Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How to Survive and Thrive at IBMA's World of Bluegrass & Wide Open Bluegrass 2015 - Preview

Sir Walter Raleigh - Famous Banjo Player

The International Bluegrass Music Association will be holding its annual, all-encompassing trade show get together in Raleigh, NC from September 29 - October 3 this year. Designated by IBMA as "World of Bluegrass," the conference heeds its commitment to leave the name "bluegrass" largely undefined. By doing so, it creates some controversy about being too inclusive, but encourages bands and individuals wishing to identify with bluegrass music the freedom to choose a wide and varied selection of string band music to represent the name and be represented by it. As a trade show, WoB (I'll use that abbreviation for what is generally known as IBMA as in "See you at IBMA" which actually should belong to the organization as a whole) doesn't necessarily meet everyone's needs, but taken all together the IBMA Business Conference, the Awards Show, and the two-day festival called "Wide Open Bluegrass" represent the most bluegrass-filled, musical extravaganza available to bluegrass fans anywhere. Incidentally, IBMA (the organization) needs to sit down with the folks in Raleigh (Pine Cone, the City, the Local Organizing Committee, and the Greater Raleigh Visitors and Convention Bureau) to clarify the confusion that can arise when two acronyms for different elements of a larger event are the same.

The Raleigh Convention Center

Jon Weisberger - IBMA Board Chairman

Getting Around Raleigh & Things to Do There

Raleigh is the state capitol of North Carolina. As such, it provides wonderful resources for a major convention. Fayetteville Street, the corridor between the Duke Energy Center, where the annual IBMA Awards Show is held, and the capitol building, a distance of seven tenths of a mile that can be walked in an easy twenty minutes, encompasses most of the territory you will need to navigate. Looking to your left from the steps of the Duke Energy Center, you can see the two official hotels, the Marriott and the Sheraton. Behind them sits the spacious Raleigh Convention Center, and behind it, the Red Hat Amphitheater, a 6000 seat outdoor amphitheater used on Friday and Saturday nights for major shows. Walk a few blocks down Fayetteville Street, turn to your right for a short two blocks and you'll find Moore Square, around which cluster most of the clubs used for the Bluegrass Ramble. That's about it. If you can't walk those distances, there are a couple of very useful resources. The free R Bus Bluegrass Express  runs from the front of the Convention Center to the City Market area where the clubs, and some good restaurants are every evening until 2:00 AM.  For a little more fun, take a Rickshaw from in front of the Marriott to anyplace you want to go. You decide the fare, they run on tips. Here's a link to the printable map of the entire downtown Raleigh area used by IBMA.

View Down Fayettville Street
During the Street Fair

A new blog called Bits & Bogs of Bluegrass & Beyond written by a writer new to bluegrass, a country music and bluegrass fan and part-time radio broadcaster, a longtime and well-known professional broadcaster, and a fulltime fan, merch-table helper, part-time photographer and line editor for this blog (Linda Orlomoski, Amy Orlomoski, Katy Daly, and Irene Lehmann) is filled with useful information about what to see and what to do in Raleigh as well as specifics concerning World of Bluegrass that will prove very useful. Check the archives to see it all.

Accomodations: Raleigh, for a state capitol and convention center city, is remarkably reasonable in cost. Rooms at the two official hotels, The Marriott and The Sheraton, are inexpensive by city standards and both have sold out their IBMA blocks. However, people often find they have conflicts as the date of an event approaches, so it's worth while to keep trying both to see if any openings have occurred. Here's a list of available hotels offering IBMA rates. There are, additionally, dozens of hotels within easy commuting distance of the Convention Center. Online registration for hotels has closed. Contact the hotels directly to book rooms. Make sure you ask for the IBMA rate.

We stay at the campground located on the grounds of the NC State Fairgrounds. The fairgrounds major camping facility is a large area adjacent to the John Hunt Horse Ring, a large and busy facility. The Campground has set aside at least 100 sites for IBMA, each having water, electric, sewer, and free Wi-fi. Hot shower facilities and flush toilets are nearby, but require a short drive to access. A shuttle runs regularly to the Convention Center. The cost has just been raised to $30.00/night, still a bargain in an urban setting. There is an area set aside for jamming, with more improvements planned. Don't worry about the lack of shade, you won't be there anyway. The downtown Convention Center is about fifteen minutes away. Parking in the convenient parking garages costs $7.00/day or take the free shuttle. (Compare in availability and price to Nashville lot prices of over $25.00 a day and huge fines if you're fifteen minutes late.)

Fairgrounds Campground

State Fair Shower Facility 

Getting Around Raleigh is really easy, even if you're not used to negotiating city streets. If you need more information than is provided here (and you will) the Raleigh Visitor Center is located just off the Lobby of the Marriott Hotel. It can provide printed maps that you can use to navigate, as well as lists of restaurants available in just about all price ranges. Google maps set for a walking map will take you to the specific location you're looking for using your smart phone. Try it, it works!

The R Bus - Free

During World of Bluegrass and Wide Open Bluegrass the City operates the free R bus Bluegrass Express from in front of the Convention Center to the Moore Square area where most of the Bluegrass Ramble venues are located. During this week, it runs extended hours until 2:00 AM.

Raleigh Rickshaw

Raleigh Rickshaw offers a delightful way to get from place to place or to book a tour of downtown Raleigh. Drivers work for tips only. You decide how much the trip was worth to you, but don't get cheap on these hard working, friendly drivers. Last year I took a rickshaw ride to meet Irene and Katy Daley at a somewhat remote restaurant. It turned into an interesting tour, saved me a lot of walking, and I learned about the city from the friendly driver. Can't beat that!

The area surrounding the Convention Center and the Duke Energy Center provides sufficient inexpensive parking to easily meet the needs of IBMA. Both Convention hotels have their own garages, and the City parking decks charge $7.00 per day to park. If you leave, you'll have to pay again for re-entry. Their's vertical space for even pretty tall vans.

The Design: IBMA's World of Bluegrass encompasses five jam packed days in a complex, and inter-related design. The Business Conference, the Awards Shows, and Wide Open Bluegrass are conceptually different stand-alone components which tie together into a consuming whole. You can order Tickets for each component, which can be confusing. Let's hope that IBMA and e-tix can work together to provide a way to select the components you wish to attend by clicking on them and then combine the order to make it simpler and more effective. Meanwhile, you should decide which elements you will attend, and then go order tickets to meet your own needs.

Interactive Schedule:  The schedule for IBMA World of Bluegrass has been posted, although, as of this writing, it is not fully populated. On the IBMA web site there's an interactive schedule allowing the user to schedule activities and synch them directly to their computer or smart phone. This Schedule can be searched by Schedule, Speakers, Artists, Venue, and Attendees. Two smart phone apps, one for World of Bluegrass and one for Wide Open Bluegrass are also available for Android and IOS operating systems. I know....this is complicated, but apparently the logistics of combining the two are more daunting than I would suppose. Also, keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter for announcements from individual performers and presenters. This blog entry will be adjusted as more information comes online and I'll be putting up notices on my FB page and Twitter feed.

Update on 9/16/15: For those of you planning to attend World of Bluegrass and Wide Open Bluegrass, you can now download the 2015 apps and link them to your Smart Phone, either Android or Apple. I find it a bit confusing, but it works. Here's the link.

Business Conference

Announcement Screen  on Each Meeting Room

The words "Business Conference" carry with them an aura of stuffiness, serious consideration of serious topics in serious settings. Yes, but....this is a conference about music. There are extremely serious topics. In the past few years I've been at several riveting sessions about women in bluegrass. One of the best panels I ever attended, anywhere, brought together the Dailey & Vincent team (manager, lawyer, publicist, record company and the two principles) for a discussion of how this twice chosen Entertainer of the Year band was planned, brought together, and launched. This session would have been important to any band seeking to get off the ground. Another session I very much liked was an illustrated lecture on Loar mandolins presented by Roger Siminoff. You can find lots of these kinds of presentations from the 101 (beginning) level to the highest levels of professionalism. Beyond presentations, an integral part of the Business Conference is lots of music in the form of showcases by bands chosen as "Official Showcase" bands as well as after hours showcases put on by various sponsors: record companies, equipment companies, bluegrass association and so-on. These run from the end of Official Business at 11:00 PM until 2:00 AM, including events on the Bluegrass Ramble, appearing on the schedule all week long.

Nick Forster - 2015 IBMA Keynote Address

Keynote Address - This year's keynote address, on Tuesday evening accompanying a social event, features Nick Forster as the speaker. Nick is particularly appropriate for several reasons. He is a member of Entertainer of the Year nominated band Hot Rize exactly 25 years after they won the first Entertainer of the Year Award. He is also the originator and co-host of the popular NPR program eTown. Look for Nick to have interesting things to say about the bluegrass world, its past and future from the perspective of an experienced performer and broadcaster based in Colorado.

Elements of the Business Conference: Crucial to the educational experience of every organization I've belonged to are the meetings and sessions where attendees can come to a presentation made by experts in a field, listen, ask questions, and grow. This year's business conference was posted on September 1. You can now survey the offerings on line here. Hover your cursor over any topic that might interest you to learn more about who the presenters are and what they plan to talk about. Click on the topic to get it added to your calendar. Some hours during the conference contain as many as seven different events to attend. A short examination of this comprehensive list suggests the best program since we started attending World of Bluegrass in 2008. Over the next week or so, I expect the rest of the data base to be populated. You can search by topic, speaker, location, or other attendees.

You can get a jump on it by downloading the 2014 Apps to your Android or iPhone device. I understand the apps will automatically update to the 2015 versions when they become available. Careful study of the offerings should help you to plan your days and nights at the business conference. Meanwhile, some features are becoming more obvious.

Continuing Legal Education Track: This track is open to practicing lawyers to obtain required continuing legal education and to all people registered for the Business Conference. Topics include Starting a band, changes in music licensing law, ownership rights to music, and an update on entertainment law litigation. Should be great for lawyers and interested laymen. Go here for more information and to register for these sessions

The Talent Buyer Track: Designed as a forum for people who buy talent (an unfortunate phrasing) to discuss problems and opportunities within their communities and to meet talent they might wish to hire, this track is both social and business, featuring a networking events, Agent Pitch Sessions, the Gig Sessions (see below), networking opportunities in the Exhibit Hall, panels, and sponsored showcases. Register and get more information here.

Gig Fair

The Gig Fair can best be described as speed dating for talent buyers and bands. During ninety minute period, bands can meet with up to ten representatives of festivals, concert series, and other events for five minutes each with one minute between meetings. The Gig Fair takes place at 2:30 on Thursday afternoon.  Bands should arrive with a well-prepared presentation folder including a CD, pictures, examples of festivals where they've appeared, or other material designed to let a talent buyer know quickly what they have to offer. Some bring a laptop computer with them to show clips of their performances. This is a good opportunity to establish initial contact and recognition that should (MUST) be followed up later. There's an initial signup sheet available now. Later in September, after talent buyers have registered, bands will be able to sign up online for Gig Fair appointments soon. Keep an eye on this space. Don't make the mistake of trying to come to Gig Fair without having signed up online. Over time I've seen bands hurt their chances by not following the rules

Individual Gig Fair Presentation

The Bluegrass Ramble is, in many ways, the central musical event of the Business Conference and continuing into Wide Open Bluegrass. Thirty Official Showcase Bands have been chosen according to criteria established by IBMA including new and emerging bands and established bands making major changes. During the Ramble, which runs from September 29 - October 1, each band is guaranteed at least two opportunities to perform for potential talent buyers, at least one of which is in the Convention Center and one out in the Ramble locations. Six clubs within walking distance serve as live locations, also open to the public, for performances in typical club settings. Last year, when I saw the audience reaction at Tir Na Nog to The Lonely Heartstring Band, I was convinced they would be a hit band. The Bluegrass Ramble is a ticketed event, i.e. if you visit one of the locations on the Ramble, you must show your IBMA credentials or purchase entry at the door.  Showcases also take place during events like banquets, awards luncheon, and designated showcases. According to IBMA board member Ben Surratt, the Ramble structure has been changed this year to assure that more showcase performances will be held in the Convention Center to assure that those wishing to avoid the club scene or to spend less time getting to showcases will be able to see all showcase bands in the Convention Center.

Crowd for Lonely Heartstring Band at Tir Na Nog

Showcase bands receive a valuable package from IBMA including a booth in the Exhibit Hall, full conference registration for band members, their profile in the Conference Program and on the Apps, and more. Bands selected to Showcase can turn the opportunity into greater name recognition and more gigs with hard work and attention to detail. Applications to become a showcase band are early in the year. Some buyers prefer to see bands in a formal presentation in the Convention Center. Others like the live setting in clubs. Some prefer a combination, and you can design your own approach.

Quieter Scene at Village Church - Ramble Venue

The Exhibit Hall

The Exhibit Hall, located below ground level in the Convention Center is a huge flexible space where two incarnations of Exhibits, with considerable overlap, are located during World of Bluegrass and Wide Open Bluegrass. Open on Wednesday afternoon and all day Thursday for Business Conference registrants with credentials, the Exhibit Hall for the first two days is focused on Business to Business (B2B) interactions. Exhibits include large and small instrument makers, music publishers, book publishers, individual band booths, organizations, and more. If it's bluegrass related, it's probably represented there. For Friday and Saturday, during Wide Open Bluegrass, the Exhibit Hall is turned over and made free to the public. You will notice a more consumer oriented, commercial vibe, but many of the same vendors and organizations are present. As a part of their showcase fee, all Official Showcase Bands have a booth. The Exhibit Hall is always a bustling, busy, happy place. The opportunity to play instruments and try out gear will tax the most dedicated gear-head, while there's plenty of meet and greet networking going on, too. The Exhibit Hall is both a commercial and a social center of action at IBMA.

Awards Shows - Thursday
Award Show Hosts - The Gibson Brothers

There are actually two awards shows, both held on Thursday, October 1, acting as a wind-up of the Business Conference while helping to transition to what is, essentially, a huge bluegrass festival, although the business of doing business continues. Often seen as the signature event of IBMA's World of Bluegrass, the IBMA Award Show is a glittering production held in the Duke Energy Center, a concert hall seating 2263 people, stands as the high point of the week for many people who eagerly anticipate this event that has been a topic of avid speculation for weeks as the voting process has continued. Unfortunately, while there are a few surprises each year in the awards, there is also too much repetition, with the same people winning some awards year after year. Awards voted on by the professional membership vary little from what you might expect from a panel or universe of informed fans. A close examination of the history of award recipients will reveal these pattern. Nevertheless, the Awards Show is fun. Here's a checklist you can use to make your own choices to compare the results with who you would have chosen.

Many attendees also enjoy the Special Awards Luncheon held earlier on Thursday when industry awards for such seemingly more arcane, but, to many, equally important awards are given. The presentations for Distinguished Achievement Awards are often heartwarming and enlightening. Given to industry pioneers who've served the industry, often in quieter, but important roles. Nominees for Special Awards can be found at the bottom of the list above.

This year, Distinguished Achievement Awards will be given to:

Alison Brown

Murphy Henry

International Bluegrass Music Museum

“Bashful Brother” Oswald Kirby

Steve Martin

Wide Open Bluegrass - Friday & Saturday

Wide Open Bluegrass takes place on Friday and Saturday of IBMA's World of Bluegrass. The week has so far been an enjoyable and intensive one where members of IBMA have built relationships (both business and personal), seen and heard bands seeking to reach out to wider audiences by showcasing, attended a range of educational and social events, and recognized their stars, leaders, and history. For two days it now turns itself into a large, celebration of a variety of forms of bluegrass music presented in ticketed events and a large, free, street fair presented by the City of Raleigh, The Raleigh Center, The Raleigh Visitors and Convention Bureau, Pine Cone, and a large variety of other sponsors. Up to half of the net proceeds from the ticketed events at the Red Hat Amphitheater and in the Convention Center support the Bluegrass Trust Fund

The Red Hat Amphitheater

2014 Entertainer of the Year - Balsam Range

The Red Hat Amphitheater, a 5500 seat outdoor amphitheater, provides some of the top drawer names of Bluegrass Music during two days of concerts running from 11:30 in the morning until 11:00 PM. Some of the absolutely top drawer bluegrass bands touring today will perform. Here's the schedule. Alison Krause & Union Station close on Friday night, while the Sam Bush Band closes on Saturday. Look at the schedule for the full lineup. While tickets are going fast, a day ticket for $60 (members of IBMA) or $70 (non-members) is truly a bargain for this quality of band. The huge Jumbotron and the fine sound system make it a pleasure to listen to and watch concerts there. Buying food and drink in the Red Hat is expensive. 

Day Crowd at Red Hat Amphitheater

The StreetFest

The Free StreetFest is presented by the City of Raleigh, The Raleigh Visitor's and Convention Bureau, Pine Cone, and a range of other sponsors. For two days Fayetteville Street, from in front of the Duke Energy Center to the State Capitol is closed to traffic. Six stages are erected in the City Plaza in front of the Marriott and Sheraton hotels and on side streets off Fayetteville, while a wide and interesting variety of craft and food vendors set up along the street. Craft and product vendors emphasize North Carolina products, from art to instruments to foods produced within the state. Food vendors represent everything from standard fair food to gourmet ethnic meals. One of the great joys of this event is walking the street and seeing the variety of people who might not otherwise think they'd be attracted to bluegrass music who come to see and stay to fall in love with the traditional and contemporary forms of the music as it has developed. Here's a Schedule of Musical Events included in the Street Fair. This will soon be available on your Wide Open Bluegrass App. Bring your own folding chair.

Al Batten & the Bluegrass Reunion on a Street Stage

City Plaza Stage

One of the great delights of the StreetFest is seeing the number of people who might not otherwise ever even discover that bluegrass has something to offer them. Families with young children, people of all races and ethnic groups, casual drop-ins, and dedicated bluegrass fans came together during the free StreetFest to discover and enjoy the music.

Bands performing along the street at the six stages range from major national bands (Sierra Hull, Kenny & Amanda Smith, The Larry Stephenson Band, Special Consensus, and too many more to mention) to treasured regional bands, many of which can compete in quality with the best the national touring groups can offer (Al Batten & the Bluegrass Reunion, Sideline, The Snyder Family, the Moore Brothers), Don't miss the Kids on Bluegrass, composed of young people who have been learning, rehearsing, jamming, and just plain having fun together for several days, performance at the City Plaza Stage on Saturday afternoon. Over the years countless bluegrass professionals (including Chris Thile, Michael Cleveland, Cody Kilby, Sierra Hull, Cory & Jarrod Walker) have been recognized early through their performances at what used to be called Fan Fest's Kids on Bluegrass Prorgram.  Another highlight will be the highly regarded (Rolling Stone listed it as one of 2015's thirty top album's) bluegrass performance of The Who's rock opera Tommy by the Missouri based band The Hillbenders. All told, more than ninety bands will perform outdoors at the free StreetFest.

The Convention Center
Workshop Stage

During Wide Open Bluegrass there will be no ticketed events in the Convention Center. Access to all areas where there are bluegrass related activities is a part of the free StreetFest. You should download your Wide Open Bluegrass App now. It will automatically update when the 2015 material is released. You can then start examining the entire schedule and begin to make your own customized schedule based on your interests and needs.

Some highlights include the IBMA Bluegrass Film Festival, in which nine films, two at the Business Conference and seven during Wide Open Bluegrass will be shown and discussions with the film maker will be held afterwards. You can view all the trailers for these films here. Joe Craven will make a presentation on the present and future of bluegrass. We haven't seen Craven  in recent years, but if our past experience is any indication, this presentation will be entertaining and thought provoking. The sixty voice North Carolina Master Chorale accompanied by a five piece bluegrass band will present The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass in the Grand Concourse of the Raleigh Convention Center on Saturday afternoon.. Watch for this one!

Summation: While I encounter people at festivals everywhere we go who say that IBMA isn't for them, that it's deserted bluegrass, that they don't "get" anything from it, or that it isn't worth the investment, I couldn't disagree more. IBMA doesn't represent Nashville or Raleigh, it doesn't stand for traditional bluegrass or for interpretations of bluegrass that reflect changes in how music is made and consumed. It isn't designed to have immediate payoff in bookings or merch sales for every band and performer. It's not just about the commercial elements of the music, nor is it "all about the  music." Three or five days spent (invested in time and money) at IBMA represent a chance to affirm that each individual attending is a member of a community of people who love a musical genre and seek to spread its appeal, appreciate its history, and treasure its development. It's a place to meet your musical heroes and recognize their accomplishments while participating in nurturing its youth and up-and-comers. It's a place to treasure sounds you're familiar with and be exposed to musical ideas that might be new to you. In short, its a place that people who have attended regularly and belong to its organization look forward to all year long and glory in for five short days.