A Tag-Team Call for Diversity

Get over it, already.

Missy Raines and Chris Jones didn’t say it quite so bluntly, but that was the underlying message of their keynote address to kick off IBMA’s World of Bluegrass Conference Monday in Nashville.

Using humor, a bit of self-deprecation and video testimony from some of bluegrass music’s most respected elder statesmen, they made a pitch for fans, artists and DJs to celebrate the music rather than fight about their differences.

“We all need each other.” Chris said it first. Missy repeated it at the close of their remarks, word for word. That, it seems to me, should be the motto for this conference. Maybe for every IBMA conference.

Noting that IBMA is moving World of Bluegrass to Raleigh, N.C., next year and has a new executive director, Nancy Cardwell, Missy said, “This is the ideal time to come together, renew our commitment to this vital trade organization, and move forward.”

Before they turned serious, Missy and Chris riffed on a recent humor column Chris wrote for Bluegrass Today, advocating a separate ABMA – the Argumentative Bluegrass Music Association. Features would include “unhappy hour,” “the keynote rant,” and special sessions for after-hours disputes and name calling. There’d be awards, too, honoring the “grouchiest broadcaster of the year” and most negative print person. (Disclosure: I think I’ve been nominated.) And a closing session that sounds worth the price of admission: Were Flatt & Scruggs really a bluegrass band?

The humor was on target and effective. But Missy and Chris really drove the point home with testimony from Sonny Osborne, Mac Wiseman, Eddie Adcock and Doyle Lawson.

Sonny said he and his brother found their signature sound out of necessity. As a straight bluegrass band, they sold 11,000 records, and needed to reach a bigger audience to make a living. They embraced “a country sound,” including drums, and “everything just kind of jelled for us.”

Eddie knows a thing or two about scorn for bending the rules. He and other members of the Country Gentlemen were roundly criticized for their approach to music decades ago. His advice to artists was to ignore the critics and do what they are driven to do. “An artist’s job is to create,” he said. “If he doesn’t create, all the music is just going to die.”

For my money, the best testimony came from Doyle Lawson, under fire in some circles for including drums even as he is being inducted this year into the bluegrass Hall of Fame.

“It’s not about me crossing over,” he said on the video Chris and Missy offered. “It’s getting (listeners) to cross over.”

Indeed, Chris reminded everyone that drums are not new to bluegrass. Some days on Sirius-XM Radio’s Bluegrass Junction, he said there are more drums during his Truegrass segment than on Ned Luberecki’s Derailed show for newer, edgier music with ties to music.

For a week, at least, the inhabitants of all sizes of tents will be living under one roof at World of Bluegrass and Fanfest. The challenge won’t be dealing with what takes place here. It’ll be in how things play out next week, and every week after that, until the 2013 peace talks, I mean, WOB, takes place in Raleigh.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.