What’s wrong with bluegrass?

| August 27, 2014 | 0 Comments

Chris JonesIt’s been a while since we discussed the IBMA breakaway organization, the ABMA, which stands for the Argumentative Bluegrass Music Association. They formed a few years ago and built themselves on the principle that nothing advances our music more than arguing about it. They held their first trade show, award show, and public brawl two years ago in a Nevada town which I now can’t recall. It was known as the AWOB.

There was widespread discontent with that location, and so proposals were made for an alternative location for 2013. The following cities put in attractive bids, and offered extremely reasonable hotel rates and free (though unsecured) parking:

  • Tegucigalpa, Honduras
  • Mosul, Iraq
  • Area 51

There ended up being some unforeseen issues with all of the above locations, and since no agreement could be reached on a new host city, it was resolved to not hold an AWOB last year. Even without a major event, it seems that the ABMA has achieved modest growth, in spite of high turnover from the number of people who follow through on their regular threats to resign.

In the last several months, though, disagreement has spread through the ranks. Since disagreement spreading through the ranks is actually one of the organization’s goals (it’s even in the mission statement), no one was too concerned. The trouble started simply enough with an argument on the ABMA list-serve about whether the word  “dobro” should be capitalized, if it’s alright to even use the term at all. This degenerated, however, into a heated debate about the instrument’s place (or lack there of) in bluegrass music, and then to whether there should even be a category for Dobro Player of the Year in the ABMA awards.

I’m sad to report that the end result of this strife is that a bitter schism has taken place in the organization, leading to the formation of a new group which is calling itself the NIBMA, the Negative International Bluegrass Music Association (nicknamed “Nib-ma”).

The group’s members (who, by the way, don’t believe that the dobro has any place in bluegrass music, and they’re not too sure about its place in Hawaiian music) came together, united in the belief that too much focus was being placed on the positive in the ABMA, especially when some of the arguments were actually settled, with the bickering parties vowing to work together for the advancement of bluegrass music.

“The NIBMA is not in the business of advancing the cause of bluegrass music,” explained the group’s newly appointed president, Henry Nichtkopf. “We in the ABMA could never really settle on what bluegrass music is to begin with, so why would we want to help it expand?” The mission of the fledgling group is, instead, to point out what is wrong with the music, what shouldn’t be permitted within it, who shouldn’t be playing it, and who shouldn’t be listening to it. “We feel that unless you focus on the negative, you can never get a purely positive result,” explained Nichtkopf.

He goes on to say, “too many people listen to bluegrass music, and if they hear 20 songs in an hour, they’re naively content to just focus on the 19 songs they like, as opposed to dwelling and the one song they don’t. We plan to draw our best NIBMA members from the pool of people who feel that the one song they hate poisons the other 19, ruining their entire listening experience.”

NIBMA has taken an unorthodox approach in their site selection. Before choosing from among a list of eligible locations, they’ve decided to vote on the place they’d least like to hold their convention, from among a top ten list of what the NIBMA site elimination committee deemed were the least desirable locations. Among the top 10 were every city the IBMA has ever held its World of Bluegrass.

Their upcoming first annual awards show will be in keeping with their negative principles. There will be parallel categories to those of the IBMA, but with an important twist: voters will make their initial selections and then the bottom five vote getters will become the nominees (as tabulated by the accounting firm of Dewar, Sauer, and Eeyore). The candidate with the least votes among the five nominees would be named, using mandolin as an example, “Unpopular Mandolin Player of the Year.”

The organization’s ultimate award will be called the “Anti-entertainer of the Year,” representing the artist who has had the most negative impact on the music in the past year, and who also has had the most significant career setbacks and anemic airplay and music sales.

This story is unconfirmed, but rumor has it that the first annual NWOB will be held this January in Barrow, Alaska, complete with seminars (like “What Not to Wear: Bluegrass Style Tips”) and an outdoor fanfest and awards show.

The first round of anti-ballots will go out next week.

Chris Jones

Chris Jones wears many hats in his bluegrass career. In addition to leading his own band, with whom he tours and records, Jones is an award-winning broadcaster and songwriter.

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