Cardwell Out as IBMA Executive Director

Nancy Cardwell - photo by Colin PetersonNancy Cardwell, who oversaw the move of IBMA’s World of Bluegrass conference and festival from Nashville to Raleigh and was executive director as the organization returned to solid financial footing after multiple years of red ink, is being replaced.

IBMA Chair Jon Weisberger called her pending departure a mutually agreed upon decision, but it comes a week after the board’s lopsided no confidence vote in the executive director at a closed-door meeting in Raleigh during the World of Bluegrass.

Cardwell will stay on the job for a few months. “Nancy is on board with making sure the transition is as smooth as possible,” Weisberger said.

The move was finalized Thursday night during a meeting with Cardwell, Weisberger and board member Ben Surrat.

“Everybody had the perspective from the beginning that Nancy’s tenure would be limited” to around three-to-five years, Weisberger said, although such parameters were never spelled out publicly. The news of her departure comes a bit short of the minimum term he cited.

“We have accomplished a great deal in the last few years,” Weisberger said. “The board is very grateful to Nancy for everything she’s done. We also felt, the board and she, that it was time to move on.”

The board is in the midst of discussions about the qualities that members want in the next executive director. It’s critical, Weisberger said, to hire “somebody who can relate to the members.” The board will also look for someone with the ability to build revenue-generating partnerships with businesses in Raleigh and the Tech Triangle area of North Carolina, as well as someone who understands financial matters.

Cardwell had been a member of the IBMA staff for 17 years when she was hired as interim executive director in 2012 to replace Dan Hays, and has been well liked in the bluegrass community.

She is expected to issue a statement on Monday.

UPDATE – 8:47 p.m.  This letter was sent this evening to the IBMA membership from Nancy Cardwell.

Dear members of IBMA:

After 20 years serving on the staff of the International Bluegrass Music Association, I made the decision last month to resign as executive director, effective Dec. 31, 2014.

When I agreed to take the interim ED position March 5, 2012—and later in August 2012 when I was asked to take on the fulltime position, I let the IBMA Board of Directors know I intended to stay three to five years, to help the organization get through what I perceived as a crucially important transitional process following the tenure of longtime director Dan Hays—who I credit with building the organization from the ground, with the help of many of you early members.

My goals were to work with current and new staff, the board, and our new partners in Raleigh to rebuild membership numbers; to increase attendance, value, and the overall vibe at World of Bluegrass events; and to start the process of re-building our finances. We’ve also updated our website and our entire online presence during the past two and a half years. And the IBMA Youth Council, Membership Recruitment Committee, Leadership Bluegrass, and the international “I” in IBMA are strong and moving forward.

Bluegrass music is about passing tunes from one generation to another, and it’s also about passing leadership roles along to the next person on the industry side. Twenty years is a long time to do anything, and I know 2015 is the right time for me to pass the torch to the next executive director of IBMA. The IBMA team and I have accomplished what we set out to do during the past three years, and I have a passionate, talented staff with over a year’s experience under their belts in place with Taylor Coughlin, Eddie Huffman and Joe Lurgio, working hard for the future of bluegrass music.

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next, but I have a couple of interesting leads—both inside and outside the bluegrass music world. I’ll let you know the details as soon as I can, and I would truly appreciate your support as I move forward in another role.

I grew up in a bluegrass family band in the Missouri Ozarks—hitting the stage and radio airwaves for the first time at age seven, and I’ve been writing professionally about bluegrass music in magazines since I was in college. I’m not leaving the music. My dedication and personal support of bluegrass music and its international trade association will continue.

It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve IBMA for 20 years, and to get to know and appreciate so many of you. I’m proud of what the organization has accomplished so far, and I’m excited about the future of both IBMA and bluegrass music. I appreciate what I’ve learned from each of you, the music and the stories, and most of all, your friendship.


Nancy Cardwell

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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.