Jimmy Bowen sounds off

This post is a contribution from David Morris, one of our 2010 IBMA correspondents. See his profile here.

A handful of participants in a tax seminar on the opening day of the World of Bluegrass conference in Nashville got an earful today when Jimmy Bowen sounded off on the state of bluegrass music and a critique of the International Bluegrass Music Association.

“Nobody cares about the music anymore,” said Bowen, who played with the Country Gentlemen for seven years and followed up with a stint with Continental Divide, a past winner of IBMA’s emerging artist of the year. Bowen said IBMA needs to pay more attention to younger, less-experienced performers. Instead of seminars dealing with how to promote your band’s DVD, he said breakout sessions should focus on such basics as how a band can afford to make a DVD and other basics.

In a similar vein, Bowen said promoters contribute to the stagnation of the music industry by hiring the same big-name acts to perform the same sets year after year.

“Promoters have to give other people chances,” he said. “It’s the same acts, doing the same shows.”

Instead of paying Ralph Stanley $30,000, he suggested hiring 10 other acts for the same total price. And many of those acts would still be gate draws. He noted that at the time of co-founder Charlie Waller’s death, the Country Gentlemen were still charging just $3,000 a show.

Bowen acknowledged the criticism of IBMA and bluegrass legends might not play well, but noted, “I’ve been in it so long, I just feel I can voice my opinion.”

On one level, the sharp words directed at Stanley shouldn’t be surprising. Stanley used a section of his 2009 autobiography, Man of Constant Sorrow, to criticize the Gentlemen’s late John Duffy, who Bowen called a friend. Other former bandmates of Duffy have also sounded off about Stanley’s book, most notably Tom Gray, who played with Duffy in both the Gentlemen and the Seldom Scene.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.