World of Bluegrass 2021, day 1 report

IBMA 2021 has gotten off to a great start. The annual convention is once again in Raleigh, North Carolina (for its 9th year here). The Mayor (Mary Anne Baldwin) gave us a special welcome and thank you for coming to Raleigh at the Key Note Speaker address. It always feels like so many folks here are happy to have all of the musicians, educators, promoters, record label people, instrument builders, and of course music fans, etc. descend upon their fine town.

This year’s theme is “Refocus, Reconnect, and Reimagine,” a good theme after the highly unique and sometimes challenging year all of us have experienced since the pandemic started. You will generally see attendees to this year’s convention masked up while indoors. Everyone has shown proof of their COVID vaccinations upon arrival to register and enter the convention. I have heard a whole lot of happy folks who are excited to be back at making and listening to the music live and in person! This year the IBMA also has included live streaming of many of the events for folks who could not attend in person.

The week started off on Monday night with a Leadership Bluegrass get-together on a lovely downtown rooftop while being serenaded by the kids from Jam Pak from Chandler, Arizona, brought by the amazing Anni Beach. Anni started Jam Pak, which helps kids in her area learn to play bluegrass music. I talked to the kids in her gang and they said their music friends and Anni had really become their family and friends, as well as bringing them the joy and power of becoming musicians. They were all very excited to be here at their first IBMA.

IBMA still had their famous Gig Fair where performers and event producers can meet face to face and pitch their bands and festivals to one another in a speed dating type of format. Everyone was wearing masks, and I still could see many smiles going around under those masks and CDs, stickers, drink koozies, and the like being handed over the tables. The Convention Center day was full of great seminars aimed at helping many different people of the bluegrass and related worlds and occupations.

A highlight of Tuesday was, of course, the Keynote Address. This year that honor was bestowed upon the great Dudley Connell. Many bluegrass folks know of his work with the Johnson Mountain Boys, Longview, Hazel Dickens, and the Seldom Scene, but he also has been doing other quite impressive jobs as well. He was the manager of the Smithsonian Folkways office for 20 years, and has been working as an archivist for the National Council for the Traditional Arts, where he catalogs and digitizes their collections for the Library of Congress. In 2020, he was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. His speech was full of humor and lively stories, as well as a recognition of how hard this last year has been on so many people, plus an inspiring message about some things we have learned as a result of the pandemic and good things to come.

Some video so folks at home can see and hear just a wee little taste of the overwhelming amount of fine music here in Raleigh for IBMA.