Practical tips for a less stressful World of Bluegrass

Every November we’re bombarded with practical advice on how to plan ahead for the Christmas season. This includes how to get shopping done in an organized and timely manner, how to stay within your budget, and other timeworn topics. Sometimes, though, what we really need are a few tips like what to say to your tedious uncle when he starts a grating political discussion at Christmas dinner, or the best way to cancel out of Christmas events you’re expected to attend, or what to do with the hideous sweater you were given by a dear family member.

I feel the same way about IBMA World of Bluegrass advice about how to get the most out of your week, how to plan ahead, how to meet your goals, etc. Those are all well and good, but sometimes we need more specialized, less conventional tips like how to find a restaurant in Raleigh where you’re sure you won’t see anyone from the WOB.

The IBMA WOB/Christmas analogy is not a new one: Once, when on my way to the WOB in Owensboro (and yes I also remember answering machines with cassettes; save your wisecracks for another time), I ran into Missy Raines pumping gas while making the Owensboro trip herself, and she described the IBMA WOB week as being “like Christmas.” That’s how a lot of us felt about it in the early days. Louisville helped continue the feeling in a larger setting, but still with the poorly functioning elevators we had come to love.

The Nashville years of the WOB were more like Christmas experienced as a jaded grownup: we were secretly dreading it, finding the whole experience cold, commercialized, and stressful. So we all met in the upstairs bar. Still, we wanted to make it fun for the kids: “I promise, kids: Bluegrass Santa will still come here, even though he won’t be coming up his tugboat on the Ohio River, and everything we do here is under the blinding glaze of florescent light. Just go to bed before 4:00 a.m. in your $200 hotel room, and there will be goodies for all in the morning.”

The Raleigh IBMA WOB experience has recaptured some of the Christmas spirit (with Santa in the form of a banjo-wielding Sir Walter Raleigh), thanks in part to the city of Raleigh’s welcoming of us, and the festive atmosphere of the well-run streetfest. There are also better showcase venues, and much better snacks, i.e. all the things that matter.

So, to help you get the most out of this festive bluegrass season, I offer a few bits of advice not found on the IBMA web site or elsewhere in Bluegrass Today or other branches of the bluegrass mainstream media:

How to get from point A to point B: This has been an ongoing problem no matter what city has been hosting the event. It’s impossible to get anywhere because you keep running into people you want to talk to or who at least want to talk to you, and sometimes it’s hard or impossible to get away, or if you do get away, you’re immediately flagged down by someone else. It’s not that you don’t enjoy everyone’s company, but mysteriously, the World of Bluegrass is heavily populated by people who don’t have anywhere to be, ever. They just stand around and talk to people for five consecutive days.

Before the days of the cell phone people just failed to show up to appointed meeting times. Now we just text each other to cancel or say that we’ll be a little late (up to three days) for our 3:15 meeting time in the lobby. The only solution if you actually want to get somewhere is to perfect the glazed over and busy look, accompanied by a very determined walk. And by the way, it isn’t enough to just appear to be glazed over, you have to actually relax your focus so that what you see is a blur of socializing bluegrass people with no distinguishable facial features. You just want enough focus to avoid bumping into people or objects and injuring yourself. People who want to stop you and talk to you will see your purposeful walk and know that you’re heading somewhere important (whether or not you are), and your distracted look will tell them that you haven’t seen them, so no offense can be taken. You will also remove your own temptation to stop and talk to people you actually want to see, because with your blurred vision you truly won’t see them.

How to name-drop in self-defense: As you may know from columns past, I’m not an advocate of name-dropping, but there is a time and a place for it, and the IBMA WOB may present one of those times and places. When properly used, it can be deployed as a defensive weapon to ward off other name-dropping or at least cut it short. You simply respond to name-dropping with some of your own. There are two ways to do this. One involves bringing in the heavy hitters. Here’s an example:

Name dropper: “I’m really excited to get my new album out. Flux is on it. Chris . . . you know, Thile was going to play mando but was tied up with Prairie Home, so Sam agreed to do it.”

You: “As Bill said to me once when he and I were feeding his draft horses, ‘if one horse won’t do the job, another one is waiting in the barn.’”

This does the job very nicely. You’ve invoked the name of the Father of Bluegrass, worked in the fact that you were close enough to him to be working with him on his farm, and tied it all together with a completely meaningless quote. How can the name dropper possibly reply to that? The fact that no part of your story is true is beside the point.

Another more subtle way to respond to this is to appear to be name-dropping but in a way that makes it completely unclear who you’re talking about. In this case your response to the above star-studded album story would go like this:

“Oh really? I think that’s the album Pete and Henry were talking to me about the other day. We were backstage at Gorgegrass with Lisa and Mac. I had just come off the stage with Darrell and them. Have you played that festival? Very cool.”

This introduces the element of confusion: you’ve rattled off names that sound like they’re supposed to be famous people, but it’s not clear who, and a true name-dropper will always be too proud to ask. Adding the name of a non-existent festival adds to the muddle in just the right way. The conversation is effectively over.

Attending the IBMA World of Bluegrass virtually: This is a cost-saving approach to making your presence known at the event without actually being there. Simply get two or three friends who you know will be attendance to talk about you being there, too, ideally talking about riding or flying in with you. If anyone asks about you, their job is to say something like, “Oh you haven’t seen her? I’m surprised. She got here on Monday. She’s probably in a showcase right now.” For maximum effectiveness, they can say, “If you give me your number, I’ll tell her to text you.” Then you can text people, giving them the impression that you’re there. How would they ever know otherwise? This makes it seem like you’re very active in the business, keeping your presence out there, while in reality you’re on a vacation in Mexico or possibly just staying home watching baseball playoffs. While texting people and making them think you’re there, you can even set up meetings, then cancel, saying you got tied up talking to people. It’s very believable.

I’ll see you in Raleigh. Or that’s what my friends will lead you to believe.