Chris Pandolfi to address IBMA

Chris Pandolfi, bluegrass videographer, banjo player with The Infamous Stringdusters, and offerer of blunt assessments on the state of the acoustic music business has been invited to give the Tuesday Keynote Address during IBMA’s World of Bluegrass conference September 27. He will speak from 10:30-11:30 a.m.

Pandolfi has been a vocal critic of the IBMA, most recently in a post on his blog where he takes the awards voters to task for their tunnel vision in choosing the 2011 nominees for the International Bluegrass Music Awards.

“For Bluegrass, it seems the awards have become less focused on empowering our all-stars to be acoustic ambassadors to the music world at large, less about decorating bands on the fringes (not that it was ever really about this at all), which would in turn open some of the many doors to other genres that already exist. Instead, it’s become about building a wall around an increasingly insular musical community with an aging leadership group. This dosen’t mean the winners aren’t amazing and talented, in fact they are beyond talented–this list of nominees includes some of the most virtuosic musicians in the world. But how can it be so consistent year to year?  Is the musical landscape really that stagnant? The answer is a clear NO! But so much of what is going on in acoustic music is not recognized even a little, which is sad considering that the awards presentation is an obvious time to open the doors and broadcast a message of openness and acceptance to the world. It’s one of the only times the IBMA can broadcast a message to the world: this is bluegrass.”

This is something we have noticed as well, particularly when we would prepare a poll for our readers to cast votes in our own mock awards poll. In setting that up each year, there were many categories where only a single name was changed from one year to the next, and several where there were no changes whatsoever.

Chris closes his piece with a challenge that is likely to inform his address at WOB…

“Without any meaningful guidelines/direction, the nomination process has not progressed at all in recent years. The Awards have become a bit of an oxymoron: creating increased success for individuals, but shrinking the world where that success has any relevance. That can’t be the point. Bluegrass is full of talent! That is our strength! My message here is positive: great new things are already happening, they just need to be recognized, and they can only help our common goals. Listen to Crowe. It’s time to spread the love and make some new friends. At this point, the masters are firmly entrenched, duly recognized and widely respected throughout the music world (which is excellent). Bluegrass is strong. It’s time to grow.”

The IBMA leadership has spent much of this past year (since WOB 2010) involved in introspection, with and eye towards making some major changes. Facing a dwindling membership base and decreased attendance at their annual convention, the organization is looking for fresh ideas and new directions. Inviting one of your critics to speak at your event is clear evidence that they are open to hearing them.

Many of you will have recently received the informational brochure about Wold of Bluegrass, and if you have looked it over, have seen a few alterations from previous years’ policies.

  • Price reductions for registration
  • A la carte pricing for the Exhibit Hall
  • Free admission to the Exhibit Hall on Wednesday
  • Open admission to the convention center, though registration will be required to attend seminars, functions and the Exhibit Hall

These all came in response to a member survey following the 2010 event. The IBMA Board is hearing the calls for change. Let’s all wish them luck as they try to turn a battleship on a dime.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.