Nashville and IBMA
I moved to Nashville in 1986 and remember how I wished I could buy a place down on lower Broadway because it was so cool down there, despite all the winos in the gutter and street people. At the time people hardly ventured downtown unless they had to work there. So much has changed.
IBMA this year was a fun gathering of a bunch of great musicians and fans. I spent about a week at the "Business Conference" (whatever happened to the Trade Show?) and Fan Fest and had a jolly good time hearing a lot of fine music and even some bluegrass (if you know what I mean). I had to search pretty hard for bluegrass, but it was there if you paid attention. Seems like these days, though, I'm increasingly leaning toward the roots of bluegrass for my own personal inspiration - more toward the kind of stuff Ginny Hawker and Hazel Dickens and Dirk Powell and Tim O'Brien like to do. Okay, so I'm not really a fan of bluegrass banjo in particular or men who sing high and whiny (but then I love Danny Paisley's singing...)
Some random thoughts on IBMA...a few years ago I caught a LOT of flack when I stood up at an IBMA meeting held at SPBGMA and spoke at length about why all the IBMA stuff should be here in Nashville where they could more easily be covered by the media, where many of the "Masters" live and would easily be able to come by and do workshops and the like, etc. I was especially arguing about the importance of moving the MUSEUM here and I don't see that ever happening, but in some ways I still think that was the most important part of my argument, even though Owensboro KY surely is a very pretty little town indeed. ANYWAY, IBMA has arrived in Nashville, has already (against all the rants of the doomsayers who said it couldn't be done) acquired a fairly impressive presence in Music City, and looks to be gaining more and more attention. There were those who said that Nashville will ruin bluegrass music and I've got to say that I believe bluegrass music is being ruined but I'm not going to blame Nashville for it. We are all to blame. Our media are to blame and the tendency toward homogenization of all musics to the point where they all begin to blend in much the same way that one stirs eggs into a mixture of butter and sugar by the process of putting it all into a bowl and stirring it in one direction in a circular motion with a big wooden spoon.
But I digress. There are a few of us faithful ones left! And those of us who remain faithful (and maybe a few converts) had the great pleasure of hearing Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass do four heart-stopping BLUEGRASS showcases in the late night sessions at IBMA. All their showcases were packed to the point of spilling over with great bluegrass and crazed fans. At the end of their first (BBU) showcase, they received such an enthusiastic standing ovation that as the folks rocketed out of their chairs to stand and cheer I thought a few of them were going to fly through the ceiling as they put their hands together at an alarming velocity. It was like a clap of thunder and I knew where it came from. Made me grin.
I'll confess that I missed most of the FanFest and a whole lot of the other stuff at IBMA and was mainly seen in the after-dark hours crawling around from showcase to showcase, suite to suite in search of bluegrass. It was there, trust me, and like last year there was a WHOLE lot of other music, good and not, there, too - much of which I couldn't call bluegrass by any stretch of my imagination. I didn't try to put on my Bluegrass Police badge this time, I'm growing too old for that. I just moved on to something that pleased my ears, my heart or whatever. A lot of what I found pleasing truly wasn't bluegrass but more in the old time mountain music vein of things and some of it was even, shudder shudder old time COUNTRY music. There were lots of talented singer-songwriter types in the crowd (I'll admit that with the exception of Harley Allen, Mark Simos, Tim Stafford, Hazel Dickens, Chris Stuart and a few others that was SURELY a direct result of being in Nashville; it wasn't necessarily a bad thing though it did much to water down what was already pretty weak bluegrass in many instances.
Later on I'll share some of my favorite "moments" of the week. The "Business Conference" (not sure when it graduated from the Trade Show it once was to a Business Conference, I suppose that's the new business speak language that's part of the move toward "Leadership Bluegrass," whatever that is). seemed to be a pretty big success though I'm told it's very expensive to set up there; hopefully those who did got their money's worth. Somehow the Convention Center doesn't quite give off the ambiance of say the exhibitor's hall in Louisville - the ceilings are high and everything is concrete and steel and there's a chilly kind of lighting in there that gives it all a cold and sterile feel. Still, if the business of bluegrass is being done there I'm all for it - I just found I didn't linger in that gloomy place any longer than need be. It is what it is and I don't see IBMA moving to any other venue, so live with it. I'll say all the booths looked very professional and one was even downright GORY - check out Dixie and Tom T Hall's booth
The late night showcases this year were much better organized, I thought, and while one still was faced with which showcase to go to when you wanted to be 3 places at once, it was relatively easy to get from one to another with a minimal number of steps and stairs. Many of us sort of stood at the back and moved from one to another hearing just 2 or 3 songs each. Not ideal, but there were a lot of bands to check out. A lot of wonderful music and even some bluegrass (by my standards) was played throughout the week.
Of course many of the best moments of the week happened late late late at night for those of us who had the staying power (mine was aided by the privilege of sleeping late); I'll talk about those later.
All in all, IBMA was - as usual - very well-run and the staff (and volunteers!) deserve to be commended for all their efforts. Seems like everyone was having a good time and hearing lots of the music they love, whatever style it may be. It was very cool (and this ties in with the beginning of my post) to walk the streets of Nashville which are now clean and very interesting, loaded with clubs featuring really fine live bands and restaurants offering a wide variety of good food, shops for those who enjoy that sort of thing, and just a light a sights to behold. I went down to the Bluegrass Inn a couple of times to check out bands and sure enjoyed hearing Avery County, a new band featuring some really good traditional pickers, namely Jimmy Rollins, Travers Chandler, Paul Priest and uh-oh, my mind has drawn a blank. Anyway, those boys can do it and they played a lot of music honoring all their heroes - you know, Monroe, Stanley, F&S and people of that ilk. Good stuff. Check 'em out! It was cool walking on lower Broadway and 2nd Avenue at night - all the folks and great neon signs and music reaching out and grabbing you from places like the Ernest Tubb record store, Tootsie's, the Bluegrass Inn, Roberts Western Wear and others. On the way to hear Avery County on Saturday night I passed by a bunch of good music I surely would have stopped for under normal circumstances. While honky tonk was blaring in my left ear, my sight and attention were drawn across the street to a blank storefront where a trio of young ladies in very conservative (Pentecostal) dresses were singing into a line a microphones and a man was there singing with them and it was high and sweet and I wanted to run over and listen to them. Their praises were in such stark contrast to the smell of cigarettes and stale beer assaulting me from the honky tonk side of the street. Next I passed a middle-aged man hunched over his National triolian which shone and glittered under the streetlight where he was pouring out the blues with a steel bar and a husky voice. Yeah, that nearly stopped me, too, but I walked on by. Later on I got to hear the Legends accompanied by some soon-to-be Legends like the great Mike Compton playing the mandolin as ONLY he can, remembering the Legends who have gone on.