THROUGH THE LENS: IBMA 2019: Connections, Discovery, and Growth in Bluegrass
Molly Tuttle - IBMA 2019 - Photo by Todd Gunsher
The theme of this year’s International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass conference and festival in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, was “Connect, Discover, and Grow.” The variation in this year’s IBMA award winners — such as legend Del McCoury and the tattooed young Billy Strings — certainly fit the theme.
The IBMA has been at the forefront of inclusion in music, using the festival and conference to connect artists and industry professionals to one another and to discover the histories and stories of others in ways that permit us all grow, musically and socially. After all, music is a social thing, it does not exist in a vacuum. Nowhere is this more evident than in the “Shout & Shine: A Celebration of Diversity in Bluegrass” event that took residence in the Dance Tent for a full day of the fest. In its fourth year, it brought together the bluegrass of yesterday, today, and tomorrow and showcased the range of people and ideas that go into the music. As Jamie Katz Court of co-presenter PineCone said in an article in the (Raleigh) News & Observer, “(We’re) just really trying to showcase and highlight all of the diversity that is already within bluegrass.”
This year’s edition of Shout & Shine featured Hubby Jenkins; Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer; IBMA Momentum Award nominee Cane Mill Road; and North Carolina-based Lakota John, a blues guitar player with Lumbee and Lakota lineage. The night was slated to finish off with an Inclusive Square Dance that featured genderless calling. Instead of “ladies” and “gents” as has been the “norm,” caller Brad Baughman assigned different moves to the call, such as “the person standing on the left and the person standing on the right.” Lightning in the area ended the schedule at the Dance Tent (as well as the rest of the outdoor festival) early, but the dance, with music from Jake Blount of July ND Spotlight Band Tui, went on inside the lobby of a nearby hotel.
Once again, IBMA regular Todd Gunsher was there to cover the festival, which also bills itself as the largest, free urban bluegrass fest in the world. Here’s Todd’s report, along with photos below.
Alison Brown’s Keynote Address
Perhaps no one is more qualified than Alison Brown, winner of many IBMA awards and co-founder of Compass Records, to give this year’s keynote address on the changes in the industry. She last gave the address in 2002, and the changes she highlighted included the number of women artists both playing and winning awards and the plummeting of physical sales along with streaming now the norm — 88% of revenue currently comes from streaming. Rather than railing against that change, her speech was a call to embrace that reality and “lock arms and march together as a community into the digital future.”
The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys were advertised to have Alison Brown as a guest during their Tuesday night Bluegrass Ramble slot at the Pour House. As it turns out, she also brought along Becky Bueller, Missy Raines, and Sierra Hull — a total of four of the five First Ladies of Bluegrass, the first women to win awards in each of IBMA’s instrument categories. They took over the stage to the delight the audience in the packed club.
Earlier that night, Momentum Award winner AJ Lee and Blue Summit gave a rip-roaring set, mixing classic country, folk, and Americana with bluegrass that was befitting of the award — moving the genre forward while keeping their feet on its foundations.
Following the awards show Thursday night, Jim Lauderdale sat in with The Slocan Ramblers. He said a few words about Robert Hunter, who had just passed away, and did three songs they wrote together. Having collaborated with both Hunter and Ralph Stanley (as well as many others in between), Lauderdale is the essence of progressive.
Friday night on the Main Stage in Red Hat Amphitheater could not be beat, with sets from Vocal Group of the Year Sister Sadie, led by five-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year Dale Ann Bradley; Balsam Range, joined for part of their set by the NC State Symphony Orchestra; Molly Tuttle, the previous winner of IBMA’s Guitar Player of the Year award two years running; and I’m With Her filling the amphitheater with their wonderful songs and harmonies. After that, impending storms caused the night to be cut short.
Saturday on the Main Stage begin with “You Gave Me A Song,” a set celebrating the music, legacy, and impact of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen raised the temperature as the sun was setting with high-energy playing culminating in an unreal take on the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” that had everyone on their feet. Only a night at the Beacon in New York could have been finer.
Saturday was capped with a celebration of Del McCoury, titled “Delebration.” Sons Ronnie and Rob told stories about McCoury’s career with some great old photos and rare video clips. Joining the McCourys were Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Dierks Bentley, Sierra Hull, Jon Fishman, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Two of McCoury’s grandsons played guitar with the band, making three generations of the family on stage. At the end of the set, the stage was full of musicians and family. It was befitting for the legendary McCoury, who also took home this year’s Album of the Year award, and who in many people’s minds leads what is the best bluegrass band in the world.
There are way more highlights than I can write about here, but suffice it to say, it was another great week in Raleigh, and only 51 weeks until we get to do it again!