From The Side of the Road… concerns about IBMA voting changes

Hello from North Carolina. This week I’m in the studio recording some Christmas songs with the Night Drivers. Between writing charts, and watching A Christmas Carol and Elfto get into the Christmas spirit in late July, I’m a little pressed for time, so I chose this column to rerun, and unlike Christmas music, it’s actually seasonally appropriate.<

Last week I said we’d spend some time discussing recent changes in the IBMA awards procedure, naming, and criteria, most of which have been covered here in Bluegrass Today.

It’s only natural there would be adjustments in this area through the years, either to adapt to changing times, or often just to correct problems that may have arisen in what is never a perfect process.

These are certainly not the first changes in the awards procedure. Many don’t remember that in the early Owensboro years, the “Entertainer of the Year” award was given to any artist or band that “demonstrated the greatest ability to entertain an audience, using any of the following methods: clogging while yodeling, fiddling while singing, playing Orange Blossom Special behind one’s back, playing spoons against one’s head, or having a bass player with enormous shoes.” Today, after an extensive rewriting of the criteria, the “Entertainer of the Year” award is understood to mean simply the “Artist of the Year.”

All members of the IBMA should appreciate the effort and hours that go into revisions like this. Many of this year’s changes addressed some of the redundancy in the award names: for example, “Bluegrass Broadcaster of the Year” is now simply called “Broadcaster of the Year.” Clearly, since it’s the International Bluegrass Music Awards, it’s going to be an award for a bluegrass broadcaster. When the CMA (Country Music Association) holds its awards show, they don’t feel the need to call their “Single of the Year” the “Country Single of the Year.” Obviously if it’s voted on by the Country Music Association, the music is going to be . . . Maybe that’s not a good example. 

In any case, it was worth fixing the redundancies in our awards. I’m especially glad the award “Bluegrass Banjo Player of the Year Who Plays Bluegrass-style 5-String Banjo” has been shortened to “Banjo Player of the Year.”

Meanwhile, the “Special Awards” are now called the “Industry Awards,” thus avoiding the possible stigma associated with the word “special.” “Oh, you won one of the special awards? How nice for you.”

Some other changes received less coverage, though (possibly because they don’t want you to know about them!), and I think they’re worth at least mentioning here. After all, I’m all about keeping people inaccurately informed.

Feeling that the final nominations had a tendency to go to the same people and groups over the years, leaving a number of trending artists, and even some veterans, under-recognized, an effort has been made to broaden the voting pool for the second round: some of the rigorous ID requirements introduced in the last 10 years have now been relaxed. It’s no longer necessary to show three pieces of government-issued photo ID, plus a photo of yourself playing one of the six acceptable bluegrass instruments, and looking like you can actually play the thing. The pre-voting exam, asking for answers to questions like, “Who were Molly and Tenbrooks?” and “Who was Lloyd Loar and why do we care?” has also been dispensed with.

Now, it’s possible to cast your IBMA nominations ballot vote when registering your car, with no questions asked (I mean, they won’t ask questions about your ballot; I make no promises about your car). McDonalds is also now making it possible to vote during the semi-final round when ordering a Happy Meal. Simply jot your choices down on your used hamburger wrapper, and give back two French fries as a service charge.

New categories were added in what are now called the “Music Awards,” given out during the Thursday night awards show. In addition to the new award you’ve already heard plenty about, “Bluegrass Drummer of the Year” (soon to be just “Drummer of the Year”), the IBMA has announced the following new awards:

Best Collaboration By People Who Can’t Stand Each Other

Best Gospel Hand Gestures While Still Trying to Play an Instrument

Openly-Pandering-For-Airplay Song of the Year

The awards show itself has also undergone some much-needed reform: an annual problem has been the show’s length, which has traditionally run between 45 minutes to a few days longer than its estimated time. Since no musical numbers are running particularly long, the primary culprit seemed to be the awards and Hall of Fame induction acceptance speeches. Beginning this year, all awards acceptance speeches will be limited to no more than three words in length.

For those who might not be able to handle that kind of brevity in this situation, some examples of effective three-word speeches might be:

“I finally won!”

“Man I’m good!”

“Well I’m speechless”

“Somebody pinch me”

“You’re surprised? Shhh.”

“Me again. Wow.”

“Like the dress?”

In honor of their age and contribution to the music, it was agreed to give Hall of Fame inductees a full five words. Here are a few ideas for ultra-brief induction speeches:

“Do you even know me?”

“Nice presentation. Who was that?”

“Now stop wrecking my music.”

“A word limit, huh? Tough!”

“I’m still alive, you know.”

Don’t forget to vote.