Coming to IBMA in Raleigh represents a major expense for bluegrass professionals and fans. Attending the Business Conference from Tuesday through Thursday provides everyone involved in the industry with a forum and a learning environment conducive to meeting people, developing and nurturing relationships, engaging in multiple opportunities to conduct business, performing for the many organizations and individuals hiring talent, developing new skills to help each constituent component of the bluegrass industry do its job better, and being introduced to cutting edge tools to do business more effectively . Such engagement places demands on everyone, taxes them to their limit, and can be wonderfully fulfilling. It's also hard, even grueling, work demanding effective time management, stamina, and perseverance. Here's a look back at the Business Conference of IBMA with some ideas, too.
Registration for all components of IBMA in Raleigh was swift and easy this year. The registration desks were open to allow early registrants to register and receive tickets and armbands for all components, thus making it unnecessary to pick up Wide Open Bluegrass armbands on Friday, where there was a jam-up last year. In almost every element of this year's gathering, improvements were made based on last year's experience. Of course, there are still tweaks to come, but this year's event ran smoothly, for the most part.
The Raleigh Arts Council commissioned Montana sculptor Bland Hoke to create an assemblage surrounding the iconic stature of Sir Walter Raleigh in front of the Raleigh Convention Center. Deering banjos contributed the banjo pots and necks used to create the banjo motif, which dominated the themes of the entire week, celebrating the contributions of Earl Scruggs and his multitude of musical descendants.
This year the Keynote Address moved inside the Ballroom on the fourth floor of the Raleigh Convention Center (RCC) to provide improved audio for Béla Fleck's fine keynote address as well as the buffet presenting gourmet representations of Southern cooking. The shrimp & grits, and lovely looking deserts were both quite popular. However, the evening's highlight was Fleck's keynote address, which he opened by apologizing to the IBMA for the way he insulted the organization when he won the first Banjo Player of the Year award in 1990, and then went on to highlight the role of bluegrass within his music, wherever he had wandered musically through the illustrious years, during which he has become the musician earning the most Grammy Awards in different genres. A video of his thoughtful and inspiring speech can be found below.
It's rare when a public official welcomes a meeting or other event and then stays as an unobtrusive part of the festivities. Nancy McFarlane and her husband, a local businessman, were major sponsors of the Plaza Stage, the major free venue of the coming weekend's Wide Open Bluegrass. The Mayor was in attendance at the pre-IBMA event on Hillsborough Street where she was not even introduced. She was there for the music. Such devotion to the bluegrass and IBMA is worthy of high note!
Fleck's Keynote address, while 31 minutes long, is worth your time to listen to and consider as it explores both his evolution as a banjo player and person, but the role of tradition and change in our music.
Pictures don't adequately capture the scope, seriousness, intensity of discussion, or usefulness of the vast array of seminars, workshops, and meetings included in the program of the Business Conference at World of Bluegrass. From Tuesday through Thursday afternoon there were dozens of activities which were designed to enable festival promoters, talent buyers, talent, media people (print, electronic media, broadcast, narrowcast, film), instrument and gear manufacturers and more to interact with each other, learn from each other, and grow their skills and expertise. The interactive World of Bluegrass Schedule is still available online. Take a stroll through it to see the kinds of opportunities available to those willing the spend the time, energy, and make the investment in their career. This year's Business Conference featured a special focus on Talent Buyers, bringing them together with agents to increase their awareness of each other and create opportunities, both social and more formal, to interact, develop relationships, and grow their knowledge and experience. If you're a person who says, "IBMA does nothing for me," Take a look at all that was provided for those who came determined to develop their business further. All such growth and commitment requires is the determination to involve yourself in it. HOWEVER, the street runs two ways. It takes an investment in time, money, and commitment to build your career and your business. The opportunities are there, but you must participate. Event producers, performers, song writers, agents, writers, Disc Jockeys (what an awful and anachronistic term), recording engineers, instrument makes, and on and on, have much to say to each other and learn from each other. I sincerely doubt that anyone attending and actively participating in these meetings, both formal and informal, can leave at the end of the week without saying they had made a good investment of time and money.
This year, in response to concerns expressed after last year's showcases on the Bluegrass Ramble, all thirty bands selected as official showcase bands performed at least once in the Raleigh Convention Center (RCC) as well as at the clubs a few blocks away. An express bus directly to the clubs was provided, and succeeded in making access much easier. People wishing to see the bands without leaving RCC only needed to move between the Workshop Stage and the Ballroom, a little walk and a few escalator rides. Those wishing to gauge audience reaction in live appearances on a club stage or wishing to imbibe themselves while viewing bands, could easily be transported to the remote sites, which were close enough together to offer easy access to all of them, except the Lincoln Theater. On Wednesday evening I took to Bluegrass Express to Tir Na Nog and walked to Longview and the Architect Bar & Social Club with ease. The atmosphere was festive, and I felt safe, although not everyone necessarily would. Private showcases and events were re-instituted this year, too, allowing recording companies to sponsor new releases, and other sponsors to support causes or showcase artists not selected for official showcases. For instance, the Bluegrass Foundation sponsored a ticket only show after Thursday's Award Show at Tir Na Nog. The Bluegrass Ramble sponsored a special evening for those not attending the Award Show called Bluegrass Ramble Local Grass featuring twenty-five North Carolina bluegrass bands at the Ramble sites.
The Momentum Awards were established in 2012 as a way to recognize young, up-and-coming people in the bluegrass community in both industry and performer roles. The Momentum Awards are presented during a showcase luncheon so that awards and music were happily intermixed.