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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.