Bluegrass Grammy Safe, For Now

grammyThe Grammy Award for bluegrass will continue for a few more years, attendees at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass were told Tuesday in Raleigh, where some high profile industry representatives launched an education campaign to ensure the category continues for many more years beyond that.

Only 49 bluegrass projects were submitted for Grammy consideration during the latest round, according to Alicia Warwick, executive director of the Nashville chapter of The Recording Academy. If entries drop to 24-39 in any given year, the category would be placed on probation, with the number of nominees dropping from five to three. And if the numbers didn’t improve the stand-alone category would disappear. If that happens bluegrass would be lumped into the larger Americana or roots music categories.

“It’s a wakeup call,” said multi-year winner Jerry Douglas. “We have to get involved in this process if we want to reap the benefits.” Added much-published songwriter Jon Weisberger, the panel’s moderator, “It’s a scary prospect to consider losing the bluegrass Grammy.”

So why, if IBMA’s award’s process attracts about 130 bluegrass projects a year, are so few of them making it into the Grammy pipepline? Part of the problem, it seems, is that many bands don’t put in the effort to submit because they think established bands on big labels will win.

Warwick, though, shot a hole in that argument, noting that 60 percent of the latest Grammy winners were independent artists.

And Ken Irwin, co-founder of Rounder Records, said the potential payoff is worth taking a chance on. “It really can make a huge difference,” he said. “Bookings become easier” and the asking price can go up after a Grammy win.

In the short run, the panelists urged the audience to spread the word about entries and the importance of boosting the numbers. There will also be also be a push to sign up more bluegrassers as members of the Academy, both voting members (artists, songwriters and others with direct ties to the record and associate members who don’t have a vote but can submit nominations.

Irwin said he’ll bring up more about the Grammy process later in the week, when the IBMA board holds its annual town hall meeting.

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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.