Thursday, October 8, 2015

IBMA - World of Bluegrass 2015 - The Business Conference



The huge poster in the window over the main entrance to the Raleigh Convention Center is emblematic of the welcome IBMA experiences everywhere in Raleigh during the week of IBMA. This bustling city serves as the capital of North Carolina and its major cultural center in the midst of three great universities, museums, concert halls, and fine restaurants, all of which are part and parcel of a great city. Raleigh, through the local organizing committee has partnered with IBMA to put together this marvelous week celebrating, considering, and making bluegrass music, a musical form and sound that's present in the city's core. When IBMA moved to Raleigh three years ago, it was always understood that the big plans afoot were also somewhat risky, as much of the activity would take place outdoors. 2015 was the year of the test, as a tropical storm settled over the Carolinas, and it rained, sometimes in a sheets and sometimes as a hard drizzle, for most of five days. The result emerged as a triumph of planning, cooperation, and amity as the large Wide Open Bluegrass Street Festival and concert at the Red Hat Amphitheater were moved indoors on forty-eight hours notice and ran with barely a hitch, creating the most exciting IBMA World of Bluegrass since we first attended in 2008. Congratulations to all! Here's the story:

Sir Walter Raleigh Gets Dressed in His Banjo Rims

 Leadership Bluegrass Reception
Williams Mullen Law Firm Offices on Monday
Jamie Dawson & William Lewis

Leadership Bluegrass, an educational program open to about twenty-five applicants per year, provides team building and educational experiences for a broad cross-section of leaders and potential leaders in the bluegrass industry: artists, promoters, publicists, publishers, luthers and more. The annual reception, held at the Williams Mullen Law Firm in the PNC Band building provides LBG with a delightful venue to congregate before the coming five days of constant action where getting together is somewhat more problematic. It was a good time, so good I forgot to take many pictures.

Jon Weisberger & Russell Johnson

Barb Heller - North Country Public Radio's
 Gift to Music & Good Food

As an attendee and a reporter, I found myself continually torn during the the three days of the Business Conference. As an attendee, I wanted to sit in on interesting panels, participating fully in the event. As a reporter, I wanted to try to accomplish an impossible task - cover it all. Even with both of us prowling the floors of the Raleigh Convention Center, coverage and attendance are competing urges, which tore at both of us. Nevertheless, here's an overall snapshot of Business Conference.

The Annual Board Meeting

The IBMA Board of Directors met on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday for its largest face-to-face meeting of the year. Presided over by outgoing Board Chairman Jon Weisberger and with new Executive Director Paul Schiminger very much on hand. When I stopped by to visit, the Board was working with a process consultant who was helping them work through some issues that had been prominent over the last year or so. Their was a spirit of amity and cooperation that enfused the room and bode well for the future. By the end of the meetings, the Board had chosen Tim Surrett, bass player for Balsam Range which records for Mountain Home Records where Tim is involved with marketing and production with parent company Crossroads, as Chairman of the Board. As the conference progressed through an event made stressful by the changes caused by weather, it became clear that the new regime under the leadership team of Surrett and Schiminger was very much in charge and that good things were happening. 

Executive Director - Paul Schiminger

Chairman of the Board -Tim Surrett

Those interested in reading documents like meeting minutes, audit reports, and other reports affecting the business of IBMA can access them here as they become available. These are public documents and give people interested in the governance of IBMA insights into both the process and the financial standing of the organization. 

Keynote Address

The Keynote Address and Reception marks the official opening of World of Bluegrass on Tuesday evening. It sets the tone and provides attendees with some ways to think about the upcoming week. This year it also marked the initial meeting between the gathered membership and Paul Schiminger, the new Executive Director of IBMA. As such, there were actually two Keynote addresses, as Paul introduced himself and set his initial and long-term themes as ED followed by a useful and amusing talk by Hot Rize's Nick Forster. 

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarland Welcomes IBMA

It's worthwhile noting here that Mayor McFarland's appearance represented much more than a pro-forma appearance by a local politician. She and her husband are genuine bluegrass fans, sponsoring a major stage from their own pockets. I was happy to be introduced to her by fiddler/luthier Jimmy Edmonds in the Red Hat Amphitheater on Friday night, where she was enjoying the show. Mayor McFarland has just been re-elected as Mayor of Raleigh, and congratulations to her.

Laurie Okun - Convention Center Sales Director

Sales Director is an inadequate title for this whirlwind of energy whose hard work and endless hours during World of Bluegrass and Wide Open Bluegrass served to  help keep things on track and to meet the needs of countless people for whom she greased the wheels and kept things moving forward. Her enthusiasm for IBMA is unmatched, serving as a driving force to recruit IBMA to Raleigh.

Loren Gold - Executive Vice President
Raleigh Visitors and Convention Bureau

 Loren Gold has been involved with IBMA's move to Raleigh since the move from Nashville became inevitable. He's schooled himself on the culture and nature of the bluegrass community and IBMA on the realities of functioning in a new and more welcoming environment. 

Paul Schiminger 
IBMA - Executive Director

In what amounted to a brief inaugural address as well as a welcome to the members of IBMA, Paul Schiminger emphasized the importance of community building, of seeing IBMA as a large family which thrives because of its differences rather than despite them. His upbeat message, articulation of the organization's goals, and personable demeanor all made it clear that he's capable of providing leadership for the continued re-invigoration of IBMA. 

Keynote Address - Nick Forster

Nick Forster, original member of Hot Rize and founder of NPR's well-regarded music program eTown, like many in leadership positions at IBMA, spoke to the membership from multiple perspectives: performer, broadcaster, businessman. As such, he is well placed to speak about the intersection of art and commerce within the context of a trade association meeting. His talk emphasized our diversity by highlighting his own background and development as well as our commonalities. 

Business Conference Sessions

This year's Conference was carefully designed to increase participation in all elements of the event while make it easier to manage time and priorities. Most presentations were held in the morning hours allowing participants to choose sessions which they would find beneficial for their growth and learning as professionals. Sessions were staffed by competent moderators who kept the discussions moving and on target, and included panel members who were well-known within the profession for having achieved or excelled in the topic of the session. For instance, a panel called "Playing Well Together: Techniques for Surviving on the Road" was moderated by Claire Lynch and included Mark Schatz, Ron Block, and Stephen Mougin, all of whom have extensive experience working with extremely busy and successful bands. Another session was called "DJ Boot Camp: Better Broadcasting Techniques. It was moderated by broadcast executive Joe Mullins and included Sherry Boyd and Katy Daley. Such deep experience provides significant input to broadcasters, many of whom eagerly produce shows for small local stations or for internet streaming. And it was filled with infomation and humor. After nearly a decade of attending IBMA Business Conference sessions, I've never seen so many artists and managers awake and alert at sessions in the mornings.





Front Country at Evening Showcase in the Convention Center


Showcase bands are chosen by a committee based on applications by bands and governed by criteria posted on the IBMA web site. This year thirty bands were selected to showcase and guaranteed at least two showcases appearances, although I suspect that they actually received more, given the number of opportunities available. They also receive a number of other valuable benefits for the expense incurred in applying to showcase. 

Chris Henry 

Chris Henry & Hardcore Bluegrass - Showcase Band

Showcase bands also performed at one or more of the six remote venues included in the Bluegrass Ramble.  The Ramble was open to all members registered for the Business Conference and to the general public on a ticketed basis. Buyers wishing to see bands in a clublike performance setting with a more general audience could easily get to the six contrasting venues to see Showcase bands as well as many other regional and national bands performing in these venues. Meanwhile, people wishing to assure themselves of seeing all the showcase bands could probably get to see them within the confines of the Raleigh Convention Center. I'd be interested to know, however, how the ease of access to showcase bands in the Convention Center and/or the weather affected the more remote clubs where many bands also appeared. I'd also like to see Monday added back to the World of Bluegrass, as the number of choices became almost overwhelming. The intensity of the week  and the crowds continued to  build throughout the week. 

The Gig Fair provides an opportunity for bands to make initial contact with festivals, concert halls, and other performance venues in what is, essentially, a speed-dating experience. Despite my, perhaps, ill-chosen words, Gig Fair offers a chance for bands to present themselves in a brief, focused way to those who might wish to purchase their services. I'll be writing a piece later this fall or early next year about the preparation and process necessary for bands to make the most of this potentially valuable experience. 
The Setup for Gig Fair

Charm City Junction Meeting with a Buyer

Front Country at the John Hartford Festival Table

Joe Val Festival Meets with Johnny Williams

"Unofficial" Showcases



Throughout the Business Conference so-called Unofficial showcases and sponsored events occur for various constituencies, companies, and interest groups to highlight their area of concern. In these photos, Mountain Home showcased several of its bands in performance alone and in combination. The large room was packed for this three hour show. 


Darin & Brooke Aldridge

Flatt Lonesome Waiting to Go On

Other events included in afternoon sessions during the Business Conference included a film festival, constituency group meetings (broadcasters, agents, media, recording companies, and several others). Whole strands provided presentations, social events, and networking opportunities for continuing legal education (quite a success!), song circles for song writers, youth activities, international members meet & greet, and many more. Because of our diversity, many needs are met in engaging and thoughtfully different ways. Fortunately, the disruptive golf outing seems to have been dropped from the schedule. Otherwise, the biggest problem in attending the business conference in deciding what to do next and how to find enough time. 

The Bluegrass Expo Hall

The Bluegrass Expo Hall is one of the major nerve centers of the entire week. Open to ticketed attendees during the Business Conference and free to the general public during Wide Open Bluegrass. It is completely turned over between the two elements of IBMA, with many vendors from the business event choosing to leave, while other, perhaps more commercial, vendors arrive and set up their booths. Many stay for the entire four days Hall is open. A walk through the Hall provides chances to demo instruments, see supported artists perform in sponsors booths, hear bluegrass greats play at vendors who manufacture signature instruments, and network, network, network. The exhibith hall is always an instructive an enjoyable place to be when you have a spare moment. 


Some Booths




Each Showcase Band Has a Booth


It's simply impossible to get it all in or for two people adequately to cover such an event. I've chosen to highlight events where we were. This year the Business Conference involved more people in more creative and intriguing events than ever before, at least for us. Awards Shows and Wide Open Bluegrass coming in a few days.

Oh!...And There Was Wall-to-Wall Jamming