2017 IBMA Awards Show flap, part trois

This marks our third, and hopefully final, article about the flap between the IBMA and the original 2017 International Bluegrass Music Awards show producers that led to them resigning earlier this month.

The simplest facts of the matter are these: Producer Amy Reitnouer, who had run the show this past three years, and her team had been working on the 2017 show for several months. They had pitched a theme of “The American Bluegrass Songbook,” which intended to feature collaborations between artists from different backgrounds, styles, or eras to demonstrate the diversity of bluegrass music, using popular songs from said songbook. This theme was approved by the IBMA’s Oversight Committee, formed to watch over awards show producers following the 2006 show in Nashville where directions from the Board of Directors were superceded backstage during the live show, resulting in the US Navy Band Country Current playing the US military service anthems during the program.

At some point this summer, at least one artist booked for the 2017 show became uncomfortable with a collaboration in which they were scheduled to take part, and had their booking representative contact the IBMA office about it. Initially, IBMA supported the producers on this question, but as they discovered further discomfort within the artist community, they decided that some revisions were in order. This led to the office asking the producers to make changes to suit, which they were unwilling to do. Amy resigned, along with her two associate producers, Jon Weisberger and Justin Hiltner, and we announced that a new producer was being sought, and subsequently that Claire Armbruster, who had also produced the show previously, had agreed to step in and run the 2017 event.

The most important point is that the show will go on, largely as planned – as it must – and that Amy is assisting Claire in getting up to speed. All would seem to be well.

Over the weekend, we received a note from Jon Weisberger requesting that we clarify and/or correct some information in our most recent article, particularly this paragraph:

“Claire agreed to step in when a dispute between this year’s producer, Amy Reitnouer, and the IBMA’s Awards Oversight Committee arose over some confusion about artist collaborations during the show. As Amy is based on the west coast and was unable to attend this year’s production, she thought it best to step back and let someone else run the production side.”

Jon said that this is untrue.

“There was no dispute between Amy and the Oversight Committee, nor was there any confusion. Amy and the rest of her production team – myself and Justin Hiltner – asked for and received the required approval from the Oversight Committee for each proposed element of the show, including every one of the artist collaborations we envisioned.”

On this note he is correct. The dispute was between artists and their representatives, and the producers. From what we’ve been able to determine, this resulted from Jon communicating directly with artists rather than making contact through their management, and when the performers found the pairings not to their liking, requested their rep to step in. Secondly, though the Oversight Committee does keep an eye on the process, one member told us this morning that said communication this year amounted to a pair of conference calls.

Weisberger also objected to us indicating that part of Reitnouer’s concern was that she was unable to attend this year’s show, something that the IBMA office had related to us when the announcement of a change in producers was first made.

“Further, Amy’s resignation, along with Justin’s and mine, didn’t result from any issue relating to attendance on her part. Amy tendered her resignation when it became apparent that, despite our adherence to the guidelines and oversight process prescribed years ago by the Board, we were not going to be able to produce the show that we had designed and that the Oversight Committee approved.”

But Executive Director Paul Schiminger’s statement to us on August 8 read…

“In the past few days, we decided to make some modifications to the show’s program. This decision put Executive Producer, Amy Reitnouer, and her team at a disadvantage, especially since Amy is unable to be in Raleigh for the awards show this year. Therefore, Amy and her production team feel it best to step away from producing this year’s show.”

Jon concluded with this comment, directed more at the organization – who were copied in his communication – than Bluegrass Today.

“It’s our hope that the Board will, in a timely manner, review these events to determine whether there was inappropriate intervention by anyone outside the production team and Oversight Committee and/or whether the guidelines and process need to be revised.”

Here he is referring to the fact that the artist representative who objected to a specific collaboration is a member of the IBMA Board of Directors. Of course, the Board members are the ultimate governors of the association, just as they were when Jon was a member in 2006 and they determined that the playing of the service anthems would be objectionable to non-US members of the IBMA.

Best of luck to Claire, who will surely oversee a first-rate production in September.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.