Lowered festival attendance woes to affect IBMA?

IBMAWith IBMA’s big week approaching, a lot of folks have been wondering how much the down economy will affect attendance and exhibitors this year. Their annual World Of Bluegrass trade show, Awards Show and Fan Fest serve as the primary income stream for the organization, which functions as the “special interest lobby” for the bluegrass industry, just as the Country Music Association and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences do for their respective genres.

Things are scheduled to kick off officially this coming Monday (9/28) in Nashville, where IBMA takes over the Nashville Convention Center and The Renaissance Hotel for a solid week of bluegrass music and business activity. Until Thursday, the event is more a business conference, though there is plenty of music to be found. Artists, managers, promoters, record labels, radio folks and more all congregate to learn, network and explore new opportunities in an all-bluegrass setting.

Thursday night’s (10/1) gala awards show is always a highlight, with all the bluegrass glitterati in their finest duds for their big night at the historic Ryman Auditorium. It also serves as a transition point for IBMA week, as Friday morning is the kickoff for Fan Fest, a large indoor music festival held in the same location. All of the entertainers donate their time for this event, with proceeds going into a trust fund for bluegrass artists in need.

Attendance has been off substantially at a number of major music festivals and conferences this year, which won’t come as a surprise to anyone struggling with this recessionary environment. Merlefest reported a drop of 17% in ticketed attendance this year, with an overall decrease of 70% in proceeds delivered to the Wilkes Community College with whom they share a home.

Similarly, the Americana Music Conference held in Nashville earlier this month showed a drop-off of 15% from 2008, and area venues that hosted affiliated shows saw a decline as well.

Final numbers won’t be in until the conclusion of all the IBMA festivities, but Executive Director Dan Hays is guardedly optimistic at this point.

“As of September 15, our ticket sales were running 0.4% ahead of last year’s (comparing same date sales), a difference of +5 people. The IBMA Awards Show has less than 150 tickets available as of 9/22 and we anticipate those will be gone well before the night of the show (thus if anyone wants to attend, they should contact the Ryman as soon as possible).

But there’s plenty of room for folks to attend Fan Fest and like many events, a significant portion of our attendees wait to get tickets when they arrive. For example, Fan Fest typically has +60% of sales ‘at the gate.’ The fact that advance sales are steady is encouraging and we have a fantastic lineup and other activities planned that make it a ‘can’t miss’ event.”

It’s an important week in the bluegrass biz, but can also be a dream vacation for anyone who simply loves the music. Full details and schedules for all the IBMA week events can be found on their web site.

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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.