From The Side of the Road… bring back the Bluegrass Pentathlon!

The International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass (and I should inform you that that’s the last time, possibly in my entire life, that I’m going to be writing that out in longhand) takes place annually in late September/early October. In the last several years, the event has been held in Raleigh, NC, but it started in Owensboro, KY.

Some who have been around since the early days of the festivities express the view that the IBMA WOB (I warned you) has lost some of its innocence. 

By that, I don’t mean to imply that nothing unseemly ever took place at the old Owensboro Executive Inn. There was all sorts of bad behavior, from excessive drinking, to excessive pizza-ordering, to use of offensive language (like the term “acoustic guitar”). What people mourn the loss of is the event’s small town, everybody-knows-everybody, bluegrass Christmas (with Jimmy Martin in the role of Santa Claus) feel of it all. People recall a time when you could order food at your table during the IBMA awards, possibly right in the middle of somebody’s acceptance speech.

One IBMA WOB event that really captures a bygone era was the Bluegrass Pentathlon, which I think was held in Louisville, but I could be wrong. This was a competition among bluegrass musicians in five key skill areas: changing a string, setting up a microphone, reading a station ID, singing a chorus of something, then running for all you’re worth—like you’re late for a gig—to the finish line. Jens Krüger won it easily and also holds the world record, since the event never took place again.

I would like to propose a revival of the Bluegrass Pentathlon, but with some updated elements reflecting the skill set required of a bluegrass picker in 2022. This could take longer than the original Bluegrass Pentathlon

1. Set up a merch table and take a Square sale, remove shrink wrap and sign a CD, pausing to marvel at the fact that you actually sold a CD to someone who hasn’t owned a CD player for seven years.

2. Co-write a song about moonshine with someone you just met during the songwriting track mixer.

3. Pore over your Spotify statement and calculate your two-figure annual income.

4. Make a 30-second video of yourself competing in the Bluegrass Pentathlon, then post it to three different social media platforms with a minimum of five hashtags (e.g. #bluegrasspentathlon #losingtojenskrugeragain)

5. Run to finish line, carrying an instrument in a heavy flight case, while texting.

Perhaps if this is held just after the keynote speech, we could recapture some of the old IBMA feel. Perhaps there could also be an IBMA board member egg-in-spoon race and a rousing game of Bill Monroe tune charades, to be held in the Sheraton lobby: “First word sounds like ‘pig’ and second word sounds like ‘mom’?!”

See you in Raleigh!