Tuesday, September 30, 2008

IBMA 2008 – Live – Monday

The GPS directed us from our campground out near the massive outlet mall Opry Mills and the new home of the Grand Old Opry into downtown Nashville. The Renaissance Center Hotel and the Nashville Convention Center share a large plot surrounded by structural evidence that music and God have enriched downtown Nashville. We found a convenient parking garage and walked to the Convention Center to pick up our credentials. We’re used to checking out a new festival site, but this setting is large and everywhere we turned we saw faces we recognized, people we knew directly or by reputation, and lots of hustle and bustle. Very quickly, the International Bluegrass Music Association changed from being a faceless entity devoted to the enhancement and development of bluegrass music into a living, breathing organism.

Sharon McGraw (editor of BU) and Mr. and Mrs. Tom Gray

Elderly Instruments Booth

1924 Gibson Loar - $225,000

We wandered down two flights of stairs to the exhibition area. Elderly Instruments, Martin and Gibson, Huber Banjos and Deering, Andrea Roberts’ and Jim Roe’s booking agencies, Bluegrass Unlimited and Bluegrass Now, as well as a couple of dozen other exhibitors were set up. Meeting and greeting, even on this rather slow Monday opening, was in full swing. We chatted with John Lawless and Brance Gillihan of The Bluegrass Blog, the giant of on-line chroniclers of the industry, saw Kyle Cantrell of XM radio and Ned Luberecki of Sirius radio, soon to be colleagues rather than competitors, and visited briefly with Eddie Adcock who is recovering from having a device implanted in his brain to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. We visited with Jim Van Cleve of Mountain Heart, Bryan Simpson of Cadillac Sky, Valerie Smith, Sharon McGraw, editor of Bluegrass Unlimited and many more people. In other words, we were enmeshed in the day-to-day activities of a business convention. Make no mistake about it, bluegrass music is a business. The business environment of the industry is changing due to changes in the economy, technology, and taste. Those who participate in it see the changes happening and know they must respond, and they don’t agree on what the solutions are. More about the exhibition area later with more and better pictures.

John Lawless, Brance Gilahan, Kyle Cantrell

Rick Lang & Larry Cordle

Jim Van Cleve

Carl Jackson, Dreema & Larry Stevenson
Dinner time arrived and we all trooped up to the Grand Ballroom for one of those typical banquet meals of dry steak and cool mashed potatoes along with apple pie tarts. Meanwhile, at the podium introductions were taking place. Greg Cahill, President of IBMA, and Mary Daub, promoter of Grey Fox and a long-time (and powerful former member) of the Board spoke briefly and then the evenings keynote speaker, Roger H. Brown, President of Berklee College of Music, was introduced. Berklee may be the only music school in the country that takes a serious interest in not only teaching its students how to perform, it also makes a serious commitment to assuring they will know how to make a living in music. It’s on the cutting edge of the music itself and the technology that presents the music.

Roger H. Brown, President, Berklee College of Music

Roger Brown and Mary Daub

Brown spoke about the state of the music industry at the time the Bill Monroe emerged as the true genius he was. The music industry, along with the rest of the country, was damped down by World War II and labor unrest; music was moribund. At this time, two parallel movements emerged to put new energy and life into American music. In Harlem, musicians like Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane were breaking free from the strictures of the bland, lifelessness of the time’s jazz and BeBop emerged. At almost the same time, Bill Monroe added Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt to his band, and a new music fusing elements of rural and popular music became bluegrass. Brown pointed out that if one were to draw a circle with a radius of sixty miles around Charlotte, it would encompass the birthplaces of Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Thelonius Monk, and Coltrane. The similarity of that moment and the present circumstances of the music industry were clear to anyone who wanted to hear them. Roger Brown then challenged the movers and shakers of a troubled industry to rise to the challenges presented by the current situation. He noted, without a hint of irony that the arc or the careers of these men, and many others, were successful enough to sustain careers, but not so successful as to destroy them the way many rockers and country musicians have been affected. He especially emphasized the importance of inculcating bluegrass performance in the schools. Finally, he laid on the table the assurance that bluegrass music will be experiencing change and urged everyone there to rise to the challenge.

Dixie Bee Liners

Eric Gibson

Lee Gibson and Mike Barber

The Steeldrivers

After his speech, which was warmly received, the first of four days of official showcases began. Each day, six bands will perform for roughly half an hour. Showcases provide an opportunity for emerging bands or ones making advances in their music to give brief performances for a rather large audience of professionals. The bands performing for the first showcase seemed chosen to exemplify to substance of Roger Brown’s keynote address. Each one was clearly rooted in bluegrass while presenting their music with a difference in tone, an edge, that showed a change in tone and emphasis reflecting contemporary roots and acoustic music. The official showcase bands suggested in their performances that honoring the traditions of the founders and growing the music in new and interesting directions are not incompatible goals. The six bands (Dixie Bee Liners, Cumberland Gap Connection, Dapple Grays, Widow Maker, The Gibson Brothers, and The Steeldrivers) came from different parts of the country as well as from Canada. Each showed distinctive sounds and styles while all were acoustic, using traditional instruments and vocal patterns. The showcase presented a sense of hope and future orientation.

"After Hours" Showcases

Runaway Freight

Ruth & Max Bloomquist

Charlie Sizemore
Each night at IBMA there are also “After Hours” showcases. After hours means beginning around 11:00 PM and continuing until two in the morning. These showcases, presented in meeting rooms of the Convention Center, are presented by bluegrass associations, manufacturers, recording companies, and regional groups. Performances last between fifteen minutes and half an hour and present five or six bands during the period. On Monday night there were twelve “After Hours” showcases featuring around sixty bands. Attendees drifted from showcase to showcase dropping in to support familiar bands, hear new ones, and conduct the business of networking and opening opportunities. Never forget, IBMA is a business conference for its first four days, and business is being done. More tomorrow.

Terry Baucom & Benny Greene

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Denton Farmpark BGF - Saturday with Pics

After two days of drizzle and rain, Saturday began with fog that lifted by noon starting time. Later in the day the sun actually came out for a while; the afternoon and evening were warm and pleasant, the music, especially from the three featured bands, sublime. The day began with two regional bands playing almost solely Gospel bluegrass.

Touch of Blue

Revonda Roberts & Harvest Wind


Grasstowne and its members have been nominated for four' IBMA awards this year - Emerging Artist of the Year, , Dobro Player of the Year (Phil Leadbetter), Song of the Year (Steve Gulley with Tim Stafford - "Through the Window of a Train), and Instrumental Album of the year for Jason Davis' album "Steppin' Out"+. Unfortunately, Alan Bibey has again been ignored for the mandolin player award consideration. This band, though less than two years out of the box, has established a reputation for musical excellence while creating their own signature sound growing out of the merging of three established stylists with two young, charging sidemen. Jason Davis, on banjo, though still only 20 years old, is showing signs of emerging as one of the current crop of very fine young banjo players. Gulley, Leadbetter, and Bibey have each been long recognized as top stylists in the field. Jayme Booher, a longtime member of his family band, has recently added his solid baritone voice to his fine bass beat. On Saturday Grasstowne was very well received by the knowledgeable audience at Denton.

Steve Gulley

Alan Bibey

Phil Leadbetter

Jayme Booher

Jason Davis

Gulley & Bibey

Booher & Davis

Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper

Mike Cleveland has established himself as one of the very finest fiddle players in bluegrass. Five time IBMA fiddle player of the year, Cleveland is nominated for a sixth consecutive award this year. In addition, Flamekeeper has been nominated for Instrumental Group of the Year. Cleveland's powerful, exciting fiddle playing is ably suported by Todd Rakestraw's strong voice and rhythm guitar, a very fine banjo player whose name I missed (someone - please help me here), and the seemingly ageless and always excellent Marshal Wilborn. Jesse Brock, one of the young mando tigers, is filled with energy and interesting licks while moving about the stage. Michael's "Lee Highway Blues" is one of the bluegrass classics.

Michael Cleveland

Todd Rakestraw

Marshall Wilborn

Jesse Brock

Blue Highway

Blue Highway has been together as a touring band with no substitutions for fifteen years. This must be some kind of record. Consider that well over 100 people played for Bill Monroe as Bluegrass Boys. The band has had a storied career performing a great deal of their own material written by Wayne Taylor, Tim Stafford, and Shawn Lane. Each member of the band has received wide recognition. This year Blue Highway has recieved nominations for six IBMA awards including song of the year, album of the year, instrumental group of the year, and instrument nominations for Rob Ickes on Dobro and Tim Stafford on guitar. Their album "Through the Window of a Train" (see my review here) has a reflective tone about it that suggests that these men are gaining a larger perspective on the world they write about as they mature. Even though Blue Highway has a storied past, their future remains bright and exciting.

Jason Burleson

Shawn Lane

Wayne Taylor

Tim Stafford

Rob Ickes

This and That

Bobby Franklin (emcee)

Two Dobros and a Guitar

Supper by Vernon and Norma Jean McLendon - Thanks!
Darrell's Banjos - Vintage Instruments

Doug Stuart (emcee)

Brown Loflin - Farmpark owner & Festival Promoter

It was a great festival, but I'm tired now.