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.