From The Side of the Road… please IBMA, can I have some more?

The recent IBMA awards show received some sharp criticism in some quarters, one of those quarters being right here in Bluegrass Today. The following is not an attempt to disagree with any of that criticism, nor to pile on with more of it, but perhaps just to offer some fresh suggestions. Some may be overly fresh.

It should be said first that there were some outstanding musical performances this year which helped to counterbalance some of the technical shortcomings, which ranged from teleprompter trouble to clips of nominees’ songs not being played.

I’ll admit, however, that I feel unqualified to judge the IBMA awards because I’ve spent the last 10 years in Raleigh (and more from Nashville before that) co-hosting the SiriusXM broadcast, which I certainly enjoy doing, but which means that I see the show in bits and pieces from the pit by the side of the stage, mostly from a monitor screen, with frequent interruptions while I try to catch statements from whoever just won an award. 

I’m mainly aware of when the show runs overtime (which is virtually every year, sometimes by a lot), and when sponsorship breaks are longer or shorter than we’ve been told. By these measurements, this was a typical IBMA awards show.

However, we all know that being qualified to offer criticism has never been a real requirement for people to do so, so here goes:

Rather than dwell on the negative, because as I say, I got a lot of that information second hand, I’d like to offer some recommendations for how the show might be improved in future years. To keep this as objective as possible, I solicited the opinions of five different people, three of whom were completely unfamiliar with bluegrass music, but who seemed to know something about awards shows, having watched quite a few of them on TV. They were also unusually knowledgable about summer squash varieties. The two who were familiar with bluegrass seemed to be completely insane, though pleasant enough to talk to.

I tried to comb through their advice and winnow it down to the following suggestions:

Make the show even longer, possibly expanding to a full eight hours. To deal with audience fatigue, have three intermissions. Tickets could also be sold for individual segments of the show, making it possible to turn the crowd over. Deep fried zucchini could be served during the breaks (this was from the summer squash contingent).

Ways to accomplish this: fold the industry and distinguished achievement awards into the evening show. This could add hours to the show while addressing songwriters’ complaints that their award shouldn’t be considered an industry award and given out earlier in the day.

Expand the Hall of Fame inductees’ segments to include rebuttals by people who didn’t feel the official presentation was accurate. A 30-minute debate could follow.

Expand the acceptance speeches to make sure every band member gets equal time. This would also be a good opportunity for a public airing of band disagreements.

Beyond adding to the length, these were some other possible changes:

Have the show co-hosted every year by Alison Krauss, Robert Plant, and a hologram of Earl Taylor.

Build a large water slide on the stage and have all performers enter that way.

Eliminate the use of teleprompters altogether and just have the hosts and presenters “say whatever.”

Have the accountants of Riney Hancock and Co., who are responsible for the vote tabulation, appear on the show and perform a 20-minute dance routine they’ve prepared with the help of a professional choreographer who specializes in Bluegrass Accountant Dance (or BAD).

Encourage heckling from the audience and heckling of the audience.

For the show finale, have all performers, presenters, hosts, and accountants take the stage for a 30-minute medley of Midnight on the Stormy Deep and Wagon Wheel.

And finally, have live baby goats on stage. Lots of them. Baby goats make everything better.