IBMA Travelogue #5

Our own intrepid correspondent, Richard Thompson [bluegrassmercury], spent a week in Nashville, having traveled from the UK to attend the IBMA convention. It was his first trip to IBMA in 20 years, and we thought that his post-IBMA impressions and reflections would be of interest both to others who were likewise in attendance, and our many readers who would love to have been there.

bluegrassmercury – Travelogue #5
by Richard F Thompson

Nashville, Tenn Monday, September 29

Bill Clifton and Tim Stafford chat at IBMA 2008Having spent a few days at a leisurely pace we continued in that vein on Monday morning and the impression that I got when registering at that IBMA booths in the lobby of the Convention Center was that not many other people were in a rush either.

However, a shortage of numbers didn’t mean a shortage of personalities as Karen and I gathered behind Ken Irwin and his wife. It was good to see him again and we recalled our first meeting, when he accompanied the Johnson Mountain Boys to England for their 1987 trip to headline the Edale Bluegrass Festival (June 1987) and appearances elsewhere in the country.

As first-timers for a convention in Nashville, we thought it prudent to attend the orientation presentation, but for me that was not before I had a few very anxious moments with a faulty mobile phone. How did we ever manage without them? In my frantic attempts to get the phone working I bumped – almost literally – into the Johnsons [Stewart, Sophia and Hannah], three fifths of The Toy Hearts. Would you believe it? We travelled so many miles and the first people I should meet live 20 miles from my home!

Later, Karen and I grabbed some food, had a drink and sat and watched people passing, hoping to see people we know or names that we recognised. Roland White was busy at a table not far from us. After a while, Katy Daley walked by and Roland and I spent some time chatting with her. Later, Roland, who was a traveling companion with me as a ‘roadie’ when the Nashville Bluegrass Band played some dates in England, generously gave me a copy of a Lester Flatt songbook, one of a handful that he had recently found in his loft. Aren’t bluegrass people so thoughtful and generous?

It wasn’t long afterwards that Bluegrass Today team had its first board meeting, so to speak. The minutes indicate that business was swiftly completed with introductions and a check that we all had what was needed for an enjoyable, yet business-like week.

One of the purposes for my attending the Convention was to learn; there was a lot that I either didn’t know or that needed improvement. All right, there still is! But that’s not the fault of seminar panelists or mentors. So, I went along to learn about writing a Press Release. Kudos here to Karen Byrd, the moderator, who provided an agenda and notes for all who attended and, since it was an interactive session, participated. It was a good session and I will refer to the notes repeatedly.

It wouldn’t be out of place here to remind those who attended (or couldn’t make it because of other commitments) any seminar that they were recorded and CDs are available from the IBMA office.

As Karen and I wandered around the Exhibition Hall it was evident that some exhibitors were still setting up. That said, registrants were increasing in numbers.

That was clear as we took our seat for the Key Note speech by Roger Brown. As revealed in an earlier posting, Brown spoke of the history of bluegrass matching the timeline with that of be-bop music. How apt that what Brown was saying should be followed by the first showcase act of the evening from the ‘funky’ Dixie Bee-Liners. As Tim Stafford commented a little while later, “There are bands that are even funkier.” We shall see.

However, I had an appointment, so I had to take a break from the music to join up with another long-standing friend, Eddie Stubbs, with whom I chatted on air (650 AM WSM) about bluegrass in Britain and what enticed me to the IBMA Convention this particular year. It’s the “International” element that I keep speaking of.

Eddie took great pride in reminding me that we named our son after him. Apparently, he has four boys, a cat and a dog named after him, but he stressed our “little Eddie” was the first. I’m pleased to say that I am very proud to be associated with both gentlemen.

While on the subject of the “I” in “IBMA”, I bumped, metaphorically speaking, into the first international ambassador for bluegrass, Bill Clifton, who was typically gracious about being inducted into the Hall of Fame, indicating that there were others, such as the Morris Brothers, who came before him and were more worthy of the accolade. I don’t think you will find a European bluegrass fan that will tell you that Bill doesn’t deserve the honour. Anyway, it was great to see him again and hear the stories that he had to tell.

Back at the showcases, I returned in time to enjoy a full set from the Gibson brothers, who, it seems to me, have a lot more variety in their music these days. I can recommend their CD Iron & Diamonds (Sugar Hill). Completing the official line-up were The SteelDrivers with their heavy blues orientated style of bluegrass music. Not everybody’s cup of tea, but it helps if you are aware of Charlie Patton and his ilk.

During the after hours sessions we took in Cedar Hill, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road, Charlie Sizemore (appearing solo), Josh Williams, Spring Creek and The Toy Hearts. I have long enjoyed Frank Ray and his very traditional approach to bluegrass. Lorraine Jordan and Charlie Sizemore both have solid traditional grounding, but have both up-dated the music in their individual ways. Sizemore only had a guitar for accompaniment and he whetted the appetite for his full-band showcase later in the week. Williams, Spring Creek and The Toy Hearts are all up-and-coming stylists and I am sure that there will be considerable development to their careers in a few short years.

Gosh, did I do all that in my 16 hour day?

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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.