Controversial legislation in North Carolina has IBMA stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, a development that makes the usual arguments about the definition of bluegrass seem quaint.
On one side are some members, musicians and fans who say they might boycott this fall’s World of Bluegrass in Raleigh over recent legislation signed by the governor that regulates which bathrooms transgender individuals can use and prevents cities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances that protect gays and lesbians. Some of them have gone so far as to call on IBMA to move the wildly popular business conference and festival elsewhere if the state doesn’t back down. Such a move would take time. IBMA’s contract with the city runs for a few more years.
On the other side are those, including folks on both sides of the legislation, who say IBMA is a music trade organization and shouldn’t take sides in a political fight. And some of those folks have talked openly about skipping the fall festivities if IBMA signals a willingness to fight the law.
There are board members, high-profile members of the bluegrass community, and fans in both camps. In a sense, IBMA was damned if it did address the issue and damned if it didn’t. Or if it did address the issue and went too far for some and not far enough for others.
IBMA managed to sidestep the issue until early this week, when a North Carolina reporter asked the organization to address the matter. The response, crafted by the board of directors and issued by Executive Director Paul Schiminger, attempts to tread lightly around the controversy.
“There is a wide diversity of views within the membership, but where issues divide, music unites,” the statement notes. “In addition to honoring tradition and celebrating our musical and cultural heritage, diversity and inclusiveness have long been a part of our core values, and are encouraged in the expression of bluegrass by the IBMA.”
The statement says that while the impact on the event is “unclear” at this point, the organization and Raleigh officials “will continue monitoring the situation.”
The full statement from the board can be read at the end of this article.
While the impact may be unclear, anecdotal evidence suggests ticket sales and hotel reservations started off briskly on Tuesday. IBMA’s block of rooms for the Marriott pretty much sold out within hours, as it did last year. And the highest-priced tickets for the weekend festival were moving quickly, too. (So far for 2016, tickets and rooms are available only to IBMA members.)
The law will likely be settled in court, but the chances of that happening before this year’s World of Bluegrass are slim. Instead, the best-case scenario for IBMA might be a move by the governor and Legislature to roll back or soften provisions in the face of protests by some the state’s largest businesses that could remove millions of dollars from North Carolina’s economy and tax base.
How quickly that happens, if at all, is anyone’s guess at this point. But IBMA is quietly hoping to weather the political storm – potentially more damaging in the long run than last year’s hurricane – and get back to the typical arguments one hears in the hallways of the Raleigh Convention Center when IBMA takes over.
Monroe or Flatt and Scruggs or the Stanley Brothers?
Drums or no drums?
Vinegar-based barbeque sauce or tomato-based sauce?
IBMA statement in full:
“In recent decades, bluegrass music has reached a broader audience and like the genre itself, the membership of the International Bluegrass Music Association represents a vast cross section of people not just from the U.S, but from other countries as well. The International Bluegrass Music Association is the trade organization for bluegrass professionals and the bluegrass community as a whole. There is a wide diversity of views within the membership, but where issues divide, music unites. In addition to honoring tradition and celebrating our musical and cultural heritage, diversity and inclusiveness have long been a part of our core values, and are encouraged in the expression of bluegrass by the IBMA.
We have reached out to our partners in Raleigh regarding any potential impact from the recent legislation, and will continue monitoring the situation. While the impact is unclear at this time, we are confident IBMA’s World of Bluegrass will be successful again this year. We are moving forward to offer another great Red Hat Amphitheater lineup along with a strong group of Ramble showcase bands and expanded content at our Conference.”