No Chris Thile at IBMA?

Punch Brothers - Gabe Wichter, Greg Garrison, Noam Pikelny, Chris Eldridge, Chris ThileEach year when the IBMA Awards nominations are announced, there are a couple of glaring absences in the roll call. For 2008, neither Cherryholmes nor any members of Punch Brothers were nominated, and Punch received only a single nomination, for Graphic Design, which it did not win.

Perhaps The Bluegrass Intelligencer has stumbled onto the reason for Thile’s shutout this year in a piece entitled Punch Brothers Compose Ambitious New Piece.

Punch Brothers, hot young pioneers of through-composed music for bluegrass instruments, have begun work on their most ambitious piece so far.

The band, which features Chris Thile on mandolin and vocals, will build upon the vast achievements of its previous 40-minute suite, "The Blind Leaving the Blind,” this time employing even more advanced compositional tools towards a singular objective: to estrange every single traditional bluegrass enthusiast without exception.

Later in this article, the uncredited author explores the techniques in advanced alienation which the group has refined.

According to Noam Pikelny, Punch Brothers’ banjo player, the group has been tirelessly refining its new concepts and execution. Pikelny, a former engineering student, has established an advanced theoretical basis for Punch Brothers’ effort to alienate all bluegrassers, coining the phrase "Radical Acute Conceptual Metamorphosis (RACM)."

Briefly, RACM is a technique for quickly and unexpectedly shifting between bluegrass and various mutually exclusive genres in order to minimize traditionalists’ enjoyment.

Hmmm….  They could be on to something here.

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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.

  • While there’s something to be said for keeping your fans happy, I don’t know that Thile ever viewed his fan base (with Nickel Creek, solo, or with the Brothers) as traditionalist, and certainly not exclusively so. What I really love about Bluegrass is the acoustic and textural aesthetic, and what I love about Thile and the Punch Brothers is that they take it and make it even more interesting. I guess I was a student of classical music for more years than I can count anymore, so the appreciation of the new through composed music is almost ingrained in me, but I wish everyone else could just accept that those boys are making creative music. It’s not offensive, and if you don’t want to listen to it, you don’t have to, but it IS worth something.

  • ujdmc

    OR MAYBE… there is a growing grassroots movement that is just plain sick and tired of the IBMA and bluegrass music’s core, trend driven leadership and fan base.

    Come on… Vincent & Dailey’s album hardly strides from the mold and left this bluegrass DJ yawning… but because it followed THE FORMULA… voila! IBMA rewards the conformity.

    A snub a while back of the incredible Shawn Camp release Live at the Station Inn, the move to Nashville precluding the monotonous new development of the Nashville machine-esque formula-based bluegrass albums, no awards for the best album out there this year by the Steeldrivers, the constant whining of traditionalists “It ain’t bluegrass” and on and on and on (and I could go on for a very long time).

    Its nice to have a breath of fresh air… and have you ever stopped to think that a band might just actually play what they want on their albums and there MIGHT be those of us who appreciate that?

    Believe it or not but there still are plenty of music lovers out there that appreciate being challenged while listening… and learning about bands who have the guts, imagination and musical prowess to NOT follow the formula.

  • I’d have to completely disagree with you UJDMC.

    I love a broad definition of bluegrass music. Those that know me, know I am a long time “Del Head.” I found the Punch CD to be one of the best listens I’ve ever had. It has stayed in regular rotation on iPod since I first got it.

    I thought the Dailey & Vincent CD was the BEST strait up bluegrass CD that came out last year. It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. It’s strait up bluegrass, and there are those of us who like that a lot. While at the same time finding Punch to be one of my favorite CDs. These two have been the most listened CDs on my iPod this year.

    The Steeldrivers, on the other hand, hold no interest to me. I have yet to be excited by anything they have done, recorded or live. I listened once, didn’t feel compelled to yield any hard drive space to the CD so I didn’t put it on my iPod, and thus have not listened since. You obviously feel differently, and that’s great.

    I’ve never heard the Shawn Camp release so I can’t speak to that, though I have liked his songwriting in the past.

    I agree that many of us like to be challenged while listening. If you aren’t challenged by the virtuosity of Punch, then you just aren’t listening. If you aren’t challenged by the perfection of the vocals on Dailey & Vincent, then you must not be a singer. But you see, those are MY opinions and they differ from yours. That’s what makes this music great, there’s something here for all of us. If everybody liked exactly the same things, there’d be a lot of bands out of work.

    BTW, John and I both liked Punch very much and thought it deserved an award for instrumental album at the least, but the Intelligencer article is a joke and meant to be taken as such.

  • Indeed… we thought that it would be obvious to everyone that both The Intelligencer post and our commentary would be seen as tongue-in-cheek.

    Apparently not.

  • HollyBean

    It sounds like nothing but arrogance to me.

  • ujdmc

    I did catch that the piece was written to be taken with a grain of salt. There has been more than one of these types of articles over the past few months on this great resource that have been the same way… and I have laughed at all of them. However, this brought out some real perspectives, trends and ideas that exist around the bluegrass industry.

    I love bluegrass but I have grown weary of the same old stuff being released over and over. I understand that Punch really has no place in truly bluegrass circles and I agree it is an incredible album done by incredible musicians who wouldn’t be the same if they were locked into one type of music. I understand that Dailey & Vincent IS a bluegrass album. My point is that I can’t distinguish the Dailey & Vincent album from so many other bluegrass albums. They are all beginning to sound exactly the same and its hard to distinguish one from the other so how can you say one is better than another? Then, even though your approach of this article was evident, their still exists this exclusive point of view all over the place in bluegrass. I remember having a discussion at IBMA in 1999 in Louisville about this very fact. My response then is the same as it is now… the music needs to be free enough to differentiate one band from another. I feel that this is not the case.

    I must say, I think The Steeldrivers album was incredible! I listen over and over. I also must say that if you have not listened to Live at the Station Inn by Shawn Camp then you really should give it a chance. These two albums stand out to me from the other bluegrass albums over the last four or five years or so. I’ll throw another out there. The new Cherryholmes album stands out to me because it dares to be different.

    As far as arrogance… I am sorry it came off that way but that can’t be farther from my intended purpose.