Monday, September 30, 2013

IBMA's World of Bluegrass in Raleigh - The Business Conference

Sir Walter Raleigh Welcomes IBMA to Town

 The Front of the Raleigh Convention Center

While the precise numbers aren't in, and it will take a while for all that went on in Raleigh, NC this week at the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual World of Bluegrass Meeting, the consensus seems to be that a new, re-imagined, and re-invigorated IBMA has successfully held its first convention in Raleigh, and it was a smash hit from every perspective. While there were plenty of glitches and some important matters fell through the cracks, thousands of people who have been regulars at IBMA through its history at Owensboro, Louisville, and Nashville came to to town to see what was going to happen and were won over by the warmest welcome they could conceive everywhere they went. Of course there are still some grumpy folks who resent coming over the mountains from Nashville, while there are others who are better at picking holes than they are at embracing this combination of new packaging and old sounds mixed with new renderings of there delivery, but the five day event was nothing short of a triumph.

Art Menius, a founding member of IBMA and a deeply experienced bluegrass and music executive wrote, "Raleigh is a major re-framing, a sincere transformation of WOB, but much in the spirit of Tony’s [Rice] speech, it not only preserves but strengthens what is essential. This week saw the Owensboro vision of 1985-1986 brought fully to life. I wish Terry Woodward, Sonny Osborne, and Burley Phelan could have seen it. This was [the original vision] in remarkable detail almost 30 years later in a different place with different people, but I saw what we talked about all around me come to life." Over the next week, I'll try to put the event into perspective in both words and pictures. As I viewed and selected photos yesterday, I found that I had spent too much time enjoying and participating to do the job I wish I had been able to do pictorially.  I want to apologize for that at the outset. Now, let's try to look at what we experienced in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Opening Reception and Keynote Address
 ice sculpture

A Lovely Reception Preceded the Keynote

New IBMA Board Chairman Jon Weisberger
Welcomes the Membership to Raleigh 

Keynote: Noam Pikelny

 Noam Pikelny, first winner of the Steve Martin prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, delivered the keynote address on Tuesday afternoon.  With humor and humility, he emphasized the common threads holding us all together, speaking eloquently about his voyage from his earliest learning in bluegrass banjo to his realization that he must follow his own creative muse wherever it takes him. He spoke with fervor about his belief that whatever directions some bluegrass takes, there will always be those who will find their way back to Bill Monroe and the other first generation creative geniuses who set us on the road and whose music continues to influence and inform bluegrass music. David Menconi wrote in the online edition of the Raleigh News Observer, "But the reason bluegrass is on the rise, Pikelny said, is that it’s “overflowing with authenticity” compared to the pop mainstream. And while some acts passing for bluegrass nowadays might have given Bill Monroe pause, Pikelny argued that all this attention is still a net positive...I’m not asking you to embrace any music or musicians just because they’re wrapped in this flag of bluegrass that’s been so near and dear to us for so long,” he said. “I’m asking you to acknowledge that the definition of bluegrass has always been ethereal, and not to get bogged down in debates over what is bluegrass and what is not.” I'm eager to read the published version of Pikelny's fine speech to glean other gems from it. The audience rewarded the balanced, sometimes humorous, and always thoughtful presentation with a standing ovation.

Read more here:

Bill Knowlton

Seminars and Workshops
Nancy Cardwell Holds Orientation

The lines between business and entertainment at World of Bluegrass sometimes become pretty blurred, as they should. The business of bluegrass relies on bringing the talent (performers) together with the buyers (promoters, recording company executives, booking agents, artist management, equipment manufacturers, publishers, and other constituencies) together in an environment where the names that have become familiar can become faces and personalities which can interact in a more personal and engaged environment. Often the initial contact as well as the nurturing of previous ones takes place at IBMA. At seminars and receptions, in showcases and the Convention Center hallways, along the streets, and in hotel rooms and suites the business of bluegrass music is conducted. It all sometimes seems overwhelming, the buying and selling, the trying to make a good impression and generate further business, but those wishing to succeed must work at it to take advantage of every minute available. And no one can cover or experience it all.

Kim Ruehl (No Depression), Amy Reitnouer (The Blugrass Situation),
 John Lawless (Bluegrass Today), and Shannon Wayne Turner (Freelance Writer)

It's rare that artists and media people can come together to explore and discuss the emerging and crucial world of e-commerce. Here, four most important media titans talk and answer questions about the emerging world of online publication and publicity without any holding back. This seminar was packed, as were almost all those held, with those wishing to have greater impact in letting the world know what they're doing.

Women in Bluegrass - Pretty Good for a Girl

The publication of Murphy Henry's new book Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass became the occasion for this panel of distinquished and varied women to examine the problems and joys of developing and expanding the role of women in bluegrass from the perspective of performers. The panel on women in bluegrass  business is yet to be held, but is surely soon to come, with or without a book. The panel attracted a standing room crowd for a lively discussion, at once intriguing, controversial, moving, and funny.Participants there learned, many shared, and all who cared to listen came away with new and enlarged perspectives and understandings.

Gina Britt, Kimber Ludiker, Laurie Lewis, Murphy Hicks Henry,
Kathy Kallick & Annie Staninec

Showcase Luncheon

Official showcases present a series of bands to those who can help them develop their businesses in every way. They are selected by a showcase committee on application to perform. Twenty-five bands were selected to showcase and they performed on stage at the Convention Center and on the Bluegrass Ramble at six locations within walking distance throughout the full five days. Each showcase band was guaranteed several performances. All told there were 168 opportunities to showcase in quiet and noisy, nearby and more remote official locations. Add to that the numerous opportunities during the two days of Wide Open Bluegrass, and it becomes obvious that, with planning, it was easy to see and evaluate many bands. 

Kathy Kallick Band at the Showcase Luncheon

Dave Adkins

Jim Beaver (DJ) and Roger Moss (Promoter)

Vickie Vaughn Band

Master Workshop Stage

Every day the Master Workshop stage featured performances as well as question & answer sessions focused on instruments and special kinds of presentations that were always well attended.

Bluegrass Pioneers
Lily Pavlek, Sir Walter Raleigh & Al Hawkes

The Exhibit Hall

The Exhibit Hall functioned as a link between the Business Conference and Wide Open Bluegrass. Several kinds of commerce take place in the exhibit hall and networking is crucial there. People do purchase things, but the face-to-face opportunities between all constituencies in the bluegrass business take place in the exhibit hall. It's a lively and crowded marketplace, like a small town open street on market day. An impressive and large scale exhibit called the North Carolina Pavilion dominated a corner of the hall featuring bands, products, and business instruments from within the state as well as sponsoring some seminars and workshops. 

Deering Banjos

Old Time Music

 Trying Out Instruments and Jamming

D'Addario Strings

Elderly Instruments
The North Carolina Pavilion

Mark "Brink" Brinkman & Niall Toner
Jamming in the Hallway

 WAMU's Bluegrass Country

Each year WAMU's Bluegrass Country, a major World of Bluegrass sponsor, hosts four days of live radio broadcasts in a room turned into a radio studio, featuring six bands a day. These shows, part of a live broadcast to the home station in Washington, D.C. heard on 105.5 FM in Washington and streamed worldwide at Bluegrass programs established and emerging bands. The studio is usually crowded and sometimes packed to the gills.  The music in the room is acoustic and the audience is asked to maintain silence during performances and to cheer loudly when appropriate. This year, the Bluegrass Country staff also traveled to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science to present a special evening program in a brand new studio there featuring Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver as well as Joe Newberry and his band.

The Kathy Kallick Band at Bluegrass Country

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road at Bluegrass Country

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Lee Michael Demsey & Katy Daley
Having a While of a Time at the Museum

The Studio from a Remote Theater

The Grass Cats with Katy Daley
In the Studio

The Bluegrass Ramble
at the Pour House

 The Bluegrass Ramble represents a major change in presenting showcase bands. Using five bars, a converted church, and the Convention Center as performance venues, World of Bluegrass registrants using their registration tags and other people paying individual admission at each venue were treated to a huge variety of styles and approaches to bluegrass music. Bands were able to strut their stuff in the kinds of venues where they actually play, and talent buyers could see real reactions from genuine music lovers to these performances. While requiring some degree of mobility to get to most of the venues, they were generally seen as an enormous opportunity to both bands and buyers as well as the general public.  Next year, participants will know better how to utilize these marvelous opportunities.

 Johnny Staats at the Pour House

Red Wine at the Pour House

The Audience at the Pour House

Brooke Aldridge

I was unable to get to the Gig Fair this year, and I'm sure that even taking photographs and participating as much as I was able, we missed much that was going on. Nevertheless, business was conducted in every aspect of the Business Conference. Bands not getting opportunities to present themselves to the constituencies they wanted to see them were simply not working the convention effectively.  Buyers were everywhere, and they wanted to see and hear new as well as established bands. 

The Awards shows on Wednesday

Sunday, September 29, 2013

What's This? Another Bluegrass Blog - Guest Blog by Jim Bourey

Jim Bourey is a retired business man living in Dover, Delaware. He's a published poet who has appeared in small magazines from northern New York State to New Orleans. He says he had always had an interest in Country music, but became an instant bluegrass fan upon hearing the Gibson Brothers near their home in the North Country. He usually writes about politics and poetry, and the Gibson Brothers, which explains his opening paragraph. He followed IBMA's World of Bluegrass from his home in Dover by combing the Internet for YouTube videos, live streaming, FaceBook posts, and more. Here's his reaction:
This one isn’t about politics.  And it’s not about poetry.  But it is a subject that I return to now and again even though I don’t think my reading audience is packed full of Bluegrass music fans.  My hope is that you good folks will read this thing and be moved to take a fresh look at the freshest thing going on in the world of music.  And what is prompting my muse today, you ask?  You did ask, didn’t you?  Well, the answer is the annual International Bluegrass Music Awards events which were held in Raleigh, North Carolina over the past several days.

Usually I’d go on and on about how my friends the Gibson Brothers were the highlight of the event, walking away with the top awards.  They did.  But I’m more inclined to tell you all about the awards show and the peripheral events that were enjoyed by thousands of fans.  Even though I wasn’t in attendance in Raleigh the magic of modern technology brought the excitement and feel of the festivities right up here to little old Dover, Delaware.  There was a live feed of the awards show over the internet and on Sirius/XM radio, Facebook feeds and YouTube video postings also kept us involved and fired-up.  It’s winding down now but at various times on Thursday and Friday it was hard to keep up with everything.

We’ve all seen awards shows.  They’re highly predictable with just enough suspense and controversy to keep an audience coming back after the commercial breaks.  They’re packaged events that follow a reliable formula, often with lip-synced musical acts and tiresome acceptance speeches.  Music awards shows are closely watched for the “scandalous” fashions and profane verbal “faux-pas”.   There was none of that at the IBMA awards.  There were awards and some brief and honest acceptance speeches.  There were a couple hall of fame inductions.  One of those involved a miracle of sorts, with guitar virtuoso and singer Tony Rice demonstrating how his voice, lost about nineteen years ago, was gradually coming back to a point where he may just sing again.  And there was music.  But this music wasn’t mouthing and pretending over some studio produced recording.  This was live music, driving hard, with strong instrumental solos – some of them inspired, and real, solid heartfelt vocals.  These folks weren’t faking.  They weren’t putting on airs.  Nope, they were delivering their art.

It’s hard to single out any one performer or group for accolades.  They all gave performances that were award worthy.  The flow of the show wasn’t always without a glitch here and there.  But it was all warmly received with an incredible amount of goodwill between the audience and the performers and between performer and performer.  People were happy to be there and it showed.  The audience didn’t need cues for applause or laughter.  It was all natural.

Then after the awards show (and in the time leading up to it) there were concerts and jam sessions all over the Raleigh area.  There was a “Kids on Bluegrass” show, there was a Red Hat Amphitheater top name concert, and there were late night and early morning shows at various venues featuring bands with guest musicians.  Jam sessions popped up in hotel rooms, building lobbies and in backstage areas all around town.  There was even a banjo players’ “flash mob” at the Sir Walter Raleigh statue.  Many of these great performances can be seen on YouTube.  I was particularly impressed by one I saw that featured the Gibson Brothers Band and Sierra Hull.

So, after reading all of the above you’re probably wondering how a sophisticated and erudite individual such as myself could possibly be so smitten with all that twangy hillbilly plucking and whining.  If that question is in your mind then friend, you haven’t listened to Bluegrass lately.  There is no fresher music, music that draws on the origins of traditional country and American roots forms, being made today.  Yes there are plinking mandolins and banjos.  But they are played with drive and innovation.   The guitars are acoustic and the fiddles are sometimes mournful.  But the players are often masters of their instruments.  Even less skilled musicians are making valuable contributions to the great body of Bluegrass music.  And the rhythm section of a Bluegrass band is usually supported by a big old stand-up bass fiddle.  Today’s bass players know how to build a foundation for some mighty fine beat keeping.

That’s not the whole story though.  Another part of modern Bluegrass is songwriting.  Great songwriters are contributing to the genre every day.  Eric and Leigh Gibson, Sean Camp, Sam Bush, Joe Newberry, Tim O’Brien, Jamie Dailey, Claire Lynch and dozens of others are bringing new songs into this traditional form.  Though new music is being created there is a great deal of reverence and respect for older songs.  It’s a rare Bluegrass show that doesn’t feature a very large percentage of traditional songs and music from the founders of the form.  Those songs won’t always sound exactly like the originals because most Bluegrass performers eventually put their own personal touches on them.

Finally I want to mention a facet of the Bluegrass business that I’d been thinking about for a long time but was unable to express adequately.  Credit for a breakthrough in my thinking must go to my friend John Saroyan who tosses ideas around like they’re a common commodity.  John said that there seems to be a move away from “packaging” Bluegrass acts which had been a burgeoning trend.  It was then that I realized that most regular country music and virtually all of “pop” music is a packaged product.  There is a sameness, a cookie cutter approach to recordings, an effort to make every show identical and to stifle the honest emotion that should be a part of art.  But packaging is rare in Bluegrass and it seems that the more a band or performer moves towards becoming a packaged product the less appreciation they find from the audience.  Bluegrass can most often be found in festival settings.  I went to three festivals this year and each one had a different ambience and audience make-up.  Every line up of performers was varied and interesting.  There were bands that were playing for the first time and bands that had been playing for more than thirty years.  There’s also a lot of what I call “cross-pollination” in Bluegrass music with musicians changing bands, sitting in as fill-in players or just joining in with spontaneous invitations.  It adds a lot to the freshness of the music.  This kind of forming and re-forming discourages packaging.

Did I say finally up there?  Well, I want to add a couple more little things.  The first is that Bluegrass is the only musical form that does so much to encourage listeners to become players.  Most every festival has workshops where folks are encouraged to bring instruments or note pads and participate in making music.  There are workshops for every instrument and for vocalists as well.  I attended a songwriting workshop at the Plattsburgh Bluegrass Festival given by the IBMA songwriter of the year and his brother (sorry Leigh).  There are special sessions for young people and performances are scheduled so they can show off their new found skills.  All of those things add to the honesty, traditions and freshness of Bluegrass.

And finally, and I mean it this time, my friends the Gibson Brothers won “Vocal Group of the Year” “Song of the Year” (They Call it Music) and “Entertainers of the Year” at the IBMA awards show this past Thursday night.  And Eric Gibson won “Songwriter of the Year” earlier in the day.

Give Bluegrass a listen.  Take your time and think about it.  Go to a festival or concert.  You won’t regret it.  Now have a fine day.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

IBMA 2013 - Wide Open Bluegrass 2013 - Friday

On Friday the World of Bluegrass becomes Wide Open Bluegrass, once known as Fan Fest, but for the World of Bluegrass in 2013, much more. Using the entire downtown area as a venue, activities took place on two major stages, the Red Hat Amphitheater seating nearly 6000 people and a large ballroom in the Convention Center. Most remarkable, however was the street fair taking place along Fayetville Street, with free bluegrass shows from several stages and vendors, food, and more along the street. Thousands of people were introduced to bluegrass in this remarkable day. It was all capped off by the evening in Red Hat with the Epic Collaboration, a 90 minute feast of bluegrass hosted by Sam Bush with Jason Carter (fiddle), Bela Fleck (banjo), Hall of Famer Del McCoury, Jerry Douglass, and recently inducted Hall of Famer Tony Rice. Simply an unbelievable musical and human event. Here's a few impressions:

Exhibit Hall
Open to the Public - Free

Emerging Artist of the Year - Della Mae
Drops in on Kids on Bluegrass 

Fayetteville Street

City Stage
All Day Free Concerts by Bluegrass Luminaries 

The Epic Collaboration

Tony Rice

Irene and I are having too much fun to really give an overall view and analysis of this fantastic move to Raleigh, but there's a lot more coming when we can settle down and think about it. Today's the last day, and the musical events will be simply to overwhelming for us to capture it all, but we'll be out there trying to get a fuller impression. See you.