IBMA Travelogue #1

Our own intrepid correspondent, Richard Thompson [bluegrassmercury], is on his way to Nashville from the UK to attend the IBMA convention next week. This will be his first trip to IBMA in 20 years, and we thought that his impressions and considerations would be of interest both to others who are likewise preparing to attend, and our many readers who would love be there but are unable to do so.

bluegrassmercury – Travelogue #1
by Richard F Thompson

Richard F. Thompson aka bluegrassmercuryLike John and Brance, I will be attending the IBMA World of Bluegrass Convention and Fan Fest this year. Recently, I asked John if he would like me to write a Travel Log . He thought that it was an excellent idea. So, here is a note about some of my preparations.

I’ll ignore the mundane aspects, like have I got everything that I need for a Transatlantic trip and 12 days in Nashville?

What I have tried to focus on in the past few days is the timing of the various events that take place during this very busy week. There’s 21 seminars, on subjects ranging from writing Press Releases, Product Endorsement, Emceeing, Substance Abuse, Road -proofing a Relationship and Trends in Independent Record Label Management.

Also, there is a two-day International Summit, with which I have a rare association as I was a member of the panel for the International Seminar – the first such meeting – 20 years ago.

While the World of Bluegrass is a firstly a business conference, the music is still very prominent, with over 20 hours of showcases. During the after-hours showcases there’s a mind-boggling number of bands putting in appearance and in some cases, more than one appearance. I hope that the bands know where they have to be at any given time, because I am having difficulty working out where I want to be.

Of the bands with whom I am not familiar, who should go to see and hear? Are they good? Will I enjoy their brand of bluegrass music? Not to worry, help is at hand. For the third consecutive year Garian Vigil has compiled a WoB Showcase list with hyperlinks so those inquisitive investigators can listen to audio samples. For a copy of the list contact Garian Vigil by email. Good hunting!

I have been listening to Spring Creek, a young Colorado quartet that has recently released their debut album Lonesome Way To – a group that we have noted has now signed with Rebel Records. Their first showcase is on Monday, September 29.

Another band that I have been listening to is Kody Norris & The Watauga Mountain Boys, from Mountain City, Tennessee. 20 year old Norris has toured with Dr Ralph Stanley, singing lead and playing rhythm guitar for a brief time. Some of you may have seen Norris and his band on the ‘Cumberland Highlanders’ show on the RFD-TV channel. Their showcase is early on Saturday morning, October 4.

The Hillbilly Gypsies from Morgantown, West Virginia, have a very lively sound, which they describe as “Good Ol’ Homegrown Mountain Music.” Based on what I have heard, I anticipate that they might be visually appealing also.

In the contemporary category is Cumberland Gap Connection, a 4 piece group is comprised of musicians from Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The band, which has been together approximately 3 years, has some very interesting material as you can hear and see at their MySpace page. They are among the official IBMA Showcase bands, appearing during the evening of Monday, September 29.

Also in the contemporary category is the better known Hit & Run Bluegrass. I like some of the material that this Nashville-based band does. Their after-hours showcase is during Monday evening, September 29.

I have mentioned The Toy Hearts in the past, and the English quintet is an up-and-coming combination. They have two showcases, one of which takes place in the International Suite in the Renaissance Hotel (12:30am, September 30).

Lonesome Traveler Bluegrass Band features six pickers, with a twin guitar sound dominant and a resophonic guitar in the absence of a banjo. From Northern Colorado, they have three strong vocalists, one of whom is female, and a couple of song writers in their midst. Overall, they produce a pleasing vibrant sound.

Chester River Runoff, from Chestertown, Maryand, have a showcase on Tuesday, September 30, have some interesting original material and good harmonies, but they don’t have a mandolin player among the foursome and I missed that.

Mandolin player Frank Solivan II & Dirty Kitchen have already earned glowing praise and I endorse the positive comments. They are awesome! They will be very busy during the after-hours showcases beginning at 11:00pm, Tuesday, September 30.

Another band that I hope to see is Summertown Road. From what I have heard, they are noted for their good solid picking and fine vocals.

Darin Aldridge is very well known for his tenure with the Country Gentlemen, Blue Ridge, Damscus Road and now The Circuit Riders. He teams up with Brooke Justice and a trio of experienced pickers to present a showcase of varied gospel material. They have an album on the Pinecastle label.

As we go further into the week those appearing in the showcases are by bands heard earlier or increasingly are of national/international stature, with top label album releases.

As I said, I did attend the IBMA WoB convention 20 years ago. It took place in Owensboro, a charming city on the banks of the Ohio river; a homely environment. Fan Fest was staged in English Park, with the river as a backdrop. Not only has the convention outgrown Owensboro, it has become too large for the site used in Louisville.

Peter Wernick offered his thoughts on what I might expect in Nashville ………….

“You’ll see some major differences compared to Owensboro. Quite a lot of young talent, and even very young talent, roaming the halls. Plenty of good business gets done as well. And Nashville is generally a bit more throbbing and exciting than Owensboro.”

Wernick will be remembered for putting some young talented musicians together at the IBMA World of Bluegrass week in Owensboro in 1993. The ‘Bluegrass Youth All-Stars’ that he introduced to the world at the IBMA Awards Show that year were teen-pickers Brady Stogdill, Cody Kilby, Josh Williams, Michael Cleveland and Chris Thile. We don’t have to look too deeply to find most of these pickers now, do we? The trail is a well-marked one.

Wernick added as an afterthought ……..

“Though I still miss the Fan Fest right on the Ohio River.”

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.