and seminars continue morning and afternoon, filling up a day which, for those of us who do not play golf, had been pretty quiet for the last few years. The Exhibit Hall is open on Thursday, the only day which is exclusive for ticketed attendees. Thursday promises to be a busy day.

The Special Awards Luncheon provides the opportunity to recognize bluegrass professionals for their contributions to bluegrass music. Five people are to be recognized for Distinguished Achievement Awards with a detailed description of their contribution, accompanied by lots of pictures projected on large screens and presented by those who are, in their own right, bluegrass luminaries. Industry recognition is also given for functions like Liner Notes, Press/Media Person of the Year, Song Writer of the Year, Album Design, Broadcast Personality of the Year, Bluegrass Event of the Year. A new award category called "Momentum Awards" was initiated last year to recognize young people beginning careers in bluegrass. Awards will be presented in the following categories: Industry New Professional, Industry New Event or Venue, Industry Mentor, Performance Vocalist, and Performance Band, and Performance Instrumentalist. Momentum Awards will be presented at the Showcase Luncheon on Wednesday.  Here's a full list of all Award Nominees.  Nominees and winners for the Special Awards are chosen by a committee based on supporting material supplied by those seeking nomination and references from people in the industry.

Progress Energy Center

The culmination of the day, and for many the entire week, is the Awards Show, which will be presented in Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, a large and attractive concert hall a brief walk across two parking lots from the Marriott Hotel.  It's a gala event preceded by Nominees Press Reception & Red Carpet at which nominees put on their very best for the audience and for each other.  The Awards Show is where those coveted awards you hear about at festivals and on the radio are handed out.  Winners of IBMA Awards are chosen in a three step ballot process. Eligibility lists assure that time relevant material like Song of the Year and Album of the Year were released within the eligibility period of April 1 - March 31. For those who are interested, the rules governing eligibility can be found here. A complete list of this year's nominees can be found here. Recognition at this exciting event can have a substantial effect upon the winners' bookings and sales. 

Wide Open Bluegrass
The Red Hat Amphitheater

Known as Fan Fest for some years, Wide Open Bluegrass is, at its base, a national bluegrass festival bringing together all the varieties of bluegrass for a bang-up two day event celebrating its diversity and unity while seeking to draw crowds to support the Bluegrass Trust Fund and to spread bluegrass music to all corners of the world. As such, it seeks to reach out to provide music of broad appeal to a variety of tastes, draw attention to its finest practitioners, and provide entertainment with huge impact. A very well organized and comprehensive web site presents full schedules of music events included in wide open bluegrass. A good list of Wide Open Bluegrass events for those who hold tickets is HERE. But the community, in a broad a sense of community as is imaginable is also happening in conjunction with Wide Open Bluegrass. The alternative will be to stand dithering in the middle of Salisbury Street in a state of utter confusion trying to decide what to do. (HINT: PLAN, PLAN, PLAN - use the online resources linked to here to chart your activities through all parts of the week you attend. DON"T WAIT 'TIL YOU GET THERE.) There are so many fine bluegrass artists performing at Wide Open Bluegrass that I won't even try to identify highlights. Whether you are a registrant or come only to the free events, you'll be overwhelmed with the choices available, and satisfied with the experiences you have.

From Stage of Red Hat Amphitheater
Back of Raleigh Convention Center 

Wide Open Bluegrass is a ticketed event taking place primarily in two locations: The Red Hat Amphitheater and the Raleigh Convention Center. A look at the schedule quickly confirms that the lineup satisfies a spectrum of tastes ranging from the most traditional elements of bluegrass music to performers from the more progressive branches. With the amount of music available, both ticketed and free, it's hard to imagine that every bluegrass fan won't be able to construct a personal schedule that fully satisfies. Fans wishing to expand their experience, see new approaches, and still keep close to the roots of bluegrass will have no difficulty in satisfying their needs. But it takes planning! 

The Street Festival: A free Wide Open Bluegrass Street Festival consisting of five parts will take place centered on Fayetteville Street, a traffic free thoroughfare in front of the Marriott and Sheraton Hotels extending down several blocks towards to State Capitol building. The street festival consists of several parts: Live Performances, Free Access to the Exhibit Hall on Friday and Saturday, The Whole Hog State Barbecue Championship, and The WOB Art Market. The live performances take place on five stages along surrounding City Square and are free, although I expect there will be a charge for the Whole Hog Barbecue. The live performances and Exhibit Hall access alone would constitute a full two day bluegrass festival by themselves.

City Square from the Marriott
Down Fayetteville Street 
State Capitol

The Details

Camping is available at the North Carolina State Fairgrouds, about a ten minute drive from the Convention Center. A full hookup (W/E/S and free WiFi) costs $25 per night. Call Claudine Davis at (919) 839-4501 or email her at claudine.davis@ncagr.gov, include the words IBMA RV 2013 in the subject line. There are beautiful rest room/shower facilities nearby. 

Campground at State Fairgrounds

Nearby Rest Rooms & Showers
Sample Hotel Rates

We spent a night at the Sheraton in October and visited the Marriot. Each is a lovely hotel with all the amenities just across the street from the Raleigh Convention Center. A number of other hotels provide accommodations at a variety of prices to suit most people's ability and willingness to pay.  We'll be at the campground, which will provide shuttle access to the Convention Center.

Plan - Participate - Process

Attending IBMA's World of Bluegrass is a three step process which turns Pay-to-Play into invest in yourself and your career. I've often heard it said, "It's all about the music!" Well...it's not. Not for the thousands of musicians seeking to make a living playing bluegrass music for paying customers. Not for the luthiers, records companies, equipment builders, festival promoters, radio stations, or the myriad of other businesses which include bluegrass in their plans for making a living. It's about the business of bluegrass, the joy of making and listening to music, and the sense of community this creates. By joining, attending, and celebrating that community each year at World of Bluegrass, you become a member of something bigger than yourself or your concerns. Support it and nurture it, for without it, we're a bunch of lonely independents trying to build a mansion on a sand foundation.  See you there!!!