New rules in place for SPBGMA 2018

It seems lately that the growing fad is for chaos and rumors bouncing off the bluegrass walls about upcoming conventions and awards shows. Who’s running what? What new rules are in place? Who put a Baby Ruth in the swimming pool of the hotel last year?

This got me to wondering which of these rumors were factual and which are pure horse manure about the 2018 SPBGMA convention in Nashville. With founder Chuck Stearman’s recent passing, the Stearman Family has stepped up to continue Chuck’s vision.

With changing times, the convention that hosts vendors from all walks of bluegrass and over 40 national acts on the main stage, everyone can find something they enjoy at SPBGMA. Jamming in the lobby was one of the first places many have encountered bluegrass on such a large scale, and making friends for life while they’re at it.

With economic changes through the years and multiple other factors, some new policies have been set in place for the National SPBGMA Convention taking place February 1-4, 2018. To get the actual policies, I went straight to the source and spoke to Stephanie Jones with SPBGMA.

Here are new policies/changes with short explanations for each:

Showcase rooms are available, but only in designated conference rooms on the first floor, available through SPBGMA for $250 per night. No showcases are allowed in rooms or suites. The Music City Sheraton has just completed a multi-million dollar renovation to update the hotel for the best accomodations available. Per the hotel’s request, SPBGMA is not allowing showcases, other than in those 6 conference rooms. This is something SPBGMA cannot help, nor change.

Along with that, SPBGMA has limited showcases to the times of 10:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.

Why you ask? There’s a main stage show going on until 10:00 p.m. every night. In the past, showcases have run all day, and bands playing the main stage would be a part of showcases throughout the weekend as well. Sounds great to the fan, but this has been severely detrimental to SPBGMA as an organization.

Ticket sales have plummeted over the past several years. National acts were being paid to play the main stage, then going to a hotel showcase and playing for free, with no ticket or pass needed to attend. This, in turn, took a toll on ticket sales for the main stage show. Like any other business/festival, SPBGMA depends on ticket sales in order to keep the event afloat. Along with showcases being meant for new and upcoming acts, SPBGMA has enforced a new policy stating if a main stage act plays a showcase at the event, they forfeit their pay for the main stage show. That may sound harsh, but it really isn’t at all. Main stage acts, for one, don’t need to play a free showcase if they are already a touring act across the country. And secondly, this is totally unfair to SPBGMA paying an act to come to the event to play the ticketed stage, but then playing a hotel room suite for free.

Another policy for the 2018 convention is aimed at folks renting a room in the hotel for the weekend. A ticket to the event is mandatory for every bed. If you get a room that has two beds, you will need to purchase at least two tickets to the main stage/vendor area. This isn’t too bad, being that I’ve split a room with 8 people before and we’ve all stacked in there like cord wood. This is an effort to recoup money spent on bands and the rental of the hotel by SPBGMA each year.

Another suggestion, not policy, goes to the jammers/attendees. SPBGMA encourages jammers to buy a ticket to the main stage for at least one day ($35-$45). That one ticket sale goes to keeping the event we all love going. People have said, “if I have to pay to jam then I won’t go.” Well, do you say that at outdoor venues where you pay a full day pass to get in the gate, whether you watch the stage acts all day or jam all day? Probably not. For the last 15 years or so, we’ve had the opportunity to show up, visit friends, play all the music we wanted, and have a fun weekend, with no charge to enter that atmosphere. If we want to keep this event alive we have to support it monetarily, as we do any event in our small community.

This is not a “pointing fingers” article. There a lot of folks that buy passes and tickets to The National SPBGMA Convention and support it ever year. This is just a bugle call to help some folks realize we wouldn’t have this awesome weekend in the winter without SPBGMA, so if we want to keep having a good time each year and invading Nashville with bluegrass every February, we’ve got to do our part as well. As a rule, the folks in bluegrass music are super supportive and step up to answer the call on anything. A one day pass will go a long way. A 501(c)3, like SPBGMA cannot survive on jammers and wishful thinking. SPBGMA is a volunteer organization and are very much grateful to the fans, performers, promoters, jammers, and support staff for over 40 years of bluegrass, let’s help it keeping going another 40 years and beyond.

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About the Author

C J Lewandowski

A native Missouri boy, CJ Lewandowski grew up under the wing of the 1st generation Missouri Bluegrass musicians. Learning from men 50 years his senior, he developed a passion and love for Traditional Bluegrass in its rawest forms. CJ has traveled and play with The Warrior River Boys, Karl Shiflett, James King and now heads up Randm Record Recording Artists, The Po' Ramblin' Boys. CJ proudly endorses Pointer Brand Work wear of Bristol TN and makes his home in Hopeless Holler TN. He is becoming well known for his traditional based "Ozark Mandolin Style" and his preservation of the old music.

  • Hans Rosen

    To limit showcases to a shorter timeframe of 10pm-2am will surely limit the event. Probably some fans with regular sleeping habits will pass this event from now on! I reckon that the best showcases will suffer…

    • Jeff Lipchik

      Yes, I completely agree! I wouldn’t want to stay awake until 2am. I tried that at IBMA last fall, and it didn’t work out too well. And now to stay there that late would force me to pay the exorbitant prices for the hotel rooms — IF there are any left; I would not want to be out driving to another hotel at that hour.

  • Andy Muenich

    For many years a group of us went to the Spbgma event even tho the prices kept escalating. Reminded me of the insurance companies how they raise the rates and reduce the coverage. Every year we saw attendance diminish. Last time 13 of us came together and all bought reserve concert tickets. Showcases did not interest any of us. Just the vendors, concerts, band contest and jamming, and meeting old friends once a year. When jamming was curtailed in the long hall way most of us thought it was a good reason not to attend anymore, along with the increased ticket prices. After the concerts, Fri and Sat nights were very exciting and interesting in the hall way. Crowded and congested, face to face and elbow to elbow with some top shelf musicians. That’s what made it so great. The lobby couldn’t hold all of them. I’m sure some complained but it was us that stopped coming.

    • Andy, can’t argue with you about curtailing the jamming.. that sucks and is uncalled for and simply doesn’t make sense to me.. As for the rise in price, there isn’t much that hasn’t risen in price. The cool thing about SPBGMA has always been if you don’t want to pay for the concerts they still let you hang out with your pals and jam for free and even offer you a free shuttle if you’re not staying there… not much to complain about .. except the Jam Nazis…

      • Andy Muenich

        Howdy, Kenny – The concerts were always a highlight for us, especially the band contests, however, the price increase was approx 60% over the years we attended. Being in retail over 40 years we always called it the Jack & Kill program. Jack up the price and Kill the business. The Sheraton room price increase about 20%, actually more in line with inflation, imho. We really miss the event and hopefully things change that we will again feel happy about going. Best regards, Andy

  • E.

    No charge for the event you say? You mean like $6 hamburgers? A thimble full of coffee for 2 bucks! Then the parking passes dried up, so you have to ride the shuttle bus with multiple instruments. Ever try it with an upright bass? I won’t do it again! I came religiously for many years. It is a shame to see what you money grubbing people are doing to his legacy! 501(c)3 my backside!
    Way to go insulting the jammers too! If the jammers will all stay home, you can have your lil award shows in one room of the hotel, and save us all a lot of grief.
    I give you 2 years…. Tops

    • Wow Ernest! SERIOUSLY? You must not know much about business… For starters the $6 hamburger and the $2 coffee is revenue that the HOTEL makes, not SPBGMA. I’m quite sure that the money from concessions is part of why the Sheraton allows SPBGMA to even be there.. If I was a guessing man, I’d say that the hotel also gets the lions share of the room rentals as well as they charge a fee for the vender and showcase and main stage… Your gripe about parking passes is insane..Have you ever tried to find a parking place there? The truth is you were probably staying at the red roof in down the road for $29 and now your complaining that the Sheraton OFFERS you a FREE shuttle bus… just who do you think pays for that bus, the driver, the gas, etc? Obviously you weren’t staying at the hotel and patronizing ANY part of SPBGMA. You probably brought your own cheese and crackers so you didn’t have to pay $6 for a burger and $2 for a coffee..which is FINE>. it’s called freedom.. but you have some nerve fussing at SPBGMA for providing a FREE event.. I am a vendor and I’ll have you know that the rate to set up as a vendor at SPBGMA is cheaper than it is for me at ANY other event. the staff are ALL volunteers and you don’t need a ticket to mull around the place all day long.. sounds like you really have a lot to gripe about.. Part of the entitlement generation I guess… I’d LOVE to see you try to put on an event like SPBGMA and not generate some revenue somewhere.. your comment was thoughtless and pathetic.

      • Ernest

        Glad I didn’t buy any straps from you last time. And it’s a sure bet I will get rid of the one I have now! It’s called freedom! Didn’t take long for the SPBGMA fan boys to come out. I’m entitled to nothing. I work hard for everything I have. Here’s a finger for you. Guess which one!

      • Mitchell Reynolds

        Yeah, the entitlement generation: old coots sucking up every penny younger folks work for, even though the young folks will never see any of it. I hear older folks complain about ticket and CD prices at traditional festivals. I see younger folks gladly paying top dollar for progressive bands at progressive festivals like Telluride or Grey Fox. SPBGMA is all about hidebound tradition. No surprise that their customers are cheap.

        • You have a great point Mitchell, but the ‘entitlement’ generation is not necessarily old coots… The hardest working folks who ever walked the earth were the WWII generation, and their kids.. I see 2 types of young folks.. the ‘go getters’ who are living the American dream, but I also see the ‘welfare mama’s’ who are living on food stamps, welfare, and child support from baby daddy.. and this is also the ‘entitlement’ generation.. trouble is people of ALL ages need to appreciate and have gratitude.. Carlos Santana said one of the greatest quotes I’ve heard in quite a while: “the opposite of gratitude is negative entitlement”.. boy.. ain’t that the truth!!!

        • willie427

          I don’t know where you get “entitlement generation”. Here’s what I’m entitled to, MY social security that “I” paid into for forty three years of hard work. MY pension “I” paid into for forty three years of hard work. Never thought I was entitled to anything. Not the Martin guitar’s I own, not the new S.U.V., my wife drives or any of the other vehicles I own. Didn’t expect my kids to be entitled to a college education but I made sure they got one. Don’t owe the government for them either. Young Lad the entitlement generation are the young people today that don’t know the meaning of the word no. They are the brats who think they should start at the top instead of working for it. I have not sucked up nothing you’ve worked for, {if you work) I and many more old “coots” payed our own way. I just want some of the money back I could have invested myself (that “I” paid in} and made a lot more then the poultry sum of my S.S.I.. I’ll hush now, it’s your floor. I rarely comment on things. I am reminded of something my Dad taught me as a child. Never pay attention to fools or children on certain subjects. I’ll let you explain which one you are. Post away. I’ll never see as I’ll never be back here. Have a nice day.