Time to Shake Things Up at IBMA

Jim Lauderdale and Sam Bush announce the IBMA nominees for 2013 - photo by Alana AnnoAt one point during Wednesday night’s announcement of nominees for this year’s IBMA awards, Jim Lauderdale caught himself reading the choices for female vocalist of the year for the second time, and Sam Bush kidded about having a déjà vu moment.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only such moment. We’ve seen pretty much the whole awards show before. Last year. And the year before that. And… There’s a sameness to the various lists year after year, with some minor exceptions.

But as long as voting is open to professional members of IBMA, there isn’t much that can be done about that. Each round of voting will always have the feel of a personality contest.

But there are some changes that IBMA can and should make.

For starters, new, specific guidelines for who is and isn’t an emerging artist are needed.

As it is, the category is a joke. By my reckoning, there is one true emerging artist on this year’s list of five nominees – Flatt Lonesome. I think Della Mae, Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, the Spinney Brothers and the Darrell Webb Band are terrific bands, wonderful ambassadors for bluegrass and worthy of all kinds of accolades. But they’ve already emerged.

Meanwhile, other bands that are truly emerging get shut out in the popularity contest. One that springs immediately to mind this year: Dave Adkins and Republik Steele. In another year or two, they’ll probably pop up as a nominee. But they’ve emerged – first album, first appearance on Billboard’s bluegrass chart and so on – during the eligibility period for this year’s awards.

I don’t fault any of the bands that were nominated. It’s the rules, not them, that allow this unfortunate outcome. (Exhibit A for the misguided approach IBMA uses in this category will always be the Boxcars. Every member of that band is among the best in bluegrass on their instruments, and they all had experience in top bands before forming their superstar group. I love these guys, but if they were emerging artists the year the Boxcars were formed, then I’ve got a shot at being journalism’s rookie of the year after 36 years in the news business.)

Next, it’s time for more transparency and openness about the process of selecting nominees for the Hall of Fame and for IBMA’s special awards. They aren’t on the regular ballot. Nominees are chosen by a committee and the winners are selected by a special pool of bluegrass veterans. That’s all fine, but folks shouldn’t have to ask around to find out who serves on the committees. That information should be freely and openly disseminated.

Further, I think members of the screening committee and selection committee for the special awards should recuse themselves – in a public manner – from voting for themselves or anyone they’re in a band with or have a contractual relationship with.

Finally, I’d propose that any officer or board member of IBMA be ineligible for any special award. They’re insiders, and the award nominees are chosen by panels of insiders.

I’m not suggesting any hanky panky has or ever will take place. But the potential for or the appearance of a conflict of interest is often as problematic as an actual conflict.

Identify award committee members. Have a policy for who shouldn’t vote. Disclosure is never a bad thing, especially when there’s nothing to hide.

That said, here’s my disclosure: I’m a life member of IBMA. I’ve been proposed for the print person of the year award twice, but I’ve not been nominated and I’ve managed to survive. Oh yeah, and I’ve never been and never will be considered for emerging artist of the year, no matter how much they relax the rules.

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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.

  • StoneFingers

    David, I could not agree more with you.
    I had this exact same “conversation” with my family last night.
    I seems that, in many cases, we could just re-post the lists from years gone by and forego the trouble of having the whole nomination process.
    This seemed to me to be particularly true in the individual instrument categories.
    All of the nominees are of course great “pickers”, but there is a lot of talent (new and old) in the field that continues to get overlooked.

    Thanks for calling out what I hope is clear to more than just you and me.

    – Daniel

    • janice brooks

      It wasn’t me. I was hoping for Detour or new Blu. Also how did the Roys get snubbed when they have 2 albums on Billboard.

      • Robert Oliver

        I think the whole Bluegrass community should be able to pick nominees for each category.

  • Cliff Abbott

    I agree 100%. I’m all for recognition of accomplishment, but the current IBMA awards process rewards popularity rather than accomplishment. My email inbox is spammed daily with solicitations from PR firms and record companies in a clear attempt to gain an edge over groups and artists who don’t benefit from professional promotion.

    The result is that artists or bands that played five dates and haven’t released a CD in several years end up winning so-called “annual” awards over others who are more deserving.

  • ibmm

    I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for bringing this topic to the podium. With that said, I am happy to see several friends nominated and wish everyone luck on winning their respective awards!

  • I think the biggest reason for the nominations seeming monotonous year after year, is not so much an IBMA problem as it is a numbers problem. The number of Professional IBMA Members (the ones with voting privileges) is relatively small in comparison to the bluegrass community as a whole. In fact, most popular festivals have larger attendance than there are voting members of IBMA. So, say a popular bluegrass band plays three festivals a weekend- in one weekend, they could play to roughly THREE TIMES the amount of IBMA voters. With such a small voting pool, anything can happen, including repetition.

    The easiest way to fix this problem is for more professional members of the bluegrass community (i.e. artists, promoters, disc jockeys, writers, etc) to join IBMA and vote!

    • I am a professional IBMA member and have been attempting to get my ballots redirected to my new address. No luck. So I have not even been able to VOTE, not very professional followup on the IBMA. I also agree, this is all too familiar. My condolences to THE ROYS, DAVID ATKINS and DETOUR among others, you truly are Emerging Artists!

      • Joe Lurgio

        Hi Barbara, I am one of the staff at the IBMA. I looked into this issue and it looks like your membership has lapsed. You should have received an email and a letter indicating this. I’m re sending both today so we can take care of this immediately.

        We are also always here in the office to answer any inquiries, questions or concerns anyone has: 615-256-3222.
        Thanks Joe Lurgio

        • Thanks Joe, That might explain not being able to vote and I should have noted the lapse. It would be nice if you updated the IBMA site where it tells you how long you’ve been a member. I may have caught it earlier had it not said I was a member.

          I will let you know when I get that email.


    • Shannon Turner

      I agree with Daniel. It’s not only such a limited number of voters, it’s the *same* voters. Thus, these same voters will vote for the same acts. Not that they’re not deserving, but others are, too. I think that’s generally established.

  • Darren Sullivan-Koch

    Sadly, the myopic scope of these awards have diminished their impact and importance — both in the community and in the marketplace. David Morris is right: We need new guidelines in place that are more aggressive, more stringent, and less prone to repeat winners. This would make the awards more inclusive, less static, and friendlier to rising generation of talent that is going to push the music into the future.

    Otherwise, soon IBMA awards be as meaningless as SPBGMA awards—about which a big-time artist once told me, “I’ve got a whole closet full of those things and I still don’t know what they’re good for.”

  • Sheila A. Pollak

    I paid IBMA $40 for a membership, and I don’t seem to get anything for that $40. I can’t vote for bands whose music I listen to all day every day via online radio, or see at Festivals. Songs I like aren’t nominated, and I can’t vote. I am not going to IBMA as a protest against North Carolina’s recent changes in their laws (I don’t want to spend my money there at this time), so I don’t understand why I should renew my membership. I should be able to vote: I have been an ardent bluegrass supporter since 1972, I buy music and support music in clubs. Oh well.

  • Robin Thixton

    I went online last night to see the IBMA nominees. I asked my husband, who had not seen them yet, to guess at them. He didn’t miss a one. Nuff said.

    In reply to “Emerging” artists, I agree that there needs to be guidelines. But the Spinney Brothers, while being a tad older than some of the other nominees doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be in this category. They have paid their due and have started gaining popularity and in my opinion, have every right to be there. They may have been around a while but they are now in the last couple of years have “merged” into the popular bluegrass scene.

    IMHO, there should also be a limit as to how many times someone can be nominated for an award. I’m not a fan of posthumous awards either. To quote a good bluegrass song, “give me flowers while I’m living”.

  • Chris

    I agree with the same old crap on nominations. IBMA did shake things us a little telling Nashville goodbye! Its look like Raleigh is going to support like it should be. Add some fan vote categories and see what happens! Its a social media world now, get in it.

  • larry perkins

    This brings up something I’ve had on my mind regarding the IBMA since it’s inception: NOTHING about the ‘awards’ process has ever made sense to me. I realize that I’m biased from the standpoint that I’ve never felt that music – REAL music – involves competition whatsoever. Competition, in my humble estimation, seems to fly in the very face of the very Essence of music – or any other creative endeavor. Inspiration, Creativity, and dedication are basic attributes that enable an artist to write, sing, play, and perform – how does one measure such things? I don’t believe there is a mechanism designed that’s capable of measuring these immeasurable attributes, and even if such a mechanism did exist, applying it to arts like our music would be inappropriate. How can a person Truthfully say ‘Rhonda Vincent is ‘better’ than Laurie Lewis, or Ron Stewart is ‘better’ than Kenny Ingram – so Ms Rhonda and Ron deserve an award, and Ms Laurie and Kenny came in ‘2nd best’? It’s ridiculous, and not in the ‘Spirit’ of the music one any level.
    Of course I understand full well that there are record, publishing, marketing companies, and promoters who have a vested interest in their artist and ‘acts’ being recognized in such a way: Armed with ‘here’s the IBMA’s Mandolin Player of The Year’ may attract some business and ‘sounds’ better than ‘here’s the mandolin player who came in last in the IBMA’s voting – but our music never has been, nor never shall be about the labels and promoters and publishers and their agenda – not in the hearts of the artist and listeners who Love the music. As with many things in Life, we’ve allowed elements and entities Purposed to serve or walk side by side with us to become our masters.
    To be candid, I haven’t kept up with what’s happening with the IBMA, but do recall when the organization was first formed many referred to as a ‘trade organization’. If that’s what the IBMA actually is, the solution seems simple: Within the calendar year designated by the organization as the time frame in which nominations are made, votes are cast, and awards are given – a tabulation is made of exactly how many CDs, DVDs, instructional materials, and tickets that are sold. (Right off the bat some folks aren’t going to like this, because it brings up that dreaded word ‘accountability’). This is a TANGIBLE figure, one that’s substantiated by verfied records of sales within the calendar year, and provides a TANGIBLE means of establishing how much an artist has contributed towards the furtherance of the ‘trade organization’, it’s initiatives and agenda. A list is made in each award category illustrating who generated what in the calendar year, and whoever’s name is at the top of the page gets the award. This takes all the ‘behind closed doors’ deals and agreements made over the expensive meals and glasses of wine (‘We (meaning ‘me and all of my employees’- will vote for YOUR girl in THIS category if you’ll vote for OUR guy in THAT category’, etc) out of the equation all together, eliminates the ‘beauty contest’ stigma that’s been attached to the process for so long, and gives the artist who are interested in participating in the process something real and tangible to aim for. If Rob McCoury generates $100K in sales and wins the award – that gives all the other banjo players something they can actually see and aim for. Rather than being at the mercy of deals made in secret by people they might not even know, they’ll have to get out there and write more tunes, play more shows, come up with new and creative ways to market and sell their products, etc.
    I’m sure there’s myriad reasons why the above is not the correct prescription, or it’s not feasible or doable, but I do think that something of a major shake-up needs to happen – as the IBMA’s Awards program has been tainted from the beginning: the ‘winners’ are usually proud and happy, but there’s hundreds, maybe thousands of people who AREN’T happy, or disenchanted… I’m saying so as one who has participated in projects that have been the recipient of recognition from the voting body in years passed, and I’m humbled and most Grateful for that – please don’t get me wrong – but I felt then as I do now: How can you pick ten GREAT records out of a hundred GREAT records and narrow it down to say ‘THIS record’ is ‘The Recorded Event Of The Year’? Is it a good record? Yes, I think we’ve helped make a few ok records. Are they any ‘better’ than the rest of the records that were considered in that category? No, emphatically no…Seems to me the only fair way to establish such a thing would be to apply a method similar to the one I’ve suggested: The record that generates the most sales – which translates into the project that did the most to help the trade organization whose Purpose is to broaden the appeal and interest in the music and help those who play and enjoy it is the ‘Recorded Event Of The Year’ – no matter whose name is on it in my opinion. Same goes for all other categories save the Inductees into the ‘Hall Of Honor’ – for whatever that’s worth…
    larry perkins

    • Shannon Turner

      Larry, isn’t that system already in place at the RIAA in the form of gold/platinum records, etc, which are based on sales? Of course, if the argument is that bluegrass just doesn’t sell those kinds of numbers, then I suppose I submit:

      a) Why not? I know you agree the quality of the music and artists is there; let’s get creative enough to make the numbers happen!

      b) I understand that maybe in the New Music Universe we live in now, it’s hard for any genre to make sales numbers like that happen. So, a body might be created like in Australia and elsewhere in which the bar is set lower – a gold record is 50,000 copies sold, not 500,000, and a platinum is 100,000 sold, not a million. Or, some other suitable number is set, determined by the body. The point is, the award is based on sales, not any of the other distractions you list above.

      Seems like a modification of the RIAA system might work well for a solution like you propose. Just a thought.

      • The big problem here is that many bluegrass artists and labels don’t report their sales to Soundscan, the primary way that sales are tabulated these days.

      • David Morris

        I’m not convinced sales are a true measure of mastery or the proper criteria for determining awards. The reality is anybody can be made to sound good in a studio setting. The real mastery is found in live performances, sometimes by pickers who don’t even get the chance to play on the studio recordings.

  • Ethan Hunt

    I too am a little disgruntled about the choices this year and the past,i personally think there should be a limit on how many tmes an individual can win or be nominated for the same award.Look at Rob Ickes, he won dobro player of the year 11 times. Why does one need so many of the same award? and he’s nominated this year once again.I’d be happy to see new talent on the voting block for a change, or atleast someone who hasn’t won the same award numerous times

  • Robert Earl Davis

    David Morris has really touched on a subject that has been on my mind, and may others for quite a few years…


    I think the shortcoming, is not so much with IBMA, as it is with the Artists themselves. Year after-year-after-year on and on… the same artists continually receive the same awards. If they had any self-respect at all, they would voluntarily retire for a while and perhaps take a much-deserved “Artistic Breath of Air”.

    But they seem to enjoy swathing themselves in a mutual admiration society, properly supported by the IBMA, SPBGMA, and associated bluegrass organizations.

    Give it a rest.

    The Fix “3 Strikes And Your Out”…after 3 wins in a category take a rest, go home, and come back in three years…give some others a chance to show what they’ve got to offer…

    Bluegrass may never be the same…. That’s a scary thought!

  • I feel the criteria should be strengthened to be a “professional” member of this “trade” organization. There are stories of volunteers who once helped with parking cars in a field that are now considered a professional in our industry. I agree with Larry. IBMA started out as a trade organization to get, among other things, a better rate for health insurance for “professional” bluegrass musicians. However, that seems to fallen by the way side, they did have a package available but you could get better rates through your hometown insurance agent. IBMA needs to be upfront about the cost`s the move to Raleigh is incurring. The cost for sound and lighting alone has skyrocketed due to the change in format, having numerous stages strung out all over the downtown area of Raleigh. They used to accept bids for this ( I think, it seems one man chose the sound company this year. I do know there will be significant number of well known “real professional” bands and musicians that will not be in attendance this year , which is unfortunate and bad for out industry. Just seems that we have lost our way. IBMA is now more of a fan organization, which is great. We need these, however, the idea of being a trade organization has been sidelined. One shred of the original idea behind IBMA is left, however, and that is the Musicians fund! Half of the proceeds from fan fest is supposed to go to the fund. That is why all of the performers agreed to play fan fest in the first place for free. The fund has done great work, now there is talk of slighting the amount that goes to the fund. These are just some of my concerns.

  • Orin Friesen

    First let me say that I share some of the same frustrations expressed by many of you. A little historical perspective: Back around 1989, I was asked to be on a committee to put together the IBMA Awards. I argued that I didn’t even like awards and didn’t think artists should have to compete with each other. There is no way one artist is “better” than another. However, I agreed to be on the committee when it was pointed out that the main purpose of the Awards Show was to be a vehicle to gain national attention for Bluegrass Music. To that end, I believe the show has been a success.

    • Darren Sullivan-Koch

      VERY good point. That awareness came at a cost, I suppose, but it did provide a high profile focal point for the music in a way that other prior awards had not.

  • Dick Bowden

    I don’t think product sales is the answer, or Steve Martin and Mumford & Sons will win all the awards, not that they don’t deserve awards. Then IBMA would have to form a committee to decide once and for all “what IS bluegrass anyway”, which they have neatly avoided so far.

    I remember the exact same complaining back in the early 70s when a couple of bluegrass magazines had major annual award programs. Because the Country Gentlemen won over and over and over, they “retired” the Gents to a “Master” class. Charlie Waller said bluntly that hurt the band’s business. So awards ARE worth “something” after all I guess.

    Perhaps the issue is that bluegrass is too small a world, that changes too slowly, to even have annual “best” awards.

    It requires Jimmy Mills to retire from performing to open up the awards to a new banjo candidate, you see..

    Personally I don’t get worked up over anything IBMA does – the Nashville venue disappointed me enough that I stopped going, but that’s not really being worked up. I’ll give Raleigh a try. Let anyone who thinks they can do better start up their own organization with best wishes.

    Alternatively, it wouldn’t take but a hundred or so new “professional” members of IBMA to completely take over the voting! Call it hostile takeover or white knight, whichever.

    Disclaimer: I observe IBMA from the category of being a lifelong bluegrass “fan”, no more than that.

  • David Moultrup

    Good to see this conversation happen, again, here, outside of the IBMA listserve. There are so many familiar sentiments expressed here, many which I share. The awards process for IBMA has been troubling to me for a long time. I’ve advocated for many of the changes listed above. For example, I advocated for adopting something like what the jazz magazine Downbeat used to do, have a limit to the number of years one person can win an award before being moved to some type of hall of honor, or something. There are long lists of changes that could be discussed. But getting them implemented is another story.

    My perspective always looks towards two fundamental touchstones. First is the notion of “community” which is reflected in the giving of the awards. And secondly is the reflection of what the academics call the “group process” of how those awards were chosen.

    I see the awards as having fabulous potential to be a celebration of the bluegrass community. We can celebrate our music, and join together. The thursday of WoB week is the peak of that sense of community, with some awards given at the luncheon, and some at the evening ceremony. This celebration can be seen by the outside world, and showcase the marvelous talent that exists in the community.

    I am also convinced that the potential for that celebration has been diminished by the group process, which is all of the internal wrangling about the questions posed above, and many more not listed. As a person who has dedicated his life to understanding that type of activity in groups, I have brought that sensibility to IBMA, hoping to make a difference. Some things have changed, but there is more to do.

    • Darren Sullivan-Koch

      Always gotta bring jazz and academia into it, eh? We get it, you’re a doctor.

  • larry perkins

    Ms Shannon, I’m not sure what kind of system is in place in the ‘RIAA’, but to be sure – my comments were aimed squarely at the IBMA and the system in place within that organization for establishing who ‘wins’ the awards and who doesn’t, but whatever the system is – I’m not convinced that lowering the ‘goal post’ in order to make ‘gold’ and ‘platinum’ records easier to obtain for ‘bluegrass artist’ is the most effective way to inspire professionalism and work ethics.
    To an extent I agree that ‘the quality of the music and artists is there’ – there are of course some incredibly talented artist performing wonderful music, but on the other hand – seems to me that ‘quality’ isn’t manifested in all aspects of the genre, which in some ways seems to have a diluting effect on the genre as a whole. One example that comes to mind is the ‘bluegrass festivals’: Some promoters hire a few bigger ‘name acts’ in an effort to draw a crowd, but fill the biggest part of their roster with amateur ‘acts’ for whom music is a hobby, many of whom will play for free merely for a chance to be on stage. The festival’s attendees see ‘Willy Snooks and The Backcreek Mountain Boys’ on the same stage with ‘The Del McCoury Band’…Is there anything ‘wrong’ with this? Of course not. A promoter has the right to employ (or engage) anyone they choose to perform on their stage, but personally, I’ve always felt that this practice has a diluting effect on the quality of the music and the overall way it’s percieved by the audience, many of whom may be experiencing ‘bluegrass music’ for the first time. No other genre of music that I’m aware of utilizes this approach in promoting and presenting a show. For example, we don’t see amateur, or ‘garage bands’ opening for acts like ‘The Rolling Stones’ or Willie Nelson. I’ve noticed similar compromises in other aspects of ‘the business’ as well, like in the ‘record business’. In my estimation a ‘trade organization’ that’s doing it’s job would not allow things like this to happen with its members. Promoters, labels, etc should know that certain standards and levels of professionalism will be maintained if they’re going to employ or record a band that’s a member of the organization, or they’ll have to look elsewhere to headline and fill their roster and find someone else to re-record ‘Molly and Tenbrooks’ again – because the bands in our trade organization are professionals and as such they only share the stage with other professionals and will record the songs that they are writing or feel particularly Inspired to record in studios that can offer the best results. Sure, I can see how an approach like this would present challenges in the beginning, but think that an approach similar to this would facilitate ‘the cream to rise to the top’ and work for the good of the bands dedicated to professionalism in the long run. Maybe not…
    I agree with you, John: I’ve mentioned ‘Soundscan’, ‘The Special Payments Fund’ and a few other similar agencies to fellow musicians and bands, and many had never even heard of such a thing. This is another area where I think the ‘trade organization’ could (and should) be leading the way – insisting that any label/recording company who wants to sign or record a member artist MUST be signed up with these various reporting agencies, and have a mechanism in place to follow up and make certain that this is done and the artist are being paid properly..
    David, I’m not convinced sales are a true measure of mastery or the proper criteria for determining awards either – but at least it is a tangible means of establishing what an artist or band is accomplishing…In my estimation it beats the socks off of the deals arranged behind the scenes that has had a BIG part in determining who ‘wins’ and who doesn’t over the years. Absolutely, I agree that almost ‘anyone can be made to sound good in a studio setting’, and often times ‘real mastery is found in live performances, sometimes by pickers who don’t even get the chance to play on the studio recordings’..The point I’ve feebly attempted to make is that the IBMA is a ‘trade organization’…In my opinion the trade organization’s business is not to evaluate how masterful a musician is – rather, it’s to identify, reward, and celebrate those who are most effective in the marketing and performance of that mastery and doing the most to help the trade organization. If a musician works hard and gains a mastery of an instrument etc, the ONLY thing preventing them from ‘having a chance to play on studio recordings’ is themselves – a lack of interest, initiative, hesitancy to ‘put themselves out there’ etc…That’s especially True these days with dozens of studios in a briefcase in nearly every county in the U.S. No one searched Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs out and handed them the opportunity to participate in recordings – they had to create those opportunities for themselves. I’d venture to guess that few, if any musicians have it any harder now than the circumstances these men came from and thrived in spite of them…
    Personally, I Love, appreciate, and admire a great many of the artist involved in ‘Bluegrass Music’. I’m Grateful for the Friendships I’ve enjoyed with a great many of them for many years now, and there’s no way to adequately measure those feelings. In my opinion, the ‘trade organization’s job is not to conduct a ‘popularity contest’, rather – it’s to do whatever is necessary to strengthen and attract more credibility to the organization, which in turn reflects on and helps it’s members. As a former banjo picker, I Love and enjoy Joe Mullins and Dana Cupp and Bela Fleck and Steve Huber – but there’s no way I could justifiably say that Bela is better than Joe but Dana is better than both of them and Steve ‘blows them all out of the water’ – it’s ridiculous, so I’m back to where I was to begin with: If we just must have awards, the only credible way I can think of to establish who is deserving of them is to evaluate tangible evidence of their accomplishments – which in that line of work involves CD, DVD, instructional material, and ticket sales. The one that’s writing the new tunes, busy about recording and marketing these recordings, filling seats in the venues, and whatever else that can be done to help the trade organization deserves recognition for it. One thing’s for sure – the way these ‘awards’ have been divvied out in the past is NOT working…There’s always a bunch of folks saying, ‘well I like J.D. Crowe and Kenny Ingram and Rob McCoury and I think that THEY deserve the award instead of ‘so-and-so’ whose won it for the past 8 years’, or, ‘I never liked ‘so-and-so’ and I don’t see why THEY keep winning awards’…Basing the bestowing of awards on tangible results produced takes all the guess work out of it, and in my mind would help the organization and bring more credibility to the whole process…

    • Jim McKinney

      Larry, One (1) Word: “Paragraphs”!

      You seem to have a lot to say; however, it’s very challenging to decipher without the use of paragraphs . . . make that short paragraphs, with space in between same, please !!!


  • carolinaheart

    I was so proud to vote this year. The first ballot was almost overhwhelming. So many of whom I hadn’t heard their recordings or seen perform were on that ballot. The second ballot was narrowed down considerably.

    But when I saw my choice for song of the year among the list of Bluegrass Super Stars on the list … my heart sank. And I mean S-U-P-E-R S-T-A-R-S!

    What’s so funny about it now its that these same names weren’t super stars 30 years ago. They were demeaned as the anti-traditionalists by the then “Superstar” traditionalists – back in the day. They weren’t invited to the festivals. They made their names in honkey tonks and bars across the country…the newgrass sound.

    Now, they are the superstars… and God Bless ’em. I do love them still. My fear is, if we don’t find a category for the rest of the groups, where they can compete on a level playing field, we’re going to all lose.

    Even though my choice for “Song of the Year” and “Vocal Group of the Year” was #1 on the BU charts for … what … 3 months? I knew it was going to be a stretch to see them get that award, just because of the other names on that 2nd ballot.

    I’m sorry, but it’s a mountain to climb to rise above Blue Highway and Alison and Doyle and Russell and Ricky … especially when it’s only professional members voting. And good grief, get Tony, or Sam, or Bela to play on your recording, and you might get a nod.

    I’m not begrudging their fame and accomplishments, but when did Bluegrass get so exclusive? After all they went through to get where they are, I expect they could come up with some other categories for things like awards … and a little recognition.

    Heck … the group I’m talking about, I bet I’m one of maybe 50 voting IBMA members in their entire fan base. Yet, they were #1 on the charts…and stayed there for crying out loud. It shouldn’t just be the members voting. That’s one thought.

    Seems to me that the voting for “Song of the Year” should be based on hitting that #1 spot on the charts, and the # of weeks at that spot ought to be a multiplier for the votes cast. But, that’s just me thinking out loud. I don’t have the analytics to run to see how that would impact the field.

    What about all those excellent groups who can’t afford to record? Are they just rank amateurs? How do you recognize those perrenial festival entertainers? Is there a category for that!? I’m thinking there outta be.

    Here’s my final thought on the matter. Bluegrass never was, and hopefully never will be, about the IBMA Awards. It’s about that sound. It’s about those lyrics. It’s about those instruments, those licks and rifts that catch you by surprise, those sweet harmonies that hit you right in the sweet spot when it all comes together and takes your breath away … on a moonlit night, under the stars, with friends and fellow musicians. In your minds eye … you see those mountains comin into view … you can’t wait to be there. It’s so good, you just gotta holler … and then you just gotta get up and dance!

  • Dennis Jones

    If you look at the correlation between the very “Charts” here or BU. The nominations fall pretty close. That’s reported airplay cuts and those artists are your nominees and winners…as voted by The IBMA professional members. That’s less than 2000, the same number we had in 1993.

    I too have issues with the “Selection Committees” on key awards. We are treated as children who don’t know enough to make those. I actually work in the Bluegrass Music industry on a daily basis with contact far beyond where maybe 50% of the “professional members” do. Maybe many on the board too.

    And now with the “Momentum Awards” circumventing the professional members it adds another layer of “Oh…you don’t know enough to make these selections.” Well there are others than a handful on the board that do.

    I could not agree more with the statement…”If you are on the board or some selection committee…you are NOT eligible to even be nominated for an award.” I’ll go further, if you are on the board you shouldn’t be able to vote. That should be part of your serving The Membership.

    The Emerging Artists category needs to be defined. Of course this comes from our own association who refuses to define what we are and what Bluegrass Music is.

    • Darren Sullivan-Koch

      All good points, Dennis!

  • Chris Jones

    I know I’m jumping in weeks late on this, but I wanted to thank you, David, for raising these issues here. Lots of good points were made in the comments too. I particularly agree that low participation is the major problem. “Recorded Event of the Year” for example, generally has gone to the “event” with the greatest number of participants, because it means a greater number of insider votes. If the voting pool is that small that that would make a difference, we have a problem.

    I have to respectfully disagree about the Emerging Artist award, because this is at least one less predictable award. Some would argue that Joe Mullins, for example, is a veteran, but his band is relatively new, and the award is meant to acknowledge significant upward movement or change in an act’s career.

    I would also caution about the concept of all board members being ineligible for awards. the problem is that it’s already hard to get working musicians to commit to the time and expense of board membership. If you added that they and their band would be ineligible for awards for the life of their term, it would be a strong disincentive to serve, and the voice of the professional picker is a very important one on the board. Board members have nothing to do with determining nominees or winners of the awards.

    The method for picking special awards has been pretty questionable in the past. A small reform started this year, in that they are now voted on by the pool of members who are the Hall of Fame electors. Before, the very same committee that determined the nominees also determined the winners. Better still, would be an open process for submission of names using the same awards ballot. If you need a committee to narrow that field down, maybe that’s okay. The practice of submitting yourself should end, in any case.

    The more I think about it, though, I’m liking the sack race in downtown Raleigh to determine the special awards winners.

    • Dennis Jones

      If there are awards presented, we The Professional Members should select them…period. The “Momentum Awards” are a perfect case in point. It’s a selection of a small handful of board members and their pals picking their friends or business associates…certainly some direct contact to the committee. Oh sure there was a “call out” for suggestions, but how many were there and how many of those were selected?

      As I said serving on the board is not serving yourself, it serving The Membership…all of us that are left. On the board;no vote. It is a small pool like you say Chris.

      And BTW, nice CD. Awesome packaging.

    • Dennis Jones

      Sack Race would be good, but you are in Wrasslin’ Country…best two out of three falls in all categories, except Entertainer of The Year. It should be a taped knuckle, cage match, no holds barred, lights out…barn burner!!!

    • David Morris

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Chris. I actually don’t object to board members being eligible for awards voted on by the professional membership, but it’s more of a conflict, from where I sit, when board members are candidates for special awards and the nominees are chosen by a small number of people on special committees.

  • Hap Wichryk

    IBMA left the fans and new talent incentives behind in Owensboro.

  • Robert Earl Davis

    “Are Bringing It”
    IBMA’s “World of Bluegrass Week”

    The Earl Brothers, based in San Francisco and led by banjo master Robert Earl Davis, have been delving into the dark side of bluegrass for more than a decade now, and their fifth and latest album, Outlaw Hillbilly, takes them further down that rough road with songs like “Troubles,” “Cold and Lonesome,” and “When the Lovin’s All Over,” and grisly lines like “I stabbed her dear brother and cut off his head, and buried him deep so I knew he was dead.” They’re not a good time bluegrass band – they’re more interested in exploring the really bad times – but their music, like the blues, has that paradoxical effect of taking you so deep into the mire that you come out feeling a little better than you did before. “Their music is bare-bones bluegrass, without even the hint of anything more modern than 1965! These guys are very talented musicians, vocalists, and songwriters, but their sound is raw,” says the website Country Standard Time, which praises their “terrific new album” as “jarring in its intensity” and “simply the next step in the steady progression of a band that continues to gain ground within the bluegrass community.”

    The band features James Touzel on bass and vocals, Tom Lucas on fiddle and vocals, Thomas Wille on guitar and vocals, and Robert Earl Davis on banjo and vocals. Special guests Jody Richardson on fiddle will join the band. Truth be told, there’s only one Earl in the bunch, and none of them are related, but they play together like brothers. Their raw and ravaged sound brings to mind Ralph Stanley at his bleakest – and that’s a good thing!

    Review “Outlaw Hillbilly” Bluegrass Today

    Review “Outlaw Hillbilly” Country Standard Time News Magazine



    • KcKc

      Ummm….is the the spot for shameless self promotion? Why didn’t I get the memo in my inbox?