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.

  • I have to agree with Mr. Bowen. I am the leader and guitar player in a Bluegrass band that is working as hard as we can to get ahead in this busniess and it is extremely hard. No one wants to give you a chance. Most promoters, radio broadcasters, magazines and etc. only promote the same popular bands over and over again. They never are willing to give a new upcoming band any publicity or a chance to play a show.

    It’s nice to hear this coming from someone in the business and that has been there and done that.
    Shaun Batho
    Acoustic Blue

  • 5 String

    Many bluegrass festival promoters are not at all supportive, or even the least bit respectful of local and regional bands – performers who take the music to the masses and provide a good show for a fair price. If it weren’t for the local/regional bands, bluegrass festivals would eventually wither and die because they’d never get any new listeners through the gates. It is the local/regional bands who make first-time listeners perk up their ears and enjoy a form of music they thought they would hate. It is the local/regional bands who hit the roads every weekend (after working day-jobs all week) passing along the old songs, and introduce original material, maintaining relationships with long-time listeners, and helping new listeners (young and old) to gain a respect for this very distinctive style of traditional American music.

  • deansapp

    I have been a friend of Jimmy Bowen now for the past 23 years.
    We have had extensive conversations about I.B.M.A over the years.
    For years I attended I.B.M.A from the Owensboro days up to the move to Nashville. I got my booth. Paid my entry fees.
    Did everything that was expected of me to do as a member. All that in the hopes of promoting myself and my band the Harford Express. All the years I attened I got overlooked for everything.
    Never got asked to present an award at the awards show.
    Never got anything for my effort except being out alot of money and time. Maybe once in awhile getting a hand shake and “glad you’re here”. Glad to take my money !!!
    I finnally decided to count my losses and realized I.B.M.A is controled by record labels that I can`t compete with as an independant non labeled artist song writer.
    I have never known Jimmy Bowen to lie in all the years I have known him.
    I have to say I support his claims. I have been there first hand standing in my booth watching as all the activity seemed to go right by me like I wasn`t even there.
    Like alot of the radio stations that now play Bluegrass.
    One would think there are only 7 to 10 Bluegrass bands that exist. They’re killing the fan base that made this music what it has become.
    I have spent the years running up and down the road in the early days getting from one booking to the other.I was told resently by a radio “jock” that they only play groups that do it for a living that`s why they won`t play me on their radio station.. My answer to that is. I was doing it for a living when you were still in grade school !!!!! And I am still travelling.
    The shame of it all is artists like Jimmy Bowen and Dean Sapp
    will never be looked upon by I.B.M.A as anything more than a


    How right you are Jimmy! I have spent countless hours at IBMA. I certainly didn’t get my moneys worth. It is about time someone tells it like it really is! The truth ….its all about the money! They have lost sight of the music. The folks in charge do not care if you accomplish anything as long as you pay your entry fees. If IBMA would showcase the new bands in the business, promoters may be able to hire them. Instead we arrive only to see the bands that have been around forever SHOWCASING! If I wanted to see the 10K $ bands, I’d buy a ticket to Fanfest! That is what it’s for.
    I did not attend IBMA in 2009 or 2010. And it sounds like nothing has changed.