IBMA’s World of Bluegrass in Raleigh – The Business Conference
The entry below is a reposting of my blog entry yesterday. If you enjoy it, or think it worthwhile, please drop in at my blog at Ted Lehmann’s Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms.
Art Menius, a founding member of IBMA and a deeply experienced bluegrass and music executive wrote, “Raleigh is a major re-framing, a sincere transformation of WOB, but much in the spirit of Tony’s [Rice] speech, it not only preserves but strengthens what is essential. This week saw the Owensboro vision of 1985-1986 brought fully to life. I wish Terry Woodward, Sonny Osborne, and Burley Phelan could have seen it. This was [the original vision] in remarkable detail almost 30 years later in a different place with different people, but I saw what we talked about all around me come to life.” Over the next week, I’ll try to put the event into perspective in both words and pictures. As I viewed and selected photos yesterday, I found that I had spent too much time enjoying and participating to do the job I wish I had been able to do pictorially. I want to apologize for that at the outset. Now, let’s try to look at what we experienced in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Noam Pikelny, first winner of the Steve Martin prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, delivered the keynote address on Tuesday afternoon. With humor and humility, he emphasized the common threads holding us all together, speaking eloquently about his voyage from his earliest learning in bluegrass banjo to his realization that he must follow his own creative muse wherever it takes him. He spoke with fervor about his belief that whatever directions some bluegrass takes, there will always be those who will find their way back to Bill Monroe and the other first generation creative geniuses who set us on the road and whose music continues to influence and inform bluegrass music. David Menconi wrote in the online edition of the Raleigh News Observer, “But the reason bluegrass is on the rise, Pikelny said, is that it’s “overflowing with authenticity” compared to the pop mainstream. And while some acts passing for bluegrass nowadays might have given Bill Monroe pause, Pikelny argued that all this attention is still a net positive…I’m not asking you to embrace any music or musicians just because they’re wrapped in this flag of bluegrass that’s been so near and dear to us for so long,” he said. “I’m asking you to acknowledge that the definition of bluegrass has always been ethereal, and not to get bogged down in debates over what is bluegrass and what is not.” I’m eager to read the published version of Pikelny’s fine speech to glean other gems from it. The audience rewarded the balanced, sometimes humorous, and always thoughtful presentation with a standing ovation.
It’s rare that artists and media people can come together to explore and discuss the emerging and crucial world of e-commerce. Here, four most important media titans talk and answer questions about the emerging world of online publication and publicity without any holding back. This seminar was packed, as were almost all those held, with those wishing to have greater impact in letting the world know what they’re doing.
The Exhibit Hall functioned as a link between the Business Conference and Wide Open Bluegrass. Several kinds of commerce take place in the exhibit hall and networking is crucial there. People do purchase things, but the face-to-face opportunities between all constituencies in the bluegrass business take place in the exhibit hall. It’s a lively and crowded marketplace, like a small town open street on market day. An impressive and large scale exhibit called the North Carolina Pavilion dominated a corner of the hall featuring bands, products, and business instruments from within the state as well as sponsoring some seminars and workshops.
Each year WAMU’s Bluegrass Country, a major World of Bluegrass sponsor, hosts four days of live radio broadcasts in a room turned into a radio studio, featuring six bands a day. These shows, part of a live broadcast to the home station in Washington, D.C. heard on 105.5 FM in Washington and streamed worldwide at Bluegrass Country.org programs established and emerging bands. The studio is usually crowded and sometimes packed to the gills. The music in the room is acoustic and the audience is asked to maintain silence during performances and to cheer loudly when appropriate. This year, the Bluegrass Country staff also traveled to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science to present a special evening program in a brand new studio there featuring Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver as well as Joe Newberry and his band.
The Bluegrass Ramble represents a major change in presenting showcase bands. Using five bars, a converted church, and the Convention Center as performance venues, World of Bluegrass registrants using their registration tags and other people paying individual admission at each venue were treated to a huge variety of styles and approaches to bluegrass music. Bands were able to strut their stuff in the kinds of venues where they actually play, and talent buyers could see real reactions from genuine music lovers to these performances. While requiring some degree of mobility to get to most of the venues, they were generally seen as an enormous opportunity to both bands and buyers as well as the general public. Next year, participants will know better how to utilize these marvelous opportunities.
I was unable to get to the Gig Fair this year, and I’m sure that even taking photographs and participating as much as I was able, we missed much that was going on. Nevertheless, business was conducted in every aspect of the Business Conference. Bands not getting opportunities to present themselves to the constituencies they wanted to see them were simply not working the convention effectively. Buyers were everywhere, and they wanted to see and hear new as well as established bands.
The Awards shows on Wednesday