Shortly after the announcements of the IBMA Awards nominations, an important discussion was started here in Bluegrass Today about the award nominations and voting process. Many readers joined in with ideas, constructive criticism, and in some cases, good old-fashioned griping.
With the IBMA World of Bluegrass just days away, I’d like to offer my own comprehensive list of suggestions for ways the IBMA awards can be reformed, and perhaps be made less predictable in the process.
I would bring these up in person at the general membership meeting, but I can’t afford to spike the number of drinks that would be necessary for me to win over a majority of the members there.
In an earlier column, I brought up the recent decision by the IBMA to begin selecting special awards nominees through the use of a Ouija board, with the winners determined by a sack race in downtown Raleigh. This would be followed by the Special Awards wiener roast, replacing the traditional awards luncheon.
SInce I reported this, however, there was a firestorm of criticism about the change (criticism only comes in “floods” and “firestorms,” by the way. Seldom do you hear of a “blizzard of criticism” or “nor’easter of criticism”). Apparently board members heard from their constituents (some were actually beaten with guitar straps) who were upset about the use of the occult—even in board game form—to determine nominees. The sack race idea was also strongly objected to, mainly by potential nominees who are just terrible at sack-racing. In the end, the idea was scrapped.
Clearly, though, changes are needed. Prior to the nominees being voted on by the Hall of Fame electors, as they were this year, the Special Awards winners were chosen by a secret committee (one committee for each award), which would meet at an undisclosed Nashville area Cracker Barrel, crouching behind the audio books rack, speaking in hushed tones. This committee was formed by another secret committee composed of people no one seemed to know anyway. This same Special Award Committee also chose the nominees from a pool of public submissions (and we all know that pools of public submissions are great places to pick up fungal infections).
So, in short, we had the same people choosing winners from their own group of nominees, which is almost like picking pre-determined losers too. Passing the voting on to the Hall of Fame Electors (a much larger group of voters) was a good reform, but more could be done.
To truly open up that process, the initial nominations for Special Awards should come from the general membership as part of the initial ballot for all the other awards. The top 5 vote-getters should then square off in a public contest in their given field.
For example, nominees for Broadcaster of the Year would each have to read the same 60-second Public Service Announcement, unrehearsed, containing the phrase “Hot Corn Cold Corn Chronology.” Whoever gets the closest to exactly 60 seconds with the fewest mistakes would be the winner.
Best Liner Notes contenders would have to recite their own liner notes, attempting to make them as interesting as possible, regardless of subject matter (use of singing and/or interpretive dance would be permitted).
Nominees in all categories would also have the opportunity to demonstrate special skills, like card tricks or calf-roping. There will also be a brief swimsuit and/or wet banjo contest.
The final winners will be determined by audience applause and by a panel of 10 year-olds (chosen by a secret committee).
Aside from simply needing greater voter participation, the following steps might serve to make the nominations and subsequent winners less predictable:
Disqualify those in the instrumental categories who have won so many times, they have started thanking their local cable and natural gas providers during the acceptance speech.
Open up the Male Vocalist of the Year category to female vocalists.
Open up the Female Vocalist of the Year category to male record label owners.
Do not award Dobro Player of the Year to anyone whose name begins with “J” or “R.”
Require that the Bass Player of the Year perform in a clown suit for at least 50% of his or her shows during the eligibility period.
Clarify once and for all what “Entertainer of the Year” actually means by using the following definition: The Entertainer of the Year Award shall be given to the artist or band who has sold the greatest number of T-shirts during the eligibility period, and/or does the best imitation of Lester Flatt imitating Roy Acuff.
The above opinions do not reflect the views of anyone connected (even distantly) to Bluegrass Today, or their affiliated web sites, Modern Bluegrass Drummer, and Rogue Knitting, and I’m not too sure about them myself.