Where all the bears are friendly

Chris JonesJoe Lurgio recently contributed a thoughtful guest editorial about the stagnant nature of the IBMA Awards with suggestions about what might be done to keep the process updated. This prompted some give-and-take, which included discussion of the “big tent,” the “small tent,” plus a bonus “trailer park” analogy. It seems we’re all very mobile home oriented, and that’s appropriate to bluegrass festival-goers.

One of Joe’s points was that the IBMA has been very forward-thinking in two of the three components of the IBMA World of Bluegrass, but that the third one—the awards—remains hopelessly lost in the ‘80s, like the bluegrass equivalent of the “Salad Shooter.” Or, to stick with tent imagery, two of the stakes can be easily pulled up to move the tent to higher ground, but one of them is stuck in the ground, and we can’t seem to find the tool that will remove it.

For any who share this concern, I want to reassure you that based on a forthcoming report I’ve seen (while pawing through the IBMA dumpster), it appears that steps are already being taken to pull that stake out of the ground and move the whole tent to a beautiful campground in the next county, where it never rains and where all the bears are friendly.

Incidentally, so we don’t slide back into a traditional vs. progressive squabble again, this tent I’m referring to is neither big nor small; it’s medium-sized but large enough to house all of Kentucky Thunder.

Here are some of the awards adjustments that will be implemented no later than 2016:

One that has already begun, but you may not have realized it, is the sending out of IBMA ballots with minor flaws in them that need to be corrected with a follow-up email. This is not accidental at all. This is one of the steps the IBMA is taking to improve participation. The thinking is, if you deliberately send out a ballot with a minor error in it, then point it out in a second communication, it serves as a reminder to vote and also creates more voter interest because they’ll naturally look to find the mistake. This was a simple yet effective plan, and I applaud it.

Other changes will be put in place next year:

Creating flexibility in categories (some experimenting has already begun in this area this year): jumble up a few categories so that a songwriter is nominated in the broadcaster category, a female vocalist is in the banjo category, and Del McCoury is nominated for a Momentum award. This keeps people interested and creates a few surprises.

The establishment of “Pre-momentum” awards: These will award the true up-and-comers, those who have not even begun playing music at all but are thinking seriously about giving it a try in the near future. Many of our most established and respected bluegrass artists started this way. These will be given out at midnight (give or take half an hour) on Wednesday during a special “Awards Snack” to be held in the bar of the Marriot Hotel in Raleigh.

The Momentum awards will add the “Nashville Cat” category, giving an award to an actual baby who has successfully gotten work before he or she is two years old. The acceptance speech for this award alone will increase interest and attendance at the Momentum awards luncheon.

Nominees for the “special awards” will be determined by drawing names out of a hat. The winners will be decided at the awards luncheon itself by voice vote. In the event of a tie, the nominees will square off in a thumb-wrestling match.

The following categories will be added to the special awards:

Bus Driver of the Year

Cancelled Bluegrass Event of the Year

Bluegrass Curmudgeon of the Year

In the main awards, the following changes will take place:

In order to encourage younger artists more on the fringes of our music (those scratching on the outside of the medium-sized tent), at least one nominee in the Emerging Artist of the Year category must have performed barefoot at least 50% of the time during the eligibility period.

In order to streamline the show for TV broadcast, the gospel, instrumental and recorded event categories will be rolled into one award: the Gospel Instrumental Recorded Performance Event of the year, awarded to anyone who has recorded a gospel instrumental with someone they don’t normally record with. In case there’s a shortage of nominees for this award, those who have recorded a gospel instrumental without realizing that they have will also be eligible.

The nominees for Dobro Player of the Year must be five people no one has ever heard of.

In order to bring the number of voters up above the 27 or so people currently selecting our nominees and winners, rather than open up voting to non-professional members, a program of negative incentives will be put in place to increase professional member participation: any members who fail to vote will be made to wear an ill-fitting hot pink T-shirt, with the words “I didn’t vote!” emblazoned on the back. This will serve as their only identification during the World of Bluegrass, so they’ll be forced to wear it throughout the week in order to be admitted to any events. All members who fail to vote for three straight years will be made to stand in a corral on the stage of the awards show, chained to their fellow non-voting members. A dim green light will shine on them throughout the show.

I’ve already reserved my 2016 awards show ticket. This is going to be good.