IBMA Awards Show flap reverbrates

A number of people have contacted us, asking about the controversy during last week’s International Bluegrass Music Awards, or wondering why we haven’t covered it on Bluegrass Today. Both Brance and I were at the show (live blogging backstage), and had the chance to watch the controversy develop, before, during and after the show itself.

There have been strident and emotional reactions to the inclusion of a patriotic-themed presentation during the Awards Show, and it has led to some upheaval within IBMA’s leadership. We have contacted many of the folks directly involved to get their comment, but feel that we need to address it here now.

In a nutshell, what happened is this:

The producers of the show had included two numbers with what was described in an official press release about ten days prior as having a “patriotic theme.” This was to include a song by Rhonda Vincent, and a performance by the US Navy bluegrass band, Country Current. A number of non-US members of IBMA felt that this was adding an inappropriately political tone to the show, and that a salute to the US military was a slight to the notion that IBMA was an international organization. Several US members shared this assessment.

These concerns were conveyed to the IBMA Board, who met with non-US members just days before the show, and amongst themselves to address these concerns. A decision was reached by the Board that the Navy band would be asked to change the song which they had originally been asked to perform – a medley of US military service anthems – and instead perform one of Chief Wayne Taylor’s original songs.

Rhonda’s performance was to go on as planned, with a tribute offered to US service men and women. Several representatives of the various military branches were to join her on stage, standing silently stage left and right, to be spotlighted for recognition during the song.

At the show, Country Current performed the newly-inserted song as per their new agreement with IBMA, but then launched into the service themes as per their original agreement. There is dispute among the principals – chiefly Wayne Taylor and former IBMA President David Crow – over the conversation that followed this performance, and whether the Navy Band had been authorized to include the second song. Crow resigned immediately following the performance.

In a letter to the IBMA membership, he indicated that his resignation should be seen as his assumption of responsibility for having “lied” to the membership in saying that the military anthems medley would be removed, but a subsequent letter suggested that a desire to dedicate more time to his family and legal practice – both rapidly growing – also played a large part in his decision.

There has been no official statement from IBMA about this as yet, but we have asked Executive Director Dan Hays to speak with us about it when he feels it is appropriate.

We are also seeking comment from the show’s producers, Rhonda Vincent’s management and the Navy band. I can’t swear that we can get all the details, but we’ll try, and will report what we can find out.

UPDATE 11:20 a.m.: Jon Weisberger emailed to correct an error he found in this post, to wit that IBMA had made no official statement about this controvery. He passed along a statement that he had sent on Monday to the IBMA member discussion list on behalf of the Executive Committee, posted as coming from Greg Cahill, Stan Zdonik and himself.

“Since the staging of the IBMA’s annual Awards Show on Thursday night, members of the Board of Directors’ Executive Committee have conferred both in person and by telephone to discuss aspects of the show that contravened the Committee’s and the Board’s prior decisions. The Committee views the failure to implement these decisions with deep concern, and is undertaking a timely review of events to establish responsibility for the failure. The results, along with recommendations for appropriate actions, will be communicated as rapidly as possible to the Board for consideration.”

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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.

  • Interesting controversy. I have thoughts, but no hard conclusions on the matter as I don’t believe enough is known about the facts leading up to the events at the Awards show. Here are my observations:

    I believe a band can select any song it wishes for inclusion in the Awards show. The producers then may elect to include the performance or not, suggest alternative material, and ultimately, approve or reject the band’s proposed contribution to the show. The producers can build the show using whatever criteria they choose. That’s their job–to build a show with content, continuity, and form they perceive to be artistically and aesthetically within their vision.

    With that in mind, if the US Navy Bluegrass Band had an agreement to perform a specific song (and ONLY that song) and then broke the agreement, then they can be held accountable for their decision. If they felt their content was unnecessarily or unfairly censored, they should have backed out of the production. I understand the show was booked months in advance and the production guidelines were established just days before the show. But even with the short lead time, the situation could have been handled better than it was.

    Note: Master Chief Wayne Taylor is a personal friend and I’ve never known him to be confrontational or irresponsible–quite the opposite. He’s excruciatingly level-headed, a complete gentleman, and a talented ambassador. I wonder when the producers told him he would need to leave out any show of patriotism?

    Regarding whether or not an International Awards organization should allow American patriotic material on a program is moot. Nationalism or patriotism is not the issue–that discussion should be held later. All that matters regarding this ‘flap’ is whether or not deception was knowingly employed and to slap some hands.

    And hey, its not THAT big a deal, is it? This flap is between the board, the artists, and the producers over a 3 minute segment of the show and has nothing to do with anyone else. Lets move on?

  • bobster

    pretty stunning situtation that military anthems performed by a US Navy Bluegrass band as a part of a military tribute segment could be banned. Bluegrass is an American artform and if some foreign pickers are offended by that 3 minute number, they should have told them to pound sand. 3 cheers to the US Navy Bluegrass band who chose not to be pushed around by some “visitor”

  • gachfr

    I was at the awards show and thought that the Navy Band did an outstanding job.

    If they offended anyone then those persons that were offended have no business being at a Bluegrass event in the USA. The Bluegrass Genre comes from a segment of the U.S. Population whose family’s left Europe and other countries to find and keep freedom’s that were not offered in other lands. We are group of people that love our families, that love our country, that love our soldiers, and that abhor conflict. However, to maintain those freedoms we have had to be war ready, and responsive to protect ourselves and to respond to the call of different Nations that have similar democratic goals that have been challenged by other countries or by individuals that want to destroy those democratic freedoms and rights.

    We cherish our soldiers and to offer a small tribute to them in any venue in the USA is appropriate. Neither Rhonda Vincent nor the Navy Band stepped over the line. The men in uniform and the disable vets on stage, and those soldiers sitting in the audience deserve ever bit of adulation offered to them. If called on, the would return to help France, England, the Netherlands, all of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and anywhere else duty called and those countries would gladly welcome them as they did in WW1, WW2, and other times.

    Mr. Crow’s resignation is sophomoric. Instead of running from the responsibility he has accepted he should stay in his position and stand up for what happened. The North American Bluegrass cadre is not a group that embraces political correctness more than they do their soldiers.

    If the IBMA accepts and takes any form of negative action based on these frivolous objections of a group of members that come to the USA to be involved in a USA oriented music event then it will no longer be representing the ideals that are the basis of Bluegrass.

    Years ago, in my youthful years, my parents where always careful to make sure that we did not offend anyone when we went to their home. She would always tell us “when in Rome do as the Romans do.” We never went into another’s home looking for them to please us by changing, we accepted whatever hospitality was offered to us.

  • bluegrassfan

    I would like to thank the people who put together and played a dynamite IBMA awards show. I couldn’t be there but did listen via satellite. Despite the fact that not all my personal picks won and some not nominated, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I am disappointed that some of the board appear now to have had issues with the military anthems played by Wayne Taylor and Country Current. The anthem medley combined with Rhonda’s number was a real highlight to the show. Having family and friends in the military, the performance was special to me. I think there was a mistake made…I think the mistake was in asking the Navy band not to do the medley. I am very proud of Wayne Taylor and the band for honoring the service men and women and I send a special thanks to them! And what about our children? I hope there are many more that follow the lead of Mr. Taylor because if they did, the world would be a better place. As far as our international guests, I think that we need to give them a little credit…I can’t believe that they would make a big fuss about a small segment of the show. If any did complain let them complain, isn’t that freedom of speech. Maybe they don’t get to do that in their country. I am delighted to see all the support for Wayne and his group and that make me thankful to be in America.

  • bobster

    So if a few people object to too much jazz being added to Bluegrass are they going to ban NickelCreek? If someone doesn’t like lyrics talking about death, are those now out? If someone thinks that no women should perform Bluegrass, are all the women out? Last time I heard, there is no Constitutional protection against being offended. If that were the case, I could have closed up a Hell of a lot of shops by now. This was a weird hill to die on.

  • FredBlack

    My two cents worth….
    If someone gave their word that they would not play something, then they shouldn’t play it. I wasn’t there, but there’s probably more to this than I know from reading the posts here. That’s one issue. Another totally separate issue is the appropriateness of Rhonda’s tribute to the U.S. Military personal. A third issue is political correctness. It’s easy to get the wires crossed when people are discussing issues they’re passionate about, and it sounds like that may be happening here.

    There are only a few people that can give a valid account of why the first issue occurred, and until, and if, that happens, we won’t know why the Navy band played the medley of military songs after they said they wouldn’t. I don’t believe that anyone should resign over it.

    The second issue makes me mad. Bluegrass is American music, plan and simple. They may have moved the IBMA to Tennessee, but I don’t see it moving to France! As long as the show was on American soil and the majority of people listening, watching, and participating are American’s, there should be no question at all that the tribute was appropriate. If it was the International Russian Folk Music Association, it would not have been appropriate. This country needs more people like Rhonda. People who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe and who are good, strong role models. We have too many celebrities, sports stars, and artists who have no moral values and seek only to put more money in their bank accounts by doing whatever it takes to keep the media’s attention focused on them. Artists like Rhonda, who actually think about their action’s impact and effects on our youth, and who actually spend time with our youth are increasingly rare. Rhonda’s very smart so she probably knew that there would be some fallout from her tribute, but she obviously chose to follow her heart and her beliefs. I’m glad she did.

    Now for the third issue: as stated in the previous paragraph, bluegrass is American music, created here in this country. I think it’s great that citizens of other nations like bluegrass music, play bluegrass music, and join and attend things like the IBMA. But they have to realize that bluegrass is an American form of music. Unless they’ve never listened to much bluegrass, they must also realize that God, Jesus, and gospel music are a big part of it too. If they attended IBMA week, certainly they realize that they flew to the United States and were actually in this country. If I attended a similar event in another country, and keep in mind that I would not travel to a country that was an enemy of ours, I would enjoy watching an analogous tribute to their military men and women. I wouldn’t be insulted by it, even if they flashed up their old newspaper headlines showing how many Americans were killed in a previous war. We shouldn’t try to gloss over history and make it go away – or we’ll repeat it. I’m sick of political correctness. I’m sick of our nation sinking into a homogenized, neutral mess. I’m sick of having more than one language on every bottle, label, or sign I see these days. I’m sick of religious extremists, corrupt politicians, child molesters, cult leaders, and people that think they deserve a free ride from our government. And now I’m sick over political correctness working its way into one of the last bastions of true Americanism, bluegrass. Herb is correct; it should have never become an issue in the first place.

    Fred Black

  • gachfr

    Could you translate that into Spanish?

    Just joking…but it may be our future.