Joe Mullins talks about IBMA and World Of Bluegrass

Seeing Joe Mullins work his way through the IBMA World Of Bluegrass, you get the impression that he’s the right man, in the right job, at the right time.

Their current Board of Directors chair brings an unusually specific set of skills to the job, each of them perfectly suited to leading the organization through its third decade. As an award-winning artist, no one can doubt Mullins’ credibility on that front, but you don’t necessarily call a banjo playing fool with a powerful tenor voice when you need a strong business leader, or someone to navigate the minefields of organizational minutiae.

Here Joe’s experience as a business owner comes to the fore. From a fairly young age, he has managed a number of radio stations in the middle Ohio valley, having learned that business from his dad, lifelong bluegrass broadcaster and performer, Paul “Moon” Mullins. There Joe picked up the need to make decisions in a timely manner, and the ability to quickly weigh options and choose a path forward. Serving on the regional Chamber of Commerce and in the Rotary Club, he learned how to run a meeting on schedule, and leading his own band brought his natural abilities as a promoter, MC, and publicist to the fore.

When we sat down this morning for  chat, he already had a list of things he wanted to discuss, and several points he wanted to emphasize. The Board had just completed two days of fairly momentous meetings, which included the big announcement of their merger with the Foundation for Bluegrass Music, allowing IBMA to accept tax-deductible donations and apply for funding through the government and corporate grant processes.

Joe was in his salesman mode.

“We have good momentum right now, with the board, the staff, and the membership. There has been strong growth in membership this past year, mostly among bands and organizations. Our new, more affordable organizational membership offers three voting memberships with the annual fee. And we expect to launch a new software system for members to use online by the end of the year. Every member will be able to maintain their own profile on our site, with simple search functions for them to use. If they want to find all the female banjo pickers east of the Mississippi, that will be easy to do. It will make our member services sparkle!

We still need to grow the membership. Our Facebook grew by over 10,000 this year, but we want to turn them into members.”

He asked us to also remind fans about their Grassroots membership, a category for folks who are not involved in bluegrass professionally. Grassroots members receive discounts on World of Bluegrass tickets, in excess of the $40 annual membership. They don’t get voting privileges, but they can belong to the organization.

Joe was also high on the Bluegrass Trust Fund, a chief founding objective of the IBMA, created to provide emergency financial assistance to people in the bluegrass community, regardless of IBMA membership status. Working with IBMA, they provide thousands of dollars in annual disbursements to grassers in need, all done anonymously.

“Donations are up to the trust fund as well. People outside of IBMA are starting to get involved. Deering Banjos raised $8,000 this year for the Fund.

We’re also excited about our expanded relationship with the Bluegrass Museum in Owensboro. We have good synergy with their board. Now their Executive Director sits on our board, and ours on theirs. We are set to jointly promote the grand opening of their new facility late in 2018.”

A couple of other points he wanted to emphasize…

  • The International Bluegrass Music Awards will be live streamed on Facebook Thursday evening. A camera crew from The Birthplace Of Country Music Museum in Bristol, VA will be on hand to produce a multi-camera shoot that is free to watch on the IBMA Facebook page. Visit their page starting at 7:30 p.m. to watch it all go down in real time. It will also be carried live on SiriusXM’s Bluegrass Junction.
  • Thursday morning’s Town Hall Meeting, meant as a chance for the whole bluegrass community to meet for a talk, and to pose questions to the board, will also be streamed live on Facebook. Members not in attendance, and anyone who cares about the future direction of bluegrass music is encouraged to watch and comment live. It runs from 10:00-11:00 a.m. eastern time on Thursday.
  • For the first time this year, Trust Fund donation boxes and booths will be set up during the weekend Wide Open Bluegrass festival on the Red Hat Amphitheater in downtown Raleigh, and at the free Streetfest occurring on Fayetteville Street and adjoining areas. Visitors will be able to leave cash donations, or make credit card contributions with staff on hand to assist. The board is hoping that the goodwill gesture of providing free entertainment for local residents will result in some funds given to support bluegrass folks in need.
  • World Of Bluegrass and Wide Open Bluegrass attendees are also encouraged to visit the Ohio Bluegrass History Project exhibit, on display in the Convention Center lobby. Anyone downtown can stop in for a look, even without registration credentials. This is a project very dear to Mullins’ heart, as he grew up in Ohio, and recognizes the wealth of bluegrass history in southern Ohio. From the original recording of Foggy Mountain Breakdown being recorded by Flatt & Scruggs in Dayton, to the legacy of The Osborne Brothers in the area, the history of the music is rich in the region. There are eight panels on display, with photos and text explaining the history.

In closing, Joe was eager to explain the mission of the IBMA.

“What we are trying to do is to give everyone in bluegrass, 52 weeks a year, but especially this week when the whole world is watching, the best opportunity to succeed in this music at the highest level. That’s our goal as an organization, and as a board, to make opportunities accessible for artists, regardless of age or experience.”

How can you not get on board with that?

More details about the International Bluegrass Music Association can be found online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.