From The Side of the Road… 2021 IBMA adjective removal announcement

Several years ago I wrote a column about the ceremonial retirement of adjectives at the IBMA World of Bluegrass. This is now an annual event, usually scheduled on Tuesday, right before the event producers’ craft fair and square dance, and every year three more heavily-used bluegrass adjectives are retired for good. After these emotional ceremonies, the adjectives can no longer be used in artist bios or publicists’ press releases. The loss of these adjectives has required an adjustment for bluegrass copy-writers, and for some it’s been downright traumatic.

The first three adjectives were “hard-driving,” “dynamic,” and “tight,” words that were present in virtually every bluegrass press release. Knowing the difficult position some of these writers were now in, I felt duty-bound to try to suggest alternatives to these descriptive terms, which included “captivating,” “distracting,” and “affordable.”

I try to keep up with press releases from various genres, partly for this very purpose: we need adjectives and we need them now. A recent arrival in my inbox contained the adjective “stadium-ready” (the context was the phrase “stadium-ready choruses” because, as everyone knows, no choruses can be sung in a stadium until they’re ready). The same press release used “impactful” twice in two sentences. “Impactful” is handy, because it can be applied to a number of things: you can have “impactful lead singing,” “impactful songwriting,” or “impactful stagewear.” Though now that I think about it, is “impactful” actually a word? Would “impacty” or “impactish” be better? Or maybe a compound version, like “impact-laden,” “impact-dredged,” or “impact-packed.”

No matter the form, they all need to go on the list because these are desperate adjective times, especially with IBMA’s announcement this week that “heartfelt,” “soulful,” and “powerful” will all be retired this year. This is going to make describing vocals especially challenging, so we need to be prepared for a lot of “soaring,” “haunting,” and “impact-saturated” vocals in future press releases.

I really wasn’t intending to revisit adjectives in this column. I was originally planning to turn to the issue of nouns, especially after reading in Bluegrass Today about Jack Tottle taking issue—and I believe he was justified—with a reference to Chris Thile as a “mandolin whiz.” This coincided with another IBMA announcement that in alternating years, one noun would also be retired during the usual adjective retirement ceremony. This is equivalent to the years when the Bluegrass Hall of Fame inductees includes an “early contribution” or “industry” person among its inductees. 

So this year we’ll be losing our first bluegrass noun. The announcement of which one it is is expected in the next few days, and we’ll discuss that next week. News has already leaked that it won’t be “whiz.”