IBMA at the Crossroads

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of occasional articles about the future of IBMA. This story contains many more numbers than the one-four-five usually associated with bluegrass, and a more serious approach than we usually take at Bluegrass Today. But the issues addressed here affect the future of the music we all love, so they require such an approach. We invite your comments. 

IBMA at the CrossroadsThis is a critical year for the International Bluegrass Music Association, and how its 19-member board responds to challenges on multiple fronts will determine whether the organization rebounds and thrives or withers and eventually dies.

The gravity of the situation cannot be overstated. IBMA is hemorrhaging money at a rate that cannot be sustained for very long. From the start of 2006 until the end of 2010 – the most recent year for which public records are available from the Internal Revenue Service – IBMA’s assets and fund balances have fallen by more than 50%.

At the same time, membership in the organization is shrinking and – like the demographic for bluegrass music itself – aging. Attendance at its signature event, the annual World of Bluegrass conference in Nashville, is off, too.

As the board struggles to right IBMA’s financial ship, it is also in the midst of hiring a new executive director, awaiting the results of a first-ever comprehensive audit and trying to launch a new social networking site, Bluegrass Nation. Another looming issue before the board: Whether to keep World of Bluegrass and Fan Fest in Nashville or move it elsewhere.

Each of those decisions will impact IBMA’s future.

“We’re a graying population, and if we don’t somehow attract some younger members, we’re going to die of attrition,” IBMA Board Chairman Stan Zdonik acknowledged in an interview with Bluegrass Today. “But we have to do it without alienating the existing base. The music has to grow, and with it the organization will grow, too, I hope.”

The first decision is to hire an executive director to replace Dan Hays, who is leaving at the end of the month for another job. Like anyone in such as position, Hays made some enemies over the years. But he has many loyal backers, too, and is unquestionably an advocate for bluegrass.

Still, his decision to take another job provides an opportunity for IBMA to rebound and refocus, especially if the new director has other experience in the non-profit world’s key disciplines of finance and fund-raising.

The search “is going a little slower than I had hoped,” Zdonik said. The goal was to have someone on board by now to have a couple of weeks of overlapping with Hayes. But the executive committee just finished interviewing candidates last week. Zdonik said it’s possible for the next director to start in a week or two, but that timetable seems overly ambitious if the board’s choice is currently employed and has to give notice.

IBMA financesTo be sure, IBMA is not the only arts organization – or business of any kind – to suffer during the deep recession. But the group’s financial records show the decline started well before the broader downturn began across the country.

According to IBMA’s financial filings with the IRS, the organization’s equity fell from $608,000 at the start of 2006 to $274,042 at the end of 2010. (IBMA’s filing for 2011 is not yet available from the IRS.)

The organization finished in the red during each of those years, but was able to stay afloat by tapping into what had been a relatively healthy nest egg. And while a bottom line on your balance sheet of nearly $300,000 may seem huge compared to a typical household’s finances, consider this:

The losses over the five years from 2006 through 2010 add up to $291,140. Another five-year run like that and the checkbook would be depleted.

Without a policy change and the generosity of one person, IBMA’s money woes would be even deeper. Until 2008, IBMA donated the after-expenses proceeds of Fan Fest to the IBMA Trust Fund. Bands played for free, with the knowledge that they were allowing the trust fund to help down-on-their-luck pickers who faced big medical bills or other financial trouble.

But since 2008, the board has directed half of Fan Fest proceeds to the trust fund and half – about $88,000 total for 2008-2010 – to IBMA’s treasury.

Editor’s note (2/14):  To clarify… We were only able to obtain IRS documents for 2006-2010, and according to these financial reports, all net proceeds for 2006 and 2007 were donated to the Trust Fund. What was donated in prior years can not be verified without further documentation, but IRS forms do show that during 2008-2010, half of the net amount was donated.

We will publish a follow-up report on Trust Fund finances and contributions in the near future.

And while the 2010 loss of $15,904 looks good on paper compared with earlier losses, that number was buoyed by a $37,889 gift from L. M. Palmer of California.

Such gifts can’t be counted on with any kind of regularity, in part because, as Zdonik notes, they aren’t tax deductible, and in part because IBMA doesn’t aggressively pursue them. Aside from the Palmer gift, the organization reported just $3,185 in “contributions, gifts and grants” in 2010, $2,000 in 2009 and $40 in 2008. Zdonik said those numbers do not include some sizable corporate sponsorships. There is no breakdown of the value of those sponsorships on the financial reports filed with the federal government.

Following the money over the five-year period shows a steady decline in revenues not only in general but for World of Bluegrass, too. IBMA has limited the damage by cutting expenses, but the red ink continues to flow.

continued…

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.

  • Lynwood Lunsford

    As if my suggestions mean anything to them, but I think some of the things
    that are gonna have to be done are:

    1) the organization has to decide what kind of music it is going to promote

    2) I think the regional representatives need to be revived. The IBMA needs
    more of a presence at festivals, like they used to have in the early 90s.
    The reps were volunteers and the only required expense would be IBMA
    literature. Which I hope the organization already has available.

    3) I think there is going to be a need to return to the atmosphere that
    was present in Owensboro and Louisville. I fully realize it’s a Trade
    Show, but alot of business went on in those “after hours” suites. I think
    the “party” has to be put back into the event. Afterall, it is a “once-a-
    year” celebration!

    4) And finally, the organization has to be more transparent. No more of
    those “closed-door” meetings, making decisions that affect the whole
    organization. Once the “seeds of conspiracy” are sewn……..whether
    founded or not……..there is almost always a “crop of mistrust” that
    results from it.

    5) And a final, final note; perhaps a bit more respect should be paid to
    those remaining icons of the industry……the ones who helped create what
    the IBMA proposes to represent. I don’t think complimentary passes being
    given to those people……..or at least, a little more
    recognition……..would be a bad thing. JMO

    • Dennis Jones

      L-Wood, you have many great points here.

  • Lynwood Lunsford

    the last line should read, “would NOT be a bad thing.”

  • Craig Havighurst

    Solid reporting and writing here. I’m very happy to see responsible analysis out there of IBMA’s situation, little surprise with David’s background. I’d be wary however of the metaphor of a crossroads. That implies we have a couple of clear choices or roads to go down, with certain results down each. And that’s just not the case. The board has gathered input from a huge range of constituents and observers in the past year and worked hard to adjust IBMA policies and outreach in ways that broaden its appeal without alienating long-time members. I think the losses are 90% attributable to the recession combined with a locked-in contract with the very expensive Renaissance/Nashville Convention Center. But a key point is that’s the only viable WOB site compatible with the IBMA Awards at the Ryman, which many of us value highly. All is up in the air now, with a site selection commitee hard at work. Not to mention the new ED and Bluegrass Nation. Change is definitely coming. Thanks for the coverage.

    • Dennis Jones

      The IBMA is at a crossroads. There are two choices. Return to real Bluegrass or die. Other organizations are thriving in the same economy how does that happen? And how is another “Social Media” site going to help me as a Broadcaster?

  • Lynwood Lunsford

    I don’t see the value of holding the awards show at the Ryman. As evidenced by the data, the awards show has been the biggest money loser of all the WOB events. Surely you can’t attribute 90% of that to the economy? Perhaps the Ryman holds less value than it’s supporters would like to believe? Or admit?

  • Craig Havighurst

    With respect, but I think Mr. Lunsford’s NUMBER ONE priority is a red herring. IBMA does not need to figure out what kind of music it’s promoting. It’s promoting bluegrass, as defined by the world, the fans, the media, the festivals, etc. Therefore, that’s going to be a broad definition, and one with some loose ends. It means some events with only part bluegrass will get attention. it means some artists DERIVED from bluegrass (like Doc Watson just to name one major star) will get attention. Why wouldn’t they or shouldn’t they? Even Bluegrass Today writes regularly about Abigail Washburn, Jerry Douglas, etc. IBMA will continue to celebrate diversity in the bluegrass genre. Is there still really a debate to be had here?

    • Dennis Jones

      Yes there is Mr. Havighurst. It’s the bottom line of the problem we as The IBMA are facing. The absolute refusal to define The Music and there for defining The IBMA.

  • Lynwood Lunsford

    Mr Havighurst, with all due respect, I hope my “red herring” doesn’t turn into an “iron stake”. Mr Morris (and you) mentioned the alienation of the long-time supporters…….just what do you think is causing that alienation??

    • RJ Buckingham

      One small correction, which in no way is meant to minimize Lynwood’s excellent suggestions, especially #2,4 and 5: David didn’t mention not alienating the existing base, nor did Craig.

      Stan Zdonik said it, and my correction is intended to draw attention to the fact that the Chair of the IBMA Board of Directors is publicly commenting on internal fiscal matters that probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day in previous years. To me, at least, this and other recent events speaks to a new commitment to transparency in the organization. I hope it continues past the selection of the new Executive Director.

      Oh, and the alienation is real. It’s heartening to read Stan acknowledge that, and I hope he and IBMA can find a solution that we all can live with. I’m with everybody else: 19 board members?!? Wha…??

      • Lynwood Lunsford

        Thanks for that correction RJ. You are correct. And I hold your same hope.

  • Darren Sullivan-Koch

    (Insert drawn-out, needlessly personal, ill-founded, pointless, and entirely subjective argument about what exactly bluegrass is here.)

    • Joe Beckett

      Amen!

  • Josh

    I guess I’m not sure what the IBMA’s function is in relation to Bluegrass musicians, bands and fans. What is it about its functions that necessitate having its headquarters in Nashville to begin with? I realize one of Nashville’s biggest industries is music, but Nashville is a big expensive town to play in and its a town suffering from some serious economic hard times which extant organizations are being asked to support. IBMA may like having its offices and major conference in the same town as the headquarters of numerous major music label executives and agents, but I do not foresee a time when a vast majority of medium to major league Bluegrass acts of whatever description can hope to garner the same kind of attention – and contract offers – that cross over country (aka southern rock), R&B, Hip Hop and dance/electronica groups command.
    I’m going to see the Del McCoury Band in Louisville and it’s cost me $20. I missed out on a chance to see The Grascals for $15. They were playing that huge arena in Clay City, Kentucky – that barn that holds maybe 200 people.
    If the IBMA feels it needs to cozy up to Nashville in the naive thought that Columbia or EMI is going to suddenly decide to throw million dollar contracts at the next Chris Thile, well, Bowling Green, Kentucky is just up the road and the venues at Western Kentucky University probably match the seating capacity of The Ryman. Most of the same stuff sold in the Nashville stores are sold most every other store in the country and for those who simply HAVE to pay the premium in Franklin and Brentwood, well, the drive down there is pretty. WKU may not have Ryman prestige, but I don’t see Ryman organizers cutting deals with the IBMA out of some sense of nostalgic memory for Bill Monroe or John Hartford.
    The need for Nashville is highly misplaced as well. Sugar Hill is based out of North Carolina, Rebel Records is in Virginia, and Rounder is based out of Massachusettes. So, again, why was there ever a need to be in Nashville?

    • Darren Sullivan-Koch

      Sugar Hill is now based out of Nashville…

      • And they no longer release bluegrass albums.

      • Josh

        Ah. Okay, then. Sugar Hill is now based in Nashville… so their execs save money in gas on their way north.

        • Josh

          Okay fine, scratch out Sugar Hill and insert Rural Rhythm.

          • Jon Weisberger

            Rural Rhythm has just recently moved its main office to Nashville…

          • Josh

            I thank everyone for being pedantic about the location of recording companies. Is there a point being made? My essential question remains – what does the IBMA gain from a physical location in Nashville?

          • Darren Sullivan-Koch

            Well, facts are facts…but your raise a good point: in these days of instantaneous communication and such, is physical proximity as big a benefit as it once were? A lot of major bluegrass stars live places other than Nashville. As someone who has worked in bluegrass and has lived far from and within Nashville, I will say it’s a lot easier to get things done, to network, and to take advantage of the mainstream country music industry when in Nashville. But I’m not convinced that IBMA has taken advantage of that—and that might not be its stated mission. In which case, move it somewhere cheaper!

          • There are also less expensive places to rent in Nashville.

  • Dennis Jones

    Three words that stand out to me…19 Board Members. 19??? Really? Mine didn’t even attend one of the most important meetings of WOB 2012.

  • C.S. “Charlie” Robinson

    Oh how I enjoy reading and gleaning the content of BT and it’s contributors. A cornucopia of information and a super resource.
    As president of my organization for the past 3 years I see so many parallels in this article and the replies here that justify the decisions our small BOD has made in that time. Although not as large as the IBMA the fundamentals are basically the same. We are in the black (finally) after major losses,and try very hard to think out of the box on ways to give added value to not only our members but the music community and public as well. Defining the life blood of your revenue stream is easy but the real focus has to be on the veins in which that blood runs. A transfusion should not be necessary.
    Personally, I’m a guy of ideas (lots of them) and perhaps that’s the way I’m ‘wired’ One thing is for certain, only a handful of those ideas are good ones. Fortunately, I have trusted my board to identify those and the result has been a transformation of my organization back to good health. While much work has to be done for us, the IBMA would do well to listen to the ideas posted here(by others) and seek out the advise of the music community’s other resources to ‘right’ not only their financial ship, but to more closely define what they can and can’t do and how to better serve their supporters while reaching out beyond their current public boundaries.
    We saw lots of fundamental problems with IBMA several years back and unfortunately chose not to renew our membership. Simply stated “If I invest $1 in something? I expect to get a $1.10 return on the investment.” Treat your organization’s money like it’s your own and you won’t be so quick to squander it needlessly.
    Finally, the bluegrass entertainment community needs to realize that,with all the competition and diversity of dazzling, mesmerizing and attention getting entertainment for the public to choose from, perhaps it’s time adopt (as Mr. Monroe and others did) a fresh perspective on the art of entertainment. Far too many great musicians and far too few entertainers to capture the attention and imaginations of audiences.
    A balance of traditional with contemporary and even the innovative should be a good start at the very least. After all the pioneers of bluegrass didn’t copy established norms, they did anything and everything they could to get attention and earn their money. Should we do any less?
    Build it! And they will come!
    All my best & Thanks BT
    C.S. “Charlie” Robinson

  • Uncle Pen

    1. Ever since the move to Nashville IBMA has systematically tried to segregate the fans of the music from the professionals that make it. What the organization has forgotten are the LEGIONS of fans that are pickers too that used to come to WOB. They jacked up the price of the conference so that those ordinary pickers could no longer afford to come. THAT is what is killing it. Allow the everyday picker to come back and attendance will come back.

    2. Bluegrass Nation sounds like a HUGE waste of resources. Remember Dunder Mifflin Infinity? It is going to flop, HARD. People are on FACEBOOK, duh! First order of business should be to kill that project.

    3. The awards show loses money. It will have to be scaled down, trimmed, something. The Ryman has not helped bring wider recognition. The awards are still not televised. It’s not working, lets try something else.

    -That is all

    • Dennis Jones

      Yes, I’d like to see the numbers on how much “Bluegrass Nation” is costing me.

  • Stan Zdonik

    Thank you for your article spotlighting IBMA.
    There is, however, one fact that needs to be corrected. IBMA has always split the net Fan Fest Revenues 50-50 with the Trust Fund and,
    we have verified this fact going back many years.

    Whether or not the 990’s clearly and accurately reflect this fact is another issue, and we are currently trying to understand the answer to that question by working with the accounting firm that prepared them.

    Thanks,
    Stan Zdonik
    IBMA Chair

    Doyle Lawson
    Trust Fund Chair

    • Art Menius

      Stan and Doyle are much closer to accurate on this point than the article. Neither are exactly correct. The first three years of Fan Fest (1987-1989) went 100% to the Trust Fund. In 1990 the Trust Fund board reported that they were sufficiently funded to change to a split between IBMA and the Bluegrass Trust Fund. I have no clue why those two 990s don’t report the split, but it goes ALMOST back to the beginning and about 6 months before Dan was hired.

      • Art Menius
        • Lynwood Lunsford

          Art, I have always had the highest respect for you and your insight. As I read your proposals, I realize just how deep your thoughts have been regarding the “Bluegrass” industry. I agree with most of what you say………some of it makes me realize just what an “old fogie” I am nowadays!! But I can’t accept the “big tent” approach. Perhaps my reluctance (and other’s) will cause the demise of “Bluegrass” as I know it. But I cannot find the logic in “all-inclusiveness”. How does the act of dilution, strengthen? Is the common belief that, “true” Bluegrass will not sell and it MUST be merged with as many outside influences as possible? To make it a viable commodity? I personally believe, given the adequate resources, that the “Bluegrass” us “old fogies” know and love, CAN BE financially successful. Instead of changing the product, why don’t we attempt to do a better job of selling the product. In affect, a “Bluegrass is Kewl!” campaign!

          • Lynwood… can’t we do both?

          • Lynwood Lunsford

            John, wouldn’t that stretch our limited resources? And have we done the best job that we can, to market what we already have? I really don’t think so.

          • Dennis Jones

            No you can’t have both. You can’t keep adding water to soup until soon it just becomes water. How many people bemoan the state of Top 40 Country Music these days? What does Top 40 Country on the radio have to do with Roy Acuff? Kitty Wells? Merle Haggard? Buck Owens? It’s 70’s Southern Rock or 80’s Pop songs remade. A whole American music genre was change by the very thing some people are trying to do to Bluegrass. I instead of having a powerful organization with a strong focus on another American music genre and just as important a culture, we as professionals have one that wants to call Mumford and Sons, Trampled By Turtles, Sarah Jarosz, Abigail Washburn, Bearfoot(who dropped the name Bluegrass) etc. Bluegrass…even though they themself say they are NOT Bluegrass. The offical “stamp” of The IBMA should be one that if you open a CD, it is Bluegrass NOT Blur-Grass. Again, I’ll ask…”Why have people stopped being involved in The IBMA?” It’s strayed far from it’s roots, you can’t recognize it except for at The Awards time. At least real Bluegrass people are still voting there and speaking up. Why don’t we see that? Nobody is voting for The Yonder Mountain String Band. Why are we courting them like they are the second coming of Carter Stanley?

          • Dennis… a purely preservationist mindset takes you to where barbershop quartet music is now. It has remained pure, but is insignificant in the larger cultural conversation.

            Butch Robins has persuasively argued that only the music played by Bill Monroe himself should be labeled as bluegrass. The first generation artists who modeled Monroe’s sound were at great pains to avoid the term, as its use pointed to Big Mon, and not Flatt & Scruggs or The Stanleys.

            Over time, popular use of the term – spelled as one word, lower case – has overtaken anyone’s vain attempts to prevent it, just as its current expansion covers areas where you and Lynwood feel it doesn’t belong.

            The biggest issue for me is, who decides?

            You get to decide for Goin’ Across The Mountain, and I get to decide for Bluegrass Today. Ultimately, we have no claim to the use of the word bluegrass beyond these fiefdoms.

            BT takes the same approach as we did on The Bluegrass Blog: we write about things that we think will be of interest to our readers, and let them pick and choose for themselves.

            You are free to not play Bearfoot’s music on your show, and refrain from inviting them to perform live. But how do you do bluegrass a favor by jumping on anyone’s newfound enthusiasm for a group that may be only loosely affiliated with “true bluegrass,” and writing them out of the club?

            As a banjo player, I hate seeing bands leave the five string behind. Shoot… I’m still mildly annoyed by Manzanita, and take a perverse personal pleasure in Crooked Still going out sans guitar!

            But also as a banjo player, I’m fascinated by non-bluegrass music played on the banjo by musicians who came up through the bluegrass ranks. And I think our readers are as well.

            Chris Thile made a telling comment in an interview with us several years ago, to the effect that he had talked with many Nickel Creek fans who reported being offended when telling a “true bluegrass” fan that “they loved bluegrass – like Nickel Creek!”, only to be informed that “that’s not bluegrass!!”

            Regardless of the truth of that statement, there are two ways to deal with it. One is the snarky, imperious one mentioned above. Another would be to suggest “If you like Nickel Creek, you should check out X or Y.”

            I think all of us, IBMA included, would do well to try and bring Mumford fans to Del McCoury rather than making sure bluegrass doesn’t get any of that mess on us.

            Be careful of embracing music based on what it says *about* you, rather than *to* you.

          • Lynwood Lunsford

            John wrote: “BT takes the same approach as we did on The Bluegrass Blog: we write about things that we think will be of interest to our readers, and let them pick and choose for themselves.”

            And I have to ask, “what about the things your readers might be interested in, that you DON’T write about?”

            You have the power to pick and choose what you write about on BT, which in essence, is a form of prejudice. No doubt you know of many “Bluegrass” related stories to write about. But under the guise of presuming to know what your readers are interested in, you decide not to include it.

            Dennis also has that power with his radio show, but I feel confident in saying this; should a listener request Dennis to play a certain song or artist, he will do it if he can. HOWEVER, if that artist is clearly outside the “Bluegrass” genre, then Dennis could deny the request.

            And I as an artist, have the power to choose the type of music I perform. Some of my decision will be based on personal satisfaction. But more of it will be based on the appeal to my target audience. This much is for certain; no one would ever mistake my music for something other than what it is!

            Again, I have no desire to “turn away” anyone. But lets be clear as to what they are bringing to the table.

            And as a side note; I can remember a time when very few wanted to be associated with the name “Bluegrass”. Then the OBWAT phenom hit…….and the old myth of “you can’t make any money playing “Bluegrass” was dispelled. Overnight it seemed, every kind of music imaginable, was being called “Bluegrass”!

          • Josh

            I guess we’re getting into hair splitting, but I don’t consider very much of anything in OBWAT to be traditonal Bluegrass.

          • Lynwood Lunsford

            And as I’ve said before, the argument isn’t about “traditional” versus “non-traditional”. It’s about “Bluegrass” versus “Non-bluegrass”.

            The radio version of “Man of Constant Sorrow”……..the one that got so much airplay……was DEFINITELY “Bluegrass”!

          • My question remains: who gets to decide?

            Lynwood decides for Lynwood and any group under his control. Outside of that, it’s just his opinion.

            When you get close to saying “everyone knows” in a discussion like this, you’re just identifying personal preference.

  • Aaron

    Perhaps it speaks to the good nature of our community (and the complexity of these issues!) that I can read two (or more) differing points of view, and agree with each.

    With regard to IBMA – it’s important to distinguish between the World of Bluegrass week as an event, and the IBMA as a year-round organization. Sometimes I’m not sure even the organization makes that distinction as most efforts throughout the year seem to focus on WOB. There are other events and resources available, but they are promoted less – and perhaps utilized less by members and others. But the point is, there is a difference between the organization being located in Nashville, and the WOB event being held there. There may be pros and cons to each, but these are different for each. As far as the issue of WOB being a professional/industry/trade show vs. being open to amateur musicians jamming… that’s tough too. There are times when bands have to take care of business – meetings, networking, professional development seminars. And there are times when they should (and enjoy) interacting with fans (many of whom are amateur pickers who like to jam). The issue here seems to be time-management – scheduling and prioritizing each of these branches of an artist’s function. Fans and less business-minded amateur musicians may not see or utilize the benefits of the business and industry aspects of WOB. Should they not be encouraged to attend the entire event, or could there be a less formal time set aside for jamming – or perhaps a separate event? Most businesses have staff meetings that are separate from employee holiday parties with guests. Maybe not the perfect analogy, but just a thought.

    The other issue is the definition of bluegrass: keeping a strict definition, or an all-encompassing big-tent approach. That’s tough to me. I like traditional and neo-traditional bluegrass. And some of the progressive bluegrass that is interesting while still being true to its roots. I prefer these types of bluegrass over the more media-friendly contemporary style that often sounds like a blend with mainstream country.

    On the other hand, I like some of the bluegrass jam bands. But they are really in a different ballpark, and don’t really claim to be true or pure bluegrass by any definition. Some people consider them to be bluegrass and therefore identify as bluegrass fans (who would probably never really listen to traditional or neo-traditional bluegrass). But overall, the jam bands don’t really create much confusion through mislabeling. They don’t pose as much of a risk for snuffing out pure bluegrass as the middle-of-the-road contemporary “lite” bluegrass bands. That style should have its place, but not at the expense of the older artists and newer traditional artists who are passed over for gigs, airplay, and other opportunities.

  • C.S. “Charlie” Robinson

    I’ve seen hardcore traditionalist musicians take young pickers today and say “Monroe didn’t play it like that” and they never consider that Monroe didn’t copy anyone either. In fact, I’ve heard tell he would encourage his new band members to persue their own style and not ‘copy Scruggs etc.’ or others that left the band. He was always willing to take a new direction (drums & accordions). A good example was retuning his mandolin on “Last Days” and playing with a symphony orchestra.
    Trusting the fans (not insiders), I believe is what made the bluegrass ledgends what they are today. They weren’t hardcore traditionalists, they were innovators. Much of country music’s problem is the lack of real A&R people and the sausage factory approach. Who among you older folks was outraged when a full violin sections employed (early 50’s) in Ray Price’s music. Today he’s considered mainstream.
    The real problem for bluegrass may be the insiders and folks who think their own perspective on the music is best. I personally really like (and cherish)the old stuff. But my ears seek out the innovative that doesn’t stray too far from the traditional. Let the market decide and just report and honor the results.
    Let’s look toward the future while honoring the past. Change is inevitable and it is not in the nature of humans to readily accept it. One day (when we are all gone) some of today’s young folks will be ‘old men’ longing for ‘the way it was’ back when “we” were longing ‘for the way it was. That’s just the way it is, and always has been.
    If you alienate some, you may alienate many and never even know the reason.

    • Lynwood Lunsford

      Mr Robinson, you point out some very significant issues! I like what you have to say!

      Speaking of Monroe’s innovation; yes, Bill did experiment quite a bit in his early days. But when Scruggs joined in 1946, Monroe pretty much stuck to that format for the rest of his career. And most of the groups that copied Monroe’s style, did too. What Monroe did, was create a new genre. No longer was the music that he (and the ones who followed), “country”. Although it was labeled as such for many years afterward. But the music eventually acquired a separate name…….which meant a separate definition…….because by nature, names carry definitions.

      Creativity. It is a wonderful thing and should always be encouraged! But there are different types of creativity. There is the creativity of birthing a new genre. What Bill Monroe did. There is also the creativity within the genre. That is what most of the 2nd and 3rd generation artists have done in “Bluegrass”. IMO, creativity within the genre, is the most challenging! It is a challenge to be different, yet remain the same! THAT takes real talent!

      Now here we are in the 12th year of the 21st century. There is a new movement in the “Bluegrass” genre dubbed the “Big Tent” approach. This new approach is based upon the “necessity” to be creative, or “Bluegrass” is doomed. The irony of this could be, THAT “necessity” may be what dooms the genre!! Or at least, the music that USED to be called “Bluegrass”! To my ears, what this new movement has “created”, is a new genre. And that new genre deserves a new name.

      It’s all about branding. The majority of people are followers and will believe what they are told. If Tramped by Turtles is labeled “Bluegrass”, unknowing people will believe it. And what’s the harm of that? Well, suppose those same people later hear something by Larry Sparks (as an example). They might say, “heck, THIS ain’t bluegrass”. And damage is done to the “Bluegrass” genre.

      I am all for accepting the “Big Tenters”(sic) but let’s don’t call them “Bluegrass”. Let’s coin a new term, that allows the unknowing consumer the ability to distinguish between the two. And then let whichever genre the consumer chooses, reap the benefits. Maybe BOTH genres will reap the benefits!!

      Am I “Chicken Little”, screaming about the sky falling? Perhaps, but I care too much, to just stand by and watch it happen. Pick on!

      • C.S. “Charlie” Robinson

        Much truth here.
        However, as in life, the market will decide. And unfortunately (as in life), as you point out others can often mislead or misrepresent the genra. One thing is for certain….. Those in the leadership roles are going to have a major impact regardless of the result.
        As far as a “Big Tent”? I believe the “Package Show ” (inclusiveness) approach can weed out the undesired elements if those in leadership are motivated by true loyalty to the art and not guided by a hidden (often unrecognized) agenda.
        Too many cooks (IBMA)in the kitchen can spoil the ‘soup’ or as previously noted. “water it down.
        Hand me down my old guitar and keep that banjer strummin Pour more water on the soup ’cause better times’ a commin.

  • Buck Green

    Took me a while to read through all of this and it is all interesting to say the least. I will not agree or disagree on anything said but I will offer a thought. I remember when The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was called Bluegrass. Now we all know that they were not Bluegrass but I do remember the amount of fans that started listening to bluegrass because of them. Just sayin!

    • Lynwood Lunsford

      They did SOME “Bluegrass”! Not every song was, of course, but certainly when McEuen played the banjo (in the 3-finger style), it sounded like “Bluegrass”. So, how do “we all know they were not Bluegrass”?

      • Buck Green

        I’m Just sayin that if more people listen to bluegrass because they were introduced to it by a group that plays some banjo music, but also plays other styles then good, more folks might listen to some more traditional styles. I am not against expermintation. I personnally liked the manzanita album I don’t want to get John all stired up but Tony is the man LOL.

  • Dennis Jones

    Funny John should mention Barbershop Quartet music. Seems they are rocking their organization. Their web site is very professional and full of information. The membership is HUGE. The business is strong in America and International. They hold multiple conventions every year that are very well attended. Board members it seems actually visit local chapters and have full disclosure. They are growing like mad and have all kinds of programs for young people. The reason we don’t know about it…it’s a different culture.

    I keep saying that about real Bluegrass music. It’s more than the template of the paying and it’s contemporary expressions…it’s a life style, a culture seperate from Jam-Grass/Blur-Grass/Big Tent.

    http://www.barbershop.org I think we as The IBMA have much to learn.

    • I’m looking for their Billboard chart…

      • Dennis Jones

        Is that a measure of success of an organization?

    • Dennis Jones

      That should be the template of playing…

      And the Barbershop org…located on 7th ave…where??? Nashville Tenn.

      • James Gabehart

        While the debate is interesting in the abstract, the impact to a group trying to raise visibility is real when, for example, official showcase slots at the IBMA WOB are given to non-bluegrass acts. After two years of attendance at a cost of over $3500. per year ($1400 for registration, membership, and booth rental, $1400 for a hotel room for a week, $400. for mileage, $500 for food), and not a single booking I can trace to our attendance, I’m not sure how many more times we can justify the expense, particularly when we have been denied a shot at an official showcase (and most of the after hours showcases as well). While I am open to reaching out to encourage related music forms to feel welcome to work together and be “friendly” toward each other, it is a little frustating when it feels like attention and assistance that should be going to mainstream acts is being lavished on fringe or non-bluegrass artists. Probably just sour grapes on my part — please ignore. Have a nice day! (trying to stay positive).

        • Lynwood Lunsford

          Jim, do not apologize at all! You are just echoing the same sentiments that I’ve had for years about the showcases and their selection process. Some of the acts selected to showcase over the years, have been nothing short of laughable! It makes you want to ask, “How in the heck?” or “Who in the heck?” Unfortunately, the selection committee would not be revealed, nor would the criteria that this committee used to select showcase acts. Based on their selections, you have to wonder how these people found themselves on this committee to begin with. And who in the world decided on this set of criteria.

          So do not apologize Jim. Keep shouting and demanding some common sense regarding these showcase selections. I’m behind you all the way!

          • Dennis Jones

            Lynwood, aren’t the “Afterhours Showcases” bought and paid for by outside interest, labels, associations or individuals?

    • Jon Weisberger

      I’m not sure how Dennis would know that the SPEBSQSA is growing like mad, as the most recent membership number on the website is 5 years old. A read of the minutes of their Board of Directors’ recent meetings – I wasn’t able to find any statements of financial condition similar to those published on the IBMA website and in International Bluegrass – suggests that, like the IBMA and many other organizations, they are facing financial, membership and other issues.

      More importantly, however, the SPEBSQSA isn’t a trade association serving a body of professional (whether full- or part-time) members seeking to advance their business. Across the website, what the SPEBSQSA is seeking to preserve and encourage is referred to as a hobby.

      Consequently, the world of barbershop harmony looks very different than the world of bluegrass, no matter how the latter is viewed. Perhaps there are some things that the IBMA could learn from the SPEBSQSA. But their core missions and values are significantly different.

      • Dennis Jones

        The Barbershop organization looks pretty healthy to me. Multiple conventions a year, world wide…active members….new chapters…they look pretty busy. Professional organization or not they seem to have a lot on the ball. The IBMA holds one convention a year and it’s declining membership and attendance are well noted, the books are in the red and there’s nothing we can learn from someone else’s success?

        • Jon Weisberger

          I’m not sure what the basis is for your characterizations of the organization’s health and membership, Dennis. I saw neither budget figures nor membership figures anywhere other than a 5 year old number of members listed on the front page – a number which, according to the first footnote in the WIkipedia article on the BHS, is the result of a greater than 10% decline in the preceding 9 years.

          As I noted, reading the BHS Board’s meeting minutes suggests that they are facing the same kinds of issues that the IBMA and many others are facing; there are discussions of financial difficulties current and future, concerns about membership, discussion of how to deal with chapters below the minimum size, and so on.

          But all that is, in my opinion, largely beside the point.

          The Barbershop Harmony Society is clearly not a professional organization; it’s an association of people for whom singing is a hobby – that’s their word. It’s like an association of model train enthusiasts. Their conventions feature shows and singing contests.

          The IBMA, on the other hand, is a trade organization which brings together professionals from every corner of the industry – from artists to broadcasters to luthiers and beyond – to advance their business. Its business conference features professional development activities designed to help members be more successful at their businesses, whether full- or part-time.

          Are you recommending that the IBMA become a hobbyist society?

          • Dennis Jones

            No, I’m suggesting the board look to successful models of any organizations, businesses, individuals or whatever to try and save the investment many, many of us members of The IBMA have made. As I said before. If The IBMA were a company, the stock holders would be screaming for the boards heads.

  • Roscoe Morgan

    Blue Grass, at it’s core, was viable as a mainstream music in the 1940s because A. In the radio era “stars” were born BEFORE folks knew what they looked like. Case in point-My mom was SO disappointed when she saw what Hank Snow LOOKED like. She expected a larger person who physically matched the voice. B. There were still those who lived in “cabin homes on the hill”, watched boys go off to war and never come back, and returned to the homeplace after an extended absence to find no one waiting. And now to those who would be preservationists (which I support, by the way)-be prepared to pay the price of irrelevance in modern society. The demographic that “gets” the imagery of traditional Blue Grass songwriting is aging. Can new songs be written, with new perspectives, and can they still be acepted as Blue Grass”? I think Del does a particularly good job of keeping Blue Grass relevant, yet I know those who do not appreciate the fact that he no longer sounds like he did in the 70s and back. One more point-the Blue Grass world is too caught up in the slang and anecdotes of past artists, and quotes from Martin, Monroe, Flatt, et al will certainly fall on ears who see them as inside jokes when they are used on stage. When Monroe used the slang term “mash”, or said “Son”, I don’t think he envisioned one-word bumper stickers on every case in America. The world at large cares nothing about “picking it solid” or “leaving room for Jimmy”, though we as ‘grassers love this stuff. I don’t know how to stop Blue Grass from ever being a niche music. Obviously, IBMA’s existence hasn’t changed that fact, and that is the fact that still needs addressed.

    • Lynwood Lunsford

      Roscoe, I’m still not convinced that “Bluegrass”……..the real stuff, would not be marketable to a wider audience. I think all it needs is the right promotion. A golden opportunity might have been missed when the OBWAT movie was riding so high. Of course, little of the music in the movie should be classified as “Bluegrass”, but the biggest song, “Man of Constant Sorrow” was most definitely “Bluegrass”. Now if the IBMA would have taken the initiative to PROMOTE to the general public, the fact that this song IS “Bluegrass”, who knows how large a fan base it might have generated. But the IBMA has continually stated that it’s mission is not to promote “Bluegrass”. I don’t remember that being the case in the beginning………so what purpose does it serve?

      Let me finish by saying that I AM NOT anti-IBMA! From the beginning, I thought it was one of the most positive steps our industry could take by creating such an organization. But over time, the focus has been lost. There are so many better ways to use our resources. But it seems “Bluegrass” has been left behind in favor of something totally different than what we really are. Again I ask, is being “Bluegrass” not good enough? Some of us still think it is….

      • Dennis Jones

        Bluegrass is more than good enough. It’s the music of choice of thousands on Saturday afternoons in NC/SC/N.GA./SW.VA./E. Tenn./SE.KY.

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  • Roscoe Morgan

    Hey guys-Hope I didn’t imply that Blue Grass isn’t “good” enough. Didn’t necessarily mean that. What I did mean is that Blue Grass in it’s unadulterated form may not be commercial enough, and that if you change and conform it to a more commercial stance, can you do so while keeping it pure?

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