Some Favorite Moments from World of Bluegrass 2020

I miss seeing friends in person, and stumbling across some incredible hallway and hotel room jams, but IBMA’s virtual World of Bluegrass 2020 was a huge success. Here are some memorable moments, some funny, some poignant, from the week so far.

WORDS TO LIVE BY. Ronnie Bowman was talking about the etiquette of pitching songs to artists, such as only giving them a song or two at time, not monopolizing the artist at the merch table so they miss selling opportunities, and so on. But his words could easily apply to life more broadly in 2020, and beyond. He said, “Being ignorant isn’t stupid. It just means you don’t know. But staying ignorant is a really stupid thing to do.”

I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING. During his remarks as New Grass Revival was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, bassist and singer John Cowan got extremely candid. He talked about his heroin addiction and how an intervention by “my seven angels” in 1987 led him into treatment and saved his life. The seven were bandmates Sam Bush, Béla Fleck and Pat Flynn, Sam’s wife Lynn, tour manager Richard Battaglia, Cowan’s then-wife Jonell Mosser, and Garth Fundis, the band’s producer at the time. “Recovery is available to all, regardless of means, sexual orientation, race or any other demographic,” he said. “I had seven angels in my corner, and somewhere, somehow, you do, too.”

I’M NOT LAUGHING, YOU’RE LAUGHING. The other band inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame during Thursday’s stellar awards show, The Johnson Mountain Boys, used to run on stage at the start of every show. So, of course, it seemed appropriate for the attending members to run on stage when they were introduced during the pre-recorded ceremony. Okay, they’re not as young as they once were and “run” is a relative term. But the shuffle or fast walk or whatever you want to call it was THE comedic moment of the evening.

SPECIAL MOMENT, Take One. Among several tributes to bluegrass heroes and events, one of the best was when Amanda Smith, Rhonda Vincent, Dale Ann Bradley, and Brooke Aldridge, all nominees for female vocalist of the year, paid homage to O Brother Where Art Thou by singing Down in the River to Pray. Accompanied only by fiddle player of the year Deanie Richardson, they came up with a powerful rendition that stood up well to the version Alison Krauss delivered in the film, and on the soundtrack, 20 years ago. The moment was doubly enjoyable because it came shortly after Aldridge was named female vocalist for the fourth straight year. The only other woman to do that: Krauss. I joked with Aldridge about a “fourpeat,” but in her usual gracious manner, she said, “Oh for Pete’s sake, I never expected to win once.”

NOT SO GRACIOUS, PERHAPS, BUT FUNNY. During an informative discussion of songwriting with Bowman, Jerry Salley offered the perfect anecdote to explain that co-writing isn’t for everybody. Some folks just prefer to write alone. He quoted country songwriter Roger Miller’s response when a radio interviewer asked him why he didn’t co-write. Said Miller: “Did Picasso ever co-paint?” (By the way, Salley is a gracious co-writer. The heading on this item refers to Miller’s quip.)

MORE PLEASE. I didn’t expect to learn as much and be so excited about the virtual IBMA as I was. It was a huge success. So much so, that I and others have wondered whether some form of the virtual program can be incorporated into World of Bluegrass when we can finally gather again in person. That’s something the board will consider, board Chairman Ben Surratt said. Also up for discussion is whether virtual programming can be offered throughout the year.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR. The dates for next year’s World of Bluegrass are September 28-October 2. Surratt and Executive Director Paul Schiminger said it’s too soon to tell whether the event will be fully in person in Raleigh, fully virtual, or a hybrid. 

SPECIAL MOMENT, Take 2. The all-hands-on-deck All-Star jam to close the awards show is a stellar moment every year. But this year, with videotaped performances, the delivery of Will The Circle Be Unbroken was spectacular. Some of the performers were on stage at the Ryman Auditorium, where bluegrass was born 75 years ago, others at the Station Inn, and others still were in their living rooms or elsewhere, alone. It’s always a hard song for me to get through, especially so since my parents are gone. But last night, I was smiling through some tears at the message of hope. Yes, we couldn’t be together in person this year, but the circle remains unbroken and we’ll step right back into it one of these days.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.