How to Negotiate IBMA World of Bluegrass: A Preview and Guide
The International Bluegrass Music Association will present its annual World of Bluegrass event from September 30 – October 4, 2014 in Raleigh, NC. All events take place within a six- or seven-block radius of the Raleigh Convention Center, a modern, comfortable, and accessible facility including the two official convention hotels – the Marriott and the Sheraton – and the Duke Energy Center. The six clubs within easy walking distance are accessible by the new direct connection “Bluegrass Express” which will run between the front of the Convention Center and the clubs. Wide Open Bluegrass, the final two days of World of Bluegrass will be held in the outdoor Red Hat Amphitheater, the Convention Center, and the Clubs. A free street fair on Fayettville Street from the hotels towards the State Capitol offers music, vendors, food, and many enjoyable activities. Plus, there’s free access to the Exhibit Hall in the Convention Center and all non-ticketed activities associated with World of Bluegrass – all this will run for two days.
It’s all pretty complicated and, in order to get the most out of your experience, this blog is designed to make it more accessible, suggest some highlights, look at some alternatives, and help you plan your week.
I urge early registration, especially for musicians, to allow taking part in some activities, such as the redesigned Gig Fair. While reserved seats at the Red Hat Amphitheater and prime seats for the Awards show are already sold out, plenty of seats still remain. The two main convention hotels are fully booked, but keep an eye on out for cancellations on the forum IBMA-L and other sources for tickets or rooms that might become available. Below, you will find explanations, links, and maps that should help you make sense of it all. You can use this blog entry and the IBMA web site in conjunction to make it all more manageable. Soon, the two smartphone apps will be updated to make navigating it all and scheduling yourself even more easy. You can bookmark the schedule on your smart phone by clicking this address: http://worldofbluegrass2014.sched.org/mobile
Camping Facilities: Many bluegrass fans are also RVers. Last year, we stayed at the campground on the State Fairgrounds, only about seven miles and 15 minutes from the Convention Center. With full hookups, this campground is utilitarian, but comfortable, safe, and convenient. It costs $25.00/night. For more information look here and book soon. The area around the Raleigh Convention Center, the two major hotels, and other locations associated with World of Bluegrass are relatively small and easily negotiated. Here’s a map with a link to a full map that can be downloaded and printed. A brief study will help you get oriented. Note the many convenient parking garages. Last year’s price for a full day in garages around the Convention Center of $7.00 has been retained.
Musicians should remember that performing in showcases is not an example of Pay for Play. Rather, each showcase participation represents an opportunity for bands to be seen by talent buyers in a position to make hiring decisions and many fans from around the country and the world who are often able and willing to make requests of promoters and talent buying committees who make crucial hiring decisions. However, merely being seen at the World of Bluegrass is not sufficient. The onus for increasing the number of gigs you work depends on careful and focused follow up and persistent effort. There are almost uncountable opportunities to network with those in the position to make decisions about hiring and promoting your efforts. Follow up with all contacts by email, phone call, and mail (yes, mail still exists) to assure that the face and personality you’ve projected at World of Bluegrass becomes firmly fixed in those people’s memory and musical imagination.
Fans will find the business conference to be not only interesting and a feast for meeting and getting to know performers and the other people making up the components of the bluegrass industry, but a wonderful place to become more knowledgeable about the finer points of the practice and larger world of bluegrass music and business.
IBMA has made it much easier to PLAN your experience. The schedule for all events at the Business Conference is available now. Use the schedules on the web site and through your smart phone. Link your calendar to the posted schedule to organize the band leader’s time, and to involve other members of your band as a team reaching out to connect, network, and learn new strategies. I understand the need for musicians to get together and make music. There’s plenty of that at World of Bluegrass, but my best advice to professionals seeking to increase their income is – as much as possible – leave your instruments in their cases and attend workshops, seminars, the Gig Fair, taping sessions, and more, with an intent to increase your outreach and management skills. Do you want to take a European tour, consider hiring professional management, work with a booking agent, book your band into new venues, and make further professional advances? WoB is designed for you to have an impact, but you need to step forward and make the effort, it will not merely be handed to you. Just appearing at official and unofficial showcases won’t prove to be of much help without consistent and focused follow-up.
The Schedule: The World of Bluegrass is a large convention with a variety of activities and emphases. In the past, attendees were given a printed schedule and had to work through it carefully to make decisions about how best to use their time. This year, the IBMA staff has done much of the work by providing a well-structured and cross-referenced schedule which can be manipulated and searched online or on your smartphone in either iOS or Android formats. For instance, if you want to know where a band is appearing you can go to the “bands” block and click on a band. Let’s use The Grass Cats as an example. The Grass Cats will appear in Convention Center on Tuesday at 7:00 on the Workshop Stage. They also will appear on Wednesday at the Longview Center at 10:00 and Tir Na-Nog at 1:00 AM. Every band I checked has at least three showcases, with one in the Convention Center.
Let’s say you went to the Longview Center last year and found it a very pleasant place to listen to music. Click on Venues and the Vintage Church at Longview Center to learn that seven bands will be there on each night from 7:00 PM until 1:30 AM. It looks to me as if every band with an official showcase can be seen at either the Ballroom Stage or the Workshop Stage in the Convention Center on Tuesday or Wednesday and on the Ramble Stages at other times if you prefer going out to the Ramble Venues for a legal libation with your music. The IBMA staff has clearly listened to the concerns of attendees and worked hard to give people what they want.
Study the expanded schedule carefully to see what skills are being addressed at individual sessions and who the resource people are. This year’s sessions at WoB are structured to be more interactive, to answer your questions as well as to provide information. Whether it’s producing your own record, learning to live life on the road as a female musician, negotiating contracts and riders, learning more about health care and financial planning, managing risk through event insurance, making better videos, or dozens of other topics of relevance to you as a buyer, seller, or manager of talent, there are workshops and seminars where you can improve your knowledge and hone your skills. You won’t be able to take full advantage of these unless you study the schedule carefully and PLAN.
Hover over the word “Schedule” on your device and then click on your choice of schedule for your particular need. By exploring the schedule in this way, you should be able to get a good handle on all that’s happening before constructing a schedule on your phone or calendar.
The convenient search function appearing on the “Schedule” page and available on all other Business Conference main pages makes the schedule easily searchable. The color coding is also a very useful feature. This is an incredibly powerful tool which will make your entire experience at World of Bluegrass more convenient and efficient.
Transportation to the Remote Venues: A dedicated bus called the Bluegrass Express will run from 4:30 PM until 2:45 AM each night from in front of the Convention Center to the Bluegrass Ramble locations. You don’t have to walk to be able to Ramble.
Talent Buyer Focus: Much has been accomplished to create a specific focus on placing talent buyers in contact with performers, agents, and managers to increase opportunities assuring that networking between these constituencies will result in more gigs being actively pursued as a result. To explore this focus further, check here. It’s extremely important for all parties to follow up on initial or ongoing connections made at these events with a mail appeal, a press kit, and one or more phone calls. Make sure the people in a position to buy your talent have a solid, accurate impression of you and your music.
At the “Agents Pitch Session” agents will be given a 3-5 minute chance to introduce themselves to buyers and potential clients, describing their services and current client list. The “Agents & Managers B2B Expo” (Wednesday and Thursday only) allows agents and managers to network without fan engagement in a special exhibit space. The Gig Fair has been completely revamped and online registration will eliminate the early morning waiting in line. Gig Fair registration closes September 22.Register for World of Bluegrass and sign up for the Gig Fair NOW! The Exhibit Hall appears larger than ever and will be open from Wednesday through Saturday, free to the public during Wide Open Bluegrass. The “Pitching Event for Talent Buyers” is focused on first time attendees and will examine many of the opportunities offered by the bluegrass world. There will also be a hospitality room available and an evening reception. For further information, check it all out here.
Town Hall Sessions: This year, two Town Hall sessions are being held by the IBMA Board. They are on the schedule for 9:00 AM on Friday and Saturday mornings, providing time for attendees to meet with the IBMA Board to discuss concerns and suggest alternatives. This meeting when little else is happening is your best opportunity to be heard by the Board. The Bluegrass Ramble, a component of the Business Conference in cooperation with the City of Raleigh and the local organizing committee, is the way in which the Official Showcase bands can be seen and heard. Each band will appear at least once in the Raleigh Convention Center and two other times in the Ramble venues around town. Here’s a list of the venues with a link to each one. They are within walking distance of the Convention Center and hotels, and dedicated transportation to the remote venues will be provided until 2:00 AM
The decision to schedule Official Showcase Bands through the Convention Center as well as into the clubs and bars was made in response to the differing needs and desires of attendees. Since Official Showcases are designed to place bands before talent buyers in situations where the buyers can assess the suitability and desirability of bands for their venue or event, many buyers thought that a quieter and more concentrated setting would be preferable. Other buyers and attendees like the club atmosphere and didn’t mind the slight inconvenience of getting to them. The new organization of the showcase schedule looks like a win/win for all, including people not wishing to buy full business conference tickets who can purchase armbands at the door of each club or a Ramble ticket without attending the rest of the business conference. A full ticket for the Bluegrass Ramble costs $60 for members and $75 for non-members, providing access to all showcases. The clubs will also be showcasing North Carolina Bands during the Awards show, offering an attractive alternative. Opportunities to showcase during Wide Open Bluegrass are still being developed and rolled out, continue to watch here and on the IBMA Web Site and my FB Page as World of Bluegrass approaches.
The IBMA Exhibit Hall will be open for four days after Tuesday’s build-in. Wednesday and Thursday will be available for those ticketed for the Business Conference only. During Wide Open Bluegrass the Exhibit Hall will be open to everyone. All showcasing bands are provided with space for a booth, and exhibitors display all kinds of instruments and gear. The Exhibit Hall is also a lively location for networking. To sum up, the Business Conference offers unparalleled opportunities for every element of the bluegrass community to come together to learn, grow, develop new skills, demonstrate their capability, and reach out to each other. However, to meet these goals requires planning, commitment to one’s own development, and work. But that’s why it’s called a Business Conference.
Located in the magnificent Raleigh Memorial Auditorium at the Duke Energy Center just a block or so from the Convention Center and the two main convention hotels (The Marriott and the Sheraton) this 2323 seat auditorium is Raleigh’s premier performing venue, with unobstructed seating and fine acoustics. It’s just the place for IBMA to present its most watched and anticipated event, the annual Awards Show. Performance awards are presented in seventeen categories. These awards are selected in a three-stage nomination and voting process participated in by the professional members of IBMA. Induction into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame takes place during the Awards Show. This year the original Seldom Scene and bluegrass author Neil Rosenberg will be inducted. With nominees selected by committees of the membership, another six awards in industry categories are awarded at the Annual Awards Luncheon. In addition several Distinguished Achievement Awards are given. Performances by many of the nominees are featured during the Awards Show and sufficient fodder for discussion and argument will persist until the next year’s nomination process begins. During the Awards show a little noted and intriguing event will be taking place out in the remote venues. Called Bluegrass Ramble Local Grass on the schedule sidebar, this convenient and inexpensive alternative features a rich variety of North Carolina bands performing. There will be a couple of national NC bands like Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road and Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa as well as fine bands less well known nationally but very well known among those who are knowledgeable about bluegrass in North Carolina. Bands like Al Batten & the Bluegrass Reunion, Grass Street, and Constant Change will be playing. If you’re not going to the Awards show, Local Grass represents an attractive alternative.
Wide Open Bluegrass, once known as Fan Fest, is both a ticketed all-star bluegrass festival and a partially overlapping Street Festival promoted by IBMA and the City of Raleigh under the auspices of the Local Organizing Committee. Wide Open Bluegrass performances taking place in the Red Hat Amphitheater and The Grand Ballroom of the Raleigh Convention Center are ticketed, presenting many of the biggest stars in bluegrass, winners of IBMA awards, and “pickup” jam bands composed of bluegrass music’s most visible artists. Proceeds of the Wide Open Bluegrass ticket sales go to The Bluegrass Trust Fund. The music ranges from traditional bluegrass (Hot Rize, The James King Band, The Lonesome River Band, Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, The Del McCoury Band, The Larry Stevenson Band) through progressive bluegrass (Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Sam Bush, The Deadly Gentlemen) to bluegrass derived jam bands (Younder Mountain String Band). There appears to be something for everyone, with the emphasis on traditional sounding and contemporary bluegrass bands. There doesn’t seem to me to be a great swing toward fringe music on either the traditional or the extreme modern ends of the spectrum. The Schedule for Wide Open Bluegrass can be found here.
On both Friday and Saturday evenings on the Workshop Stage in the Convention Center there will be a presentation called Roots & Branches from 10:00 PM until 2:00 AM which is sponsored and still in the planning stages. Watch for updates here and on the IBMA web site. As of the date of this writing, the schedule for the StreetFest was not available. When it does become available, it will be convenient to download the schedule and map to your portable device. There will also certainly be a printed schedule made widely available. The StreetFest is a free event. Five bluegrass stages are located on Fayetteville Street running from behind the Marriott Hotel towards the state capitol. The Main Stage is located in City Plaza, where many national bands and the IBMA Youth Band will be performing.
Last year, thousands of people thronged the streets, many hearing bluegrass music for the first time. I’ve been hearing stories about people who have become fans and started attending other events as a result of the Street Fair. The North Carolina Whole Hog Barbecue will be held again this year in the parking lot between the Marriott Hotel and the Duke Energy Center. Stroll through the array of barbecue competition setups and then go to the booth along Fayetteville Street where the results are sold as a fund raiser for local food pantries. The Exhibit Hall within the Convention Center will be open with no admission being charged during the StreetFest. The Workshop Stage, in the hallway outside the Exhibit Hall, will feature performances and discussions related to bluegrass.
For real gluttons for punishment, Wide Open Bluegrass Late Night will run from 10:00 PM until 2:00 AM each night, including Saturday in the featured clubs. These events will be individually sponsored. I don’t know about ticketing yet. At this point, I don’t see competing events to the schedule for Wide Open Bluegrass during the times when those events are scheduled in the main performance areas.
IBMA’s World of Bluegrass is the premier event of the bluegrass year. Last year’s move from Nashville to Raleigh was a resounding success. In terms of attendance, regional economic impact, and resulting increases in new and returning membership, it set records. As with any first year effort or major change, there were glitches and problems. Attendees were polled and listened to by both the Board and IBMA staff. The result is that many of the issues were addressed and solutions to the problems found, many suggested by those who were there. Opportunities for further development and adaptation will surely arise this year, but attendees can be assured that both IBMA and the Raleigh Convention Bureau are intent on your having a good time and learning a lot. Join IBMA Now to take advantage of discount still available to members and then Buy Tickets for the entire World of Bluegrass or pick from those components meeting your needs. See you there!
This post originally appeared on Ted Lehmann’s blog at TedLehmann.blogspot.com. Visit that site for more links and IBMA WoB information.