Tuesday, October 7, 2014

IBMA World of Bluegrass: The Business Conference - Review

Sir Walter Raleigh Presides Over All

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.

In the Marriott Hotel Lobby
Irene Lehmann, Larry Stephenson, Jim Beaver, Ken Irwin

Rick Stanley, Donna Ulisse, Larry Stephenson
Brooke & Darin Aldridge
"Love Is"

Leadership Bluegrass Reception

This reception held on Monday evening before World of Bluegrass opened and hosted by the Williams Mullen law firm in downtown Raleigh,  brings together alumni of Leadership Bluegrass for a pre-conference fund raiser to help provide scholarship support for those attending Leadership Bluegrass annually in Nashville. LBG, founded in 2000, annually brings together about twenty-five people seen as both current leaders and emerging ones for a 2 1/2 day intensive seminar/workshop. Selection is competitive, and few people are chosen to attend on their first try. Alumni form a core of colleagues and friends who work together to further develop bluegrass as an art form and a business. Look for LBG alumni to be active participants in all components of the Bluegrass Industry.

The Bankesters Provided the Entertainment

Emily Warner & IBMA Staffer Taylor Coughlin

North Country Public Radio's Barb Heller
Wrangled the Kitchen

Conference Registration

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 Convention Center Lobby

Irene Lehmann & James Reams
Signed Up and Ready to Go

Janet Deering & Sculptor Bland Hoke

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.

Bland Hoke & Janet Deering

The Keynote Address

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.

Loren Gold & Laurie Okun
RCC Executives Welcome

Nancy McFarlane - Raleigh Mayor

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!

Béla Fleck

Béla Fleck Keynote Address - Video

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.

Mike Bub & Jim Hurst in the Lobby

Shelley & Jacob Burleson

The Meetings

Mary Doub, Mike Wilson, A.J. Trott, Gary Leonheardt


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.

Showcases & the Bluegrass Ramble
Grass Cats Showcase on the Workshop Stage (RCC)

Grass Cats Showcase

Sister Sadie Showcase in RCC Ballroom

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.

Lonely Heartstring Band at Tir Na Nog

Audience at Tir Na Nog

Longview Center

Barefoot Movement at Lonview Center

Irene Kelley at The Architect

Audience at the Architect

Momentum Awards

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.

Industry Involvement Award
Ashlee Jean Trott - Music City Roots/Bluegrass Underground

Bluegrass Situation Showcases
Bonaroo & Americana Music Association
Amy Reitnour

Mentor Award
Tim Surrett

Performance Awards - Instrumentalists (3)
Cory Walker

Domonic Leslie

Jake Stargell

Performance Award - Vocalist
Jesse Gregory (Jesse Gregory & Faultline)

Performance Award - Band
Barefoot Movement

Gig Fair

The Gig Fair is the bluegrass equivalent of speed dating. Held each year on the day of the Awards Show, a good changeover day when business conference attendees are still present and bands are arriving for Wide Open Bluegrass. In order to participate, bands must sign up online. They then receive a schedule and can have up to four five minute appointments with festival promoters to seek to get recognized and booked. For bands, there are two crucial elements: 1. Come prepared with a presentation folder and 2. be sure to follow up by email, mail, and phone with everyone you met during Gig Fair. Without planning and follow-up, you might as well stay home

Meeting with D.C. Bluegrass Union

Mike Compton & Joe Newberry Meet with Joe Val Festival

Elaine & Samantha Snyder Meet with Festival

The Changeover after Five Minutes

Kathy Anderson (Donna Ulissse) Meets with Festival Rep

Northern Ireland was There

 Candi & Seth Sawyer (Jenny Brook) Meet with Candidate

The Business Conference of the World of Bluegrass last for four jam-packed, important, and information filled days. There's some concern being expressed that full ticket registration for the Conference is still down and membership only shows a slight increase. I can't understand why those wanting to build their careers or develop new skills in a changing environment aren't breaking down the doors to get to a place where there's easy access to people and information. No other single event or place in bluegrass comes close to providing the learning, performing, or networking opportunities that IBMA choreographs at World of Bluegrass. The investment in annual dues and attendance, even including a whole band with hotel reservations, are small compared to what what can be gained through carefully maximizing the opportunities presented. 

Since moving to Raleigh and the advent of the Wide Open Bluegrass festival promoted by the City of Raleigh, the red herring debate about "Pay to Play" has disappeared, since many (most) bands are now being paid to perform. No band I've talked to during the years we've been coming to IBMA which has carefully worked the event and followed up with everyone they met has ever told me their effort wasn't rewarded. Bands which just showcase and then sit down and wait for the offers to come are often disappointed, however. The opportunities at every level of the industry are there. It remains up to you to maximize them.

Are You Going to IBMA?

I've never been asked by anyone, "Are you going to World of Bluegrass?" I'd like to suggest that for most people, IBMA and World of Bluegrass are synonymous. IBMA is widely recognized as International, so World is redundant. Now, with the initials WoB standing for two events happening, at least partially, at the same time in the same space, I'd like to suggest that IBMA rename and re-brand its signature event as The IBMA or simply IBMA. I look forward to attending IBMA next year, even an IBMA that returns the Monday so many of us miss. But let's try calling it what it really is as a first step toward increasing membership and attendance. After all, the International Bluegrass Music Association offers a week-long event intended to help each of us build are careers or enjoy the music as providers or consumers. Let's call it what it is.

Awards edition next.