IBMARecently the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) announced details of this year’s World of Bluegrass business conference, the Awards Show and Fan Fest, three events which will take place in Nashville, Tennessee, in a continuous period from Monday, September 29 September through to Sunday, October 5, 2008.

On the 2008 itinerary is an IBMA-sponsored summit for international bluegrass music enthusiasts to facilitate discussion about international matters. That said, it isn’t the first occasion on which international members have met under the IBMA umbrella to talk about global bluegrass music matters.

I was a member of the panel for the International Bluegrass Seminar at the IBMA’s World Of Bluegrass convention at Owensboro, Kentucky, in September 1988. Jan Johansson (originally from Sweden, but then, as now, from North Carolina) chaired what was, as I recall, a five person panel with representatives from Canada and Japan, as well as Europe.

Since the early days of the organisation, the board of directors of the IBMA periodically included leaders with international connections such as Saburo Watanabe Inoue (from Japan) and Tony DeBoer (Canada) who were elected or appointed to serve, although not as special “international” representatives. However, in 2001, the organisation’s bylaws were amended to create a dedicated representative seat on the board to be elected by non-US based members, thus always assuring a voice among the leadership from this important constituency.

Throughout the 1990s the IBMA was continually active in the international fields. The organisation arranged for the presentation of a complete set of top quality instruments, provided by Gibson Instruments and Martin Guitars, to the Red River Valley Boys, a Russian band that had previously played at the IBMA Fan Fest with homemade instruments. In 1992 the IBMA released Long Journey Home, an 18-track CD that features bands from countries across Europe, from Japan, Australia and Canada.

Three years later the IBMA held its first meetings in Europe. In 1998 the first European World of Bluegrass events were hosted in The Netherlands. Much of the ground work for these mile stone events was facilitated through the chair for IBMA’s International Committee, Dick Kimmel, who was, as the leader of his own band, a regular visitor to Europe.

Since 2004, the IBMA has made in excess of $70,000 in International Outreach Program grants available to fund efforts that help spur the growth and development of the music outside the USA. While the sum isn’t enormous, the grants have been combined with other resources and have encouraged companies, organisations and individuals to build upon grass roots efforts in more than 15 countries on five continents.

Another measure of the universality of the organisation is the count of the IBMA membership, which in 1996 included individuals from as many as 30 countries. Currently, there are 238 international members, representing just under 10% of the full membership.

This adds up to a clear documentation of how important the international fraternity is to the IBMA.

Now, 20 years after that seminar, the IBMA is sponsoring a two-day Summit. Invitations and notices have been sent to all non-US members.

Richard Hawkins, the present Chair of IBMA’s International Committee, provides this valuable insight ‚Ķ..

“The IBMA has always been alive to its responsibilities as an international organization, both as regards the interests of its members who happen to live outside the US, and as regards the furtherance of bluegrass music worldwide. In the last ten years it has taken a number of initiatives and given a range of support in both these areas. The Summit demonstrates IBMA’s continuing and growing commitment, and aims to lay the foundation for a new strategy of action, in consultation with representatives of the active forces in bluegrass outside the US.

A subsidiary but important goal is to ensure that the benefits of IBMA membership are fully available to all members throughout the world. The main goal, as announced, is to build a consensus for new efforts for the growth of bluegrass music on the international scene. In the process, we expect to foster closer contacts among international bluegrass business interests and organizations; explore opportunities and challenges for our music’s success outside the US; and set our priorities for the use of available resources to help bluegrass grow worldwide.

Replies and applications to attend the Summit are still coming in, so it’s too early to list ‘main players’ who will be attending. It’s not within the IBMA’s power to ensure that everyone who should be there will be there; but on the basis of replies so far, we can expect people with significant roles as bluegrass performers, promoters, event organisers and communicators, and in associations to be present. We shall also be getting input from people in those and other roles who may not be able to come to Nashville. And aside from ‘main players’, the input of any attender with a commitment to the interests of bluegrass music outside the US is welcome.”

The IBMA goal will be to build a consensus for new efforts for bluegrass music’s growth on the international scene.

While the final agenda is still being set, it is likely to include some or all of the following topics:

  • History of bluegrass on the international scene
  • Assessment of current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges
  • Exploration of ideas and options
  • Building consensus for priorities

The organisation has been inviting key leaders on the international scene to this summit to join in accomplishing these goals. A fund has also been set up to provide limited financial grants for those who might not otherwise be travelling to the World of Bluegrass events or need financial assistance in order to participate.

The vastly experienced former Editor of Muleskinner magazine, Fred Bartenstein will act as facilitator for the Summit.

Hawkins adds ……

“My personal feeling about this is that the IBMA does a great deal simply by existing. The very idea of an ‘international bluegrass community’ (as distinct from bluegrass scenes here and there in different countries) would be much less substantial if the IBMA was not there, serving as a focus and a centre of contact. I joined the IBMA because becoming a member was, to me, like getting citizenship papers for the ‘bluegrass nation’. That’s basically all I ever wanted from the IBMA; it does a lot more for people who want more.

I’m also in the European Bluegrass Music Association, and it’s safe to say that the EBMA would not have come into existence without the example, the encouragement, and the cordial assistance of the IBMA. The World of Bluegrass served as the meeting place for European members of IBMA, and that led first to the European Bluegrass Network, then to the European World of Bluegrass, and then to the EBMA itself. There is now a ‘European’ bluegrass community with a conscious existence, and it’s basically the result of this process. In my view, that’s the role that the IBMA fills for the world in general.”

The International Summit will take place during two consecutive days, beginning on Tuesday, September 30.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.