Tuesday, October 11, 2016

IBMA 2016 - The Business Conference

Late on Monday afternoon we parked in our usual space in the parking garage next to the Raleigh Convention Center (RCC) for the beginning of our six day annual adventure to the welcoming city of  Raleigh, IBMA's World of Bluegrass and Wide Open Bluegrass. The two events, presented by the International Bluegrass Music Association, bluegrass music's trade association, and a Raleigh combine of city run institutions and PineCone, the major local traditional arts organization, combine to make the largest annual organized bringing together of bluegrass musicians, recording companies, event promoters, music publishers, and fans in the world to do business and make music. After last year's tropical storm forced the entire event indoors into the RCC, we were looking forward to a week of fine weather, allowing all the events to take place in their scheduled venues. Sir Walter Raleigh, standing outside the RCC with a arch of banjo rings surrounding him, welcomed all to IBMA in Raleigh.

I was headed to the Leadership Bluegrass reception and fund raiser hosted by the Williams/Mullens law firm in the PNC Bank building, while Irene got together with Katy Daly, who had just arrived in town. North Country Public Radio's Barb Heller had once again prepared a sumptuous buffet while the Harris Brothers with Darin Aldridge provided the music. Guests enjoyed the music, the reunion, and the fellowship.

Barb Heller

Wayne Taylor & Frank Solivan

The Harris Brothers with Darin Aldridge

Bill Knowlton & Tom Kopp

The View from the 17th Floor

The Business Conference begins to really ramp up on Tuesday morning with registration followed by a first time attendees orientation meeting to help newcomers orient themselves to the scene and the process. 

The Registration Booths in the RCC

The mammoth lobby of the RCC functions as a meeting and reunion space throughout the week. People who haven't seen each other since last year move amoeba-like into a variety of groups as they chat, hug, greet, and acknowledge each other. The whole week features a human flow, helping maintain the connection that exists throughout this large and diverse community, which, this year, became increasingly aware of exactly how diverse it is.

Raymond McClain (Morehead State University) and Bill Knowlton (Bluegrass Ramble Host)
Greet the Price Sisters

This year's programmatic emphases sought to explore and extend four interest tracks: Talent Buyer, Continuing Legal Education (CLE), Songwriter, and Wellness. What emerged to me, from Marion Leighton-Levy's emotionally charged and challenging keynote address on Tuesday afternoon through the range of music presented in the Red Hat Amphitheater and during the Street Fair on Friday and Saturday, was the amazing diversity in our music and the people who make it, as well as the potential fan base available to enjoy it. Though still largely a white group celebrating a rural, southern, traditional music, the sense of "changing of the guard" in age, race, gender, education, and geography was clear to anyone who looked and listened. 
The Board Meeting
Paul Schiminger, Ben Surratt, Regina Derzon

The IBMA Board of Directors, composed of members elected by their constituencies (artist, producer, record label, radio broadcaster, etc.) met for two days laboring over problems and planning for the future. At the end of their sessions they elected Joe Mullins, band leader and radio executive, to the often thankless job of Chairman of the Board for a one year term that can be renewed two times, Mullins began his term by visiting all the constituency meetings during the next two days, an act of inclusion not seen before, and welcomed by all. 

 Becky Buller

The Board Room

New Board Chairman: Joe Mullins

The Grammy Session

This well attended session focused on the Grammy Awards, the annual highlight award show of the Recording Academy. There is a risk that the bluegrass award will be dropped due to lack of participation by bluegrass recording artists and record labels. Ken Irwin of Rounder Records, two representatives of the Grammy Awards, Jerry Douglas, and former board chairman Jon Weisberberger, were the panelists. This panel is representative of the high quality and knowledgeably of typical IBMA panels during the business conference.

Panelists for the Grammy Awards Presentation

How to Build a Band

Another interesting meeting featured Laurie Lewis, Larry Stephenson, Kimber Ludiker, and Pete Wernick discussing approaches to building a band, ways of organizing it and leadership styles. Panels such as this one provide valuable wisdom and deep experience for those considering entering the bluegrass business as they look at the rigors and joy of life on the road. 

The Gig Fair

The Gig Fair, an event providing the opportunity for bands or their representatives to meet directly with promoters of festivals was held this year on Tuesday afternoon, the first day of World of Bluegrass. I had feared that this always crowded event would have sparse attendance because it was held on the afternoon of the first day. Not to worry...the floor was crowded inside with many bands waiting at the door for their scheduled appointments. Bands, with appointments made through online registration, have five minutes to meet face-to-face with festival and event organizers, creating an opening for later follow-up. I liken it to bluegrass speed dating, but the gig fair offers a terrific opportunity for new and more established bands to widen their web of acquaintances with events from around the world. 

Laroche is a Major Festival Held in France

Veteran Tim Shelton Meets with Christoper Howard-Williams 
of La Roche

The Zolla Boys Getting Their Feet Wet

Everyone Moves After the Five Minute Bell

Grey Fox Interview - A Big Catch

Mile Twelve with the Texas Bluegrass Association

Bluegrass Belongs to Us All

A very well-attended workshop session facilitated by Trisha Tubbs, who also leads the annual Leadership Bluegrass in Nashville, took a careful look at the issue of diversity within the bluegrass community. The panel, including people of color, gay and transgender reps, a conservative Christian and women explored, in a workshop format, ways to deal effectively with increasing diversity and becoming more inclusive. The spirit in the meeting was warm, welcoming, and hopeful for the inclusion of those previously either excluded or ignored by bluegrass music.

Facilitator: Trisha Tubbs

The Panel

The Attendees

Keynote Reception
Loren Gold - Executive Vice President
Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Keynote Reception &  Address is the official welcoming event of IBMA's World of Bluegrass, although the meeting has been on full throttle since morning. Also featuring several showcases, this evening meeting welcomes conference attendees while featuring a welcoming addresses from city officials and the Keynote Address, designed to set the tone for the week. Marion Leighton-Levy, one of three Rounder Founders, presented this year's keynote, speaking eloquently and directly about the mountain roots and African roots of bluegrass music while calling for increased inclusiveness and diversity to be welcomed into a frequently not-so-welcoming form of music.

Laurie Okun 
Director of Sales & Marketing - RCC

Nancy McFarland - The Mayor of Raleigh

Mayor McFarland greeted the assembled members of IBMA as she has each year we've been in Raleigh. Mayor McFarland's appearance represents more than merely the pro-forma greetings of the city's establishment. She and her husband sponsor a major stage during Wide Open Bluegrass and she was an active attendee at events when her other duties permitted.

Paul Schiminger
Executive Director of IBMA

In a brief speech, Paul Schiminger highlighted the progress that has been made at IBMA during the first year of his tenure as Executive Director. He also identified several directions still needing attention while welcoming everyone to the fourth IBMA convening in Raleigh.

Marian Leighton Levy 
Keynote Address

Marion Leighton-Levy, one of the three Rounder Founders, delivered an eloquent and thought provoking address in which she highlighted the increasing evidence of women's influence within bluegrass while calling for still greater diversity and inclusiveness. Then, throughout the rest of the week, her reassuring and unassuming presence was always, at least for us, evident. Her willingness to stop, chat, and share her insights as well as seek out the pulse of ideas coming from others is a never-ending source of pleasure and learning. 

In her keynote address, Marion Levy said, "The bluegrass community, and bluegrass culture generally, has probably never been more varied than it is now.  As such, it is made up of people from more wide-ranging cultural backgrounds and different musical paths than ever before.  Yet, still, I am reminded of those early days of Rounder, when we first were getting to know folks whose opinions, about all sorts of things, including music, could not be more different from our own, but with kindness, respect, and openness, friendship and mutuality were always possible...." and concluded, "From the beginnings of bluegrass, people have always come to the music from different places, whether it's Bill Monroe learning from a black guitar-player in western Kentucky to jazz or folk or chamber music influences in more recent generations.  John Virant, the fourth Rounder, came up with a good line for some of our ads at this year's World of Bluegrass, one we Rounders all wholeheartedly embrace, 'Music doesn't discriminate.' There is a lot to be learned from music and from musicians, always evolving, experimenting, and growing, because, when it comes right down to it, if music doesn't discriminate, then, I ask you, why should we?"  When it becomes more widely available, be sure to read this speech in its entirety. We can always learn from Marion Leighton-Levy and the other Rounder Founders.


Throughout the week an amoeba-like crawl of musicians of all stripes coalesced, shifted shape, re-formed, and kept on finding nooks and crannies to jam late into the night. The hallways of the Marriott Hotel became a cacophony of competing, yet somehow complementary sounds as the jams continued and grew.

Joe Newberry, Greg Cahill, and Richie Brown Found a Quiet Space

Greg Donlan

Showcase Bands
The Molly Tuttle Band

A committee of IBMA members selected thirty bands from many, many applications to be showcase bands. These bands were guaranteed at least two performances in the RCC or at club sites on the Bluegrass Ramble, but most were in evidence throughout the proceedings. Nevertheless, it takes both hard work and persistence to see every showcase band and make decisions about hiring them for future performances. This was the first year I didn't get out to the Ramble sites, largely because of the time involved and my own lack of discipline. Nevertheless, anyone wishing to see the breadth of talent and diversity of understanding concerning the nature of bluegrass could find it on display at showcases, events sponsored by organizations and recording companies, and more. Music is everywhere at IBMA, running the gamut from traditional to wildly innovative, but, somehow, always related to the roots from which it came. The range and level of musicianship as well as imagination displayed was simply breathtaking. 

Jenny Lynn

 The John Jorgenson Band

Red Wine

Martino Cappo

Silvio Ferretti - New International Member
IBMA Board of Directors

Missy Raines & the New Hip

Designated Tracks

Four specific tracks were designated by the IBMA program staff as emphases this year. Each Track emphasized a crucial element important to the industry. The songwriter track had numerous meetings for discussion of approaches to songwriting as well as sharing circles, seminars, and social occasions. The CLE (Continuing Legal Education) track provided opportunities for lawyers to get credit for attending as well as those interested in legal issues such as copyright, licensing, and digital rights to gain information and skills. The Wellness Track, though not featuring seminars, provided opportunities for convention registrants to obtain information and screenings for hearing, vision, and dental issues as well as support in finding health care for a group of people who often fall between the health care cracks. The major event of the Talent Buyer Track is, of course, the Gig Fair, but social opportunities and meetings were held to assist talent buyers. Of course, the showcases in the RCC and the Ramble sites were designed for talent buyers to increase their knowledge of what's available. There has been a very interesting series of posts to the IBMA members mailing list (an increasingly obsolete platform for discussions) concerning the balance between Ramble sites and showcases in the RCC and sites in the Marriott hotel. I heard several comments about what some attendees felt was too heavy an emphasis on the song writer track. For me, the breadth and scope of this year's program, while demanding, was the best of any IBMA Business Conference I've attended. The Education Committee deserves kudos for its hard work and the ensuing fine results. 

The Exhibit Hall

The Exhibit Hall opens after the Momentum Awards luncheon on Wednesday afternoon and almost immediately becomes a central place for conveners to meet and greet each other, try out instruments, purchase gear, and just plain prowl the aisles. During the preceding night and the afternoon opening, a remarkable transformation takes place, as this massive space becomes the commercial center of both the Business Conference and Wide Open Bluegrass. I sneaked down to the Expo Hall on Wednesday morning to get a few "Before" pictures to give a sense of how remarkable the "After" becomes.


Elderly Instruments

Sorenson Mandolins

Deering Banjos


and so much more....

The entirety of IBMA's World of Bluegrass Business Conference provides too much for any single chronicler to capture while still seeking to participate as well as observe and report. Nevertheless, this has, I hope, given some sense of its scope. More coming soon.....