IBMA: First day impressions

viewpointIt’s Tuesday morning, well it’s after noon but I just got up, and I’m reflecting back on my impressions from yesterday of the new environment for the World of Bluegrass event.

The exhibit hall here at the Nashville Convention Center is much larger than our previous location. Having attended the summer NAMM show a number of times in the past I know that we are only using a fraction of the available space for vendors. Having plenty of room for growth was, I’m sure, one of the deciding factors in the decision to move the event to this location.

Fan Fest hasn’t begun yet, but I understand that the half of the exhibit hall that we are not using for vendors is to be the location of the Fan Fest performances.

The after hours showcase environment is drastically different. In years past these showcases have been held in people’s (or organization’s) hotel suites. That environment lent itself well to a very loose, relaxed, downhome kind of atmosphere. The after hours showcases are now being held in conference rooms of the convention center, and the meeting room facilities of the Renaissance Hotel. The intimacy of the showcase environment has been preserved because of the relatively small size of the rooms being used, but there are some marked improvements this year. Every showcase room is complete with sound reinforcement (being used rather sparingly in the smaller rooms), and access is limited to registered attendees of the event. After one night of attending showcases, I am already convinced of the benefits of this arrangement. The more professional presentation of the showcases this year is sure to leave an impression on any music business insiders who may attend of the seriousness with which we take this music.

Jamming, the heart and soul of bluegrass music, may be the most affected aspect of this year’s event. Many people who attended the event in years past simply to enjoy the jam sessions, which filled every nook and cranny of the Galt House, may not find the event to their liking this year. The location of the event in Nashville has resulted in a decentralization of the accommodations and activities this year. Many people are staying in hotels other than the host hotel or, in the case of the people who live in Nashville, are staying at home and driving back and forth to the event. Together along with the tighter security of the Renaissance Hotel, this seems to have put a damper on the jamming. Jamming is limited to certain floors of the hotel as has been done in the past, but after 10 PM access to the hotel itself is limited to persons who are staying at the hotel or attending the event. This prevents non-attendees from simply walking in off the street to enjoy the jamming. Some may find this to be a negative, but I don’t feel that it is. All year long there are festivals where participating in the jams is as large a part of the reason for attending as is hearing the performances on stage. The IBMA World of Bluegrass is a professional trade show, not a festival. Our purpose this week is to focus on the business aspects of the music rather than the jamming. This doesn’t mean that jamming doesn’t occur at all. Last night I had the opportunity to participate in a jam session that lasted well into the morning and was every bit as enjoyable as the jam sessions I attended last year at the Galt House.

Overall my impression from the first day of the event is that the move to Nashville has increased the level of professionalism and boosted the business aspects of the music, which exactly why IBMA exists to begin with. Throughout the course of the event we will be collecting impressions from bluegrass professionals which we will present in the form of a podcast later this week. We also invite your thoughts and comments here.