Now that the Super Bowl is over (it is over, right?), serious football fans will turn to the NFL draft. If you’re not familiar with how sports drafts work, they are a system of distributing rookie talent that strives to keep teams in each league as competitive as possible. It helps avoid a “rich get richer” situation by insuring that the teams who struggled the most in the previous season get the first opportunity to pick from among the top prospects in the sport. In the NFL, the team with the worst record gets the first draft pick, while the winner of the Super Bowl picks last.
This got me to wondering what it would be like if we instituted a similar system in bluegrass music. This may be more useful and appropriate than it’s ever been, especially since we now have post-secondary institutions with bluegrass programs turning out talented young pickers who are moving straight from college to professional bluegrass bands. This is similar now to the way college football players ‘turn pro’ except there are just a lot more zeros at the end of the football or hockey starting salaries.
We don’t yet have many full time bluegrass talent scouts. At the moment it’s still considered one of the most specialized careers, on a par with pork rind taste tester and locksmith therapist. Still, many band leaders act as scouts themselves and are aware of the young talent that emerges from these college bluegrass programs.
As we currently do things, the acts who have had the best year would be in a better position to entice young prospects to join their bands and would probably be able to offer more money, too. But is that fair? If we instituted the draft system instead, we would eventually have a more equal and competitive bluegrass scene.
Under an NFL-like system, Billy Strings, who is a Grammy nominee, is filling major venues, and who won IBMA Entertainer of the Year, would get the very last draft pick, which this year is a young banjo player named Randy “Sketch” Lofton. “Sketch” has failed to graduate from ETSU’s bluegrass program because of missing most of last semester’s classes. He has timing issues and still has no idea how to play the kickoff to Old Home Place. He has an arrest record, though just misdemeanors. He snores, loudly.
What about the first pick, though? How would we determine who should get that important professional equalizer? Unlike in pro sports, we don’t have end-of-season standings to go by. We could choose whoever did the most poorly on the Bluegrass Today weekly chart throughout the year, but what about an act who never made the chart?
Perhaps a committee could be formed that could decide who had experienced the most hard-luck year. It could combine a number of factors like poor album sales and streaming numbers, number of cancelled shows and personnel changes, absence of award recognition, and embarrassing net income figures.
Whoever comes out at the bottom would then have an opportunity to hire the coveted first round pick. This year that would be fiddler, guitarist, and vocalist Tamara Samsonite. She graduated a year early from Morehead State with a 4.0 grade point average. She’s a 20-year-old Kenny Baker-style fiddler and brilliant bluegrass guitarist (she placed 2nd at Winfield, even while competing with two broken wrists). She’s also an accomplished vocalist, often described as a cross between Alison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent, with just a hint of a traditional Rose Maddox edge. She released her third solo album this year, as well as a biography of Kenny Baker she wrote. She’s also a pro golfer.
As in sports, once the season nears its close, there begins to be a strong incentive to make sure that while you’re having a real turkey of a year, you might as well just be the worst in order to get that first round pick. Here are just a few ways you might accomplish that:
Cancel your most prestigious year-end gig for no reason whatsoever.
Fire the best musician in your band because you don’t care for his socks.
Post something offensive on social media about the low intelligence of DJs to suppress airplay of your music.
Another social media tip: accept a friend request from someone named “Lovely238674” and respond to her message “How you doing?” which will lead to your account being hacked. Make no attempt to fix it.
Make sure your music is incorrectly listed or not listed at all on IBMA’s list of eligible recordings to avoid your music making it to the second round of awards voting.
Attend SPBGMA just for the purpose of discouraging write-in votes for awards.
Organize a boycott of your own recordings.
If all goes well (or not well, in this case), Tamara Samsonite should be in your band by January.