From The Side of the Road… post World of Bluegrass analysis

It’s the IBMA World of Bluegrass week-after. I usually go through my annual post-IBMA bluegrass cleanse during this week, which involves vigorous exercise (five push-ups), listening to music based on instruments Bill Monroe didn’t like: the flute, the harp, the oboe, and the dobro (now there’s a band concept), and the shunning of caffeine, alcohol, and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Another thing I tend to do is write a short column or none at all. This will be somewhere in between those two options.

First some quick reflections on the week:

The new IBMA executive director Pat Morris seems like a great and dedicated guy.

Raleigh is still an excellent host city for the World of Bluegrass, and they did well, as did all IBMA staff under very different and trying circumstances.

A few statistics:

Number of people: fewer than usual, naturally, but I felt so much less exhausted at the end of each day and the week.

Quantity of hand sanitizer used: enough to fill a large milk truck (because a lot of people were still shaking hands and touching their faces, not necessarily in that order).

Average hours of sleep per night among attendees: 6.5. This is a shocking number and it’s safe to say this amount of rest during IBMA week is unlikely ever to happen again. The pandemic has softened everybody, if we didn’t already know that. What’s next? A balanced diet? This is a worrisome trend.

Number of people present to accept their awards: not that many. On the other hand, the awards show ended on time for the first time in history, a pretty good precedent, and it was a good show.

Number of lanyards facing the wrong way, so you had to rely on memory to come up with people’s names: 85% (same as in past years).

Number of international attendees: only the ones who snuck in, crammed into people’s bass cases, because unfortunately the US border is still closed. That was a really noticeable absence.

Everything considered, it went very well, and it felt so good to have live music back on the streets of Raleigh, played by people in their three-dimensional non-Zoom form for three-dimensional people who clapped audibly, and who could talk to and sometimes even touch the performers (necessitating more hand sanitizer).

I looked through the archives and found this column I wrote during the 2015 IBMA WOB, the third one held in Raleigh. It was IBMA executive director Paul Schiminger’s first year on the job. It was interesting to look back at how much has changed. Here it is:

Date line: Raleigh, NC

This is traditionally a short column, written some time in between the IBMA World of Bluegrass keynote address and a showcase I need to attend at Tir Na Nog (that’s a local pub which I believe is named for an Irish beverage very similar to egg nog, but with “tir-na” or “tdhihr-nhiaa” substituting for eggs—I have no idea what it actually is).

I’ll just offer a few observations on what is officially Day 1 of bluegrass music’s biggest week:

At the conclusion of lengthy IBMA board meetings, which saw the introduction of new members and the election of new officers, outgoing chairman Jon Weisberger appeared to be weightless, floating around the Raleigh Convention Center just about an inch off the ground, unable to stop smiling. Meanwhile, incoming chairman Tim Surrett seemed to have acquired a lot of that weight, though fortunately not on his body. He just seemed to have it stored in his computer bag, which looked really difficult to carry. Ben Surratt, the new vice chair (who is now one heartbeat and one letter away from the top job), looked cautious.

The first round of seminars concluded with good reviews, especially for the one about how to condense an entire autobiography into 140 Twitter-friendly characters or less. Example: “I was born, played with toy trucks, lots of other stuff happened, played music for a living, got tired of it, opened an ice cream store.”

In her introduction to the attendees, Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane welcomed members to the third IBMA WOB to be held in Raleigh, highlighting the benefits to both the IBMA and to the city of this successful association. She made no comment on the fact that once a year now, Raleigh’s homeless are being given, unsolicited, more bluegrass artists’ CDs and showcase flyers than they can handle, and they’re starting to protest.

Nick Forster, in his keynote address, talked about the importance of art, and the division between art and commerce (i.e. ain’t none of getting rich here), and gave some interesting background on his journey to bluegrass and the early days of Hot Rize. Nick demonstrates, that although in theory you can come from anywhere in the world and play bluegrass music, it’s generally considered to be more authentic if you’re from Beirut.

Paul Schiminger, the new IBMA Executive Director gave an enthusiastic speech, inspiring confidence in the attendees, while graciously thanking staff and board members. When he asked the audience to speculate on what it was that would lead him to leave a good job, uproot his family, and take on this very challenging position, one heckler-type at my table mumbled “some very bad advice?”. 

The answer, of course, is he did it for the love of the music, which is of course why we’re all here and why we do this. For that, we’re truly thankful.