If you think that this article is going to pit one organization against the other, or compare one to the other, then just stop reading now. A friend once told me that for every stone I throw, expect ten stones to be thrown back. I am just giving my opinion based on a first time visit to both conventions. Hard to believe for a life-long grasser, but I have never attended either of the organizations’ signature events until the 2011 IBMA, and the 2012 SPBGMA. And only then because I was invited to attend by Jimmy Gabehart, and I felt obligated to go because he’s the boss.

Having said that, I hadn’t attended because I just didn’t see a big need for it. Wrong! I get it now and I am inspired by Gabehart who works so hard to promote not only his band, but to promote the music in general. There is a virtual who’s who of performers, promoters, fans, and industry people all gathered under one roof for a few days at a time. I saw and was greeted by many old friends with whom I had lost contact, and many new friendships have been made through these events.

Jam sessions abound in the hallways of both SPBGMA and IBMA. Everyone seems to be enjoying the music that is being played at showcases and impromptu jam sessions. I even spied Roland White at IBMA stopping to listen to a young band from Washington state, and after listening to a couple of tunes he got his mandolin out and then asked if they minded if he could join in. The young band said “sure,” and it was a real treat to hear him pick. He hasn’t lost a thing over the years and this was one of the many high points for me personally.

Bluegrass music is in good hands. I saw a multitude of young people playing and carrying instruments. At SPBGMA, Jim opened up his hotel room at 9:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night for jamming, and both nights young musicians in their teens came in and picked with us. We also had the likes of Don Rigsby, Jim Stack, Dale Pyatt, and Jon Mann of Mann Mandolins popping in. I wondered what those youngsters were thinking as Rigsby came in and joined the picking. I am so old that I don’t know if I remember what it was like for me when something like that would happen, but it had to be a thrill for them. Heck… it’s still a thrill for me.

Both IBMA and SPBGMA have areas where vendors set up booths to display their wares. It is a particular pleasure for me to see all the new Martin, Gibson, and Saga instruments as well as the lesser known, but well crafted instruments that are being displayed. Everything that a picker would need – from strings, picks, straps, to belts – all there for you to touch and feel. Some bands set up to promote themselves, and there are the promoters and agents to let you know what they are doing.

What a great atmosphere. Walking around checking out all the new stuff and running into friends, and the occasional fan that introduces himself or herself and says “hey remember when?” My memory may not be good as it use to be, but I try real hard to remember and enjoy the moment. I’m just always complimented by the fact that someone takes the time to come up and shake my hand.

While taking a break at SPBGMA I sat down in the big easy chair in the Sheraton and was joined by a couple from Virginia who were also experiencing their first trip to the convention, and were likewise enjoying their visit. We talked about the music and our personal lives some, and it was nice to make a new friendship. They shared with me their likes and dislikes about both SPBGMA and IBMA, but the good outweighed the bad and they said that they would surely return. The love of the music is what everyone has in common. It’s the thread that binds us all together.

The only negative that I have is the parking situation at both events, but I don’t see how that can be improved under the circumstances, and I will not complain about it. I just want to personally say thanks here to both SPBGMA and IBMA for promoting the music that I love so much because when it comes down to it, IT”S ALL ABOUT THE MUSIC.

Thank you IBMA and SPBGMA, and please do not throw any parking stones my way.

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About the Author

Buck Green

Buck Green, or John "Buckwheat" Green as he is also known, has performed as a bluegrass musician most of his life. He worked with Lonesome River Band in the 1980s, and wrote one of their more popular songs of that era, The Old Man In The Shanty.