An appeal to the IBMA concerning World of Bluegrass vaccination rule

Coming up with rules for holding in-person events in the era of COVID isn’t easy, and no matter what organizers settle on, there is no way to please everyone.

IBMAs board of directors certainly learned that in the wake of its unanimous decision to require World of Bluegrass attendees to show proof of vaccination to gain entrance to the fall extravaganza, and to require masks for all indoor events.

Kudos to the board for trying to make the best of an impossible situation. Board members had to know that whatever they decided, some segment of the membership would protest and some cancellations would result. Certainly, based on social media comments, those offended enough to stay away outnumber those who say they now feel safe enough to attend. But we won’t know the overall impact until the business conference kicks off in late September, in part because a number of folks who are loudly on the I-won’t-attend bandwagon include IBMA critics who wouldn’t attend anyway.

That said, there is one change IBMA’s board can – dare I suggest should – consider before it’s too late for bluegrass fans and artists alike to change their minds. That change is to require a record of being fully vaccinated OR written proof of a negative COVID test performed within 72 hours of entering the convention center in Raleigh.

The change won’t appease some of the critics, but it will clear the way for those who aren’t vaccinated, for whatever reason, to attend what lives up to its billing as the year’s most important week in bluegrass, if they choose. I’m thinking especially of those who have legitimate physician-endorsed reasons for not being vaccinated, and for kids who are just becoming eligible for vaccines or aren’t yet eligible (under 12 years old). 

IBMA is the only major bluegrass gathering I’m aware of to require proof of vaccination with no exceptions. MerleFest recently announced its policy of vaccination or negative test, joining DelFest, FreshGrass, and others. 

I’m especially concerned about the negative impact the vaccine requirement could have on kids, whether they are part of the structured youth programs or are just there to jam and learn and absorb all they can. They are our future, and it’s pretty easy to imagine many of them finding something else to focus on instead of bluegrass if they can’t attend this year’s event after already missing out last year.

If the onus is on potential attendees to prove a negative test, it shouldn’t add much work, if any, to the jobs of the volunteers who have to check vaccine records anyway. IBMA doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t, be responsible for testing.

Is it a perfect solution? Absolutely not. There will still be loud objectors. But it seems a reasonable compromise to the all-or-nothing approach that the board unanimously approved. As for the mask requirement, IBMA’s hands are tied on that one unless the city of Raleigh changes its indoor mandate.

I look forward to the day when we can all gather again safely, enjoy live music and revel in all that is good about bluegrass in general, and World of Bluegrass specifically. And to a day when the toughest disagreement other than style of barbeque is the age-old (or at least decades old) question: Is that bluegrass? 

I look forward to your civil comments.

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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.