The Vocal Minority – IBMA Edition

This commentary is a contribution from four former members of the Board of Directors of the International Bluegrass Music Association. All four, Henri Deschamps, Craig Ferguson, Elizabeth Wightman, and Brian Smith, resigned from the Board following a dispute with the Chair, Jon Weisberger, shortly after the highly-successful 2014 World of Bluegrass convention in Raleigh, NC. It is their response to the interview we ran with Weisberger on December 12.

If you have not been following this matter closely, you may want to consult some of the articles linked here for background.

Henri DeschampsIn November 2014, one month after a second rousing success of World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, the board of directors of the IBMA exploded. Had it simply imploded, few would be the wiser – as seems to be the custom at IBMA. Nonetheless the effects of this implosion would have been as, or more detrimental, even absent the outpouring of public outrage.

When 5 out of 18 board members resign in a three week period, and 2 out of 4 staff members resign, or are let go, in that same period, for whatever reason, as was the case recently, you know there is a serious problem, requiring serious attention, and which no amount of PR spin can cover up.

For background, you can find a listing of some of the major articles on the matter here.

Here and elsewhere, in articles, interviews, comments, on Facebook posts, we have seen the emergence of the notion of “The Vocal Minority.” Designating scapegoats and labeling some in that way now seems policy by the chair, board, their friends and business associates, who designate same as “The Usual Suspects” in order to dismiss and discredit in a blanket fashion, any deviation from the party line. Knowing full well how the board operates, we know this is policy, and not a series of isolated cases. It is the party line.

In fact these are designated and characterized as a minority, and one that is vocal, by no less than the chair of the IBMA in his interview on Bluegrass Today at

The world is full of Vocal Minorities, the Board of Directors and it’s fans, supporters and business associates being one of them.

So in fact a second Vocal Minority, in the form the Board of Directors and it’s fans, supporters and business associates, pick up the “Vocal Minority” banner and war cry and run with it, tomahawk firmly in hand, desperately seeking the Last of The Mohicans. I guess which would be us, the 4 members of the board of directors who resigned in November.

For tongue in cheek reference let’s hereafter call them “The Vocal Minority, Board of Directors Edition,” and let’s call the ones they would like to discredit “The Vocal Minority, Last of The Mohicans Edition” or if you prefer “The Usual Suspects Edition.”

As you will see in interview sections below, seeking legitimacy “The Vocal Minority Board” claims to speak for and represent “The Silent Majority.” Anyone and everyone can claim to speak for the Silent Majority. That’s part of what politicians do. Some truly excel at “Milking Apathy.”

The Silent Majority

Brian SmithWho is The Silent Majority and why are they silent?

IBMA has about 1800 members, and numerous Grass Roots members and Friends, sometimes up to 1000. You can see the IBMA Membership structure by clicking here:

Most must be The Silent Majority because as we observe the landscape, no more than about 200 are publicly vocal through a public channel, hence non-silent. Of course in real life everyone is more or less vocal about things depending on their temperament. And all together, vocal and silent, we create an IBMA Zeitgeist, an IBMA spirit of the times, a framework and environment. So what does the silent majority think about all this?

No one, including The Vocal Minority Board, knows with anything resembling minimal certitude. People do not always speak their minds, and sometimes they tell us what they think we want to hear vs what we need to hear, but here is my best guess before coffee:

  • The Silent Majority Busy And Have No Time To Waste And Fool Around Edition  Those that are very busy, and have to work very hard to earn a living, they have neither time nor inclination to follow everything IBMA is up to. They do not wake up every morning wondering what the IBMA is doing, doing for bluegrass, or doing for them. Many consider the association itself irrelevant but are members much in the same way someone might be Methodist, Episcopalian, Baptist, or Catholic, and they simply support and donate to their church because it is the right thing to do.
  • The Silent Majority Love Bluegrass But Are Fed Up With IBMA And Have Gone Home Edition  Like many associations IBMA carries lots of excess baggage and has riled lots of folks up in numerous ways over the years. Many had loved the organization and feel dismissed, some are furious at how the organization has been hijacked by their “representatives.” Especially so, all those who have volunteered massive amounts of time, energy and funds to help build and sustain the organization. To many it’s a case of “we all built it together, and then they took it.” They are more numerous than one might initially imagine. Raleigh had brought many of them back, but they are seeing “Business as Usual, With The Optional Scandalous Upgrade,” and want no part of it. They are good and gone, and gone for good.
  • The Silent Majority I Just Love Bluegrass and The Bluegrass Community and Culture Edition  Many bluegrass fans are members because they simply love the music, culture, fellowship and community and do not really care a whole lot about the organization as a trade association. As such, issues related to the trade association aspects of IBMA leaves them confused or indifferent. It’s not why they’re here so this kind of subject leaves them cold.
  • The Silent Majority IBMA As SPBGMA or IBMM Edition  Many feel the IBMA is or should be SPBGMA, The Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America, which has an annual convention and seeks to preserve the traditional spirit and art form of bluegrass. Many feel the IBMA is or should be IBMM. The International Bluegrass Music Museum is the world’s only facility dedicated to the history and preservation of the international history of bluegrass music. As such, issues related to the trade association aspects of IBMA leaves them confused, angry or indifferent.
  • The Silent Majority IBMA Is Irrelevant Edition  A surprisingly great many bluegrass artists and fans consider the IBMA irrelevant to them, their enjoyment of the music and culture, or their livelihood. This seems especially true of the emerging bands and artists. They feel about it much the same way some folks feel about congress… hoping they will do as little damage to the nation as possible, or wondering what useful purpose other than self-serving it serves.
  • The Silent Majority Who Cares Deeply But Does Not Know What To Do About It Edition  Many IBMA members have no idea how to address this issue or other IBMA related matters related to governance or management as meaningful and appropriate processes do not exist to solicit redress. They are extremely unhappy about the situation, want new leadership, reforms, and a new way of being for the organization and its leaders. They simply do not know how to make that happen without distressing the organization. We will soon be joining this group as lifetime organization members.

We are sure everyone can have a best guess as to proportions and numbers in each of the silent majority editions above, but any guess is a hypothetical which may ring more or less true. Like any hypotheticals, it is food for thought and a framework for discussion. There are no doubt more silent majorities editions.

So the question remains: Does the board speak for or represent the silent majority. The answer is clearly no to anyone but themselves, and a small vocal minority of their friends and business associates.

The Chair in this case has never been elected by the members to any function on the board, only by other board members, and half the current board was never elected by members but were simply designated by the board. And the current board contains 14 rather than 19 as stipulated by the bylaws.

From the bylaws:

The Board of Directors is composed of 19 persons elected or appointed as follows

Member Elected Directors | 13 Persons

1 – Agents, Managers & Publicists
1 – Bluegrass Music Associations
1 – Print, Media & Education
1 – Recording, Distribution & Marketing
1 – Event Production
1 – Broadcast Media
1 – Merchandisers and Luthiers
3 – Artists & Composers
2 – At-Large
1 – International At Large

Board Appointed Directors | 6 Persons

1 – Board Chairperson
1 – Board Vice Chairperson
4 – At-Large directors

So when one reads the comments below from the chair, a highly vocal minority of one, one can only wonder what type of edible, drinkable, or smokeable substance, is required to believe that what is below is a true representation of the facts or situation.

As convincing as those statements might seem, even when we want to believe, or to those who do not follow closely what is going, the carefully crafted responses in this interview are an excellent example of half-truths designed and massaged by a chair and a PR agency to assure one objective: That “The Silent Majority” remains silent.

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