An obnoxious letter to the IBMA

The gate doesn’t need gatekeepers. It needs to be opened wider.

The World of Bluegrass 2020 was put in a difficult spot this year. As 2020 seems to have affected the majority of life in its wake, the IBMA was tasked with having a business conference/festival/jam sesh/showcase/hootenanny in the virtual world of online streaming. We were, to say the least, skeptical that this feat could be pulled off with such ease but to our slap happy surprise they did an incredible inaugural job of it all. From tip-off to the closing ceremonies, we watched a fairly busy schedule with multiple digital stages play out with relative success in every respect to the 2020 detour. So with much respect and props, I say ‘well done IBMA, well done.”

And here comes the critique. The inevitable tongue-lashing. Should I start it out with “Dear IBMA,” or is that too obnoxious? Well, it’ll probably be obnoxious anyhow so I’ll let it fly.

Dear IBMA (yeah it is obnoxious, I knew it would be),

What I saw displayed this past week was heartbreaking. While I was a fan of the organizational efforts and the ability to watch plates spinning everywhere, I have to admit that the level of musicianship we were presented wasn’t even close to representing the world of bluegrass and bluegrass adjacent (bluegrass-plus?) that I find on the wide-open web or even through carefully curated playlists found on your fave music platform. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not simply referring to the showcases or the Ramble but to the whole offering. As Sarah Jarosz spoke of in her keynote, this music we love is capable of having its gates swung open much wider. The tradition of the music, to pull from my girl again, is storied and strong enough to weather the masses coming aboard. She, and I wholeheartedly agree, proposed that more folks equals a more solidified foundation for the roots. Newcomers will fall in love with the old sound. I’ll bet the farm on it.

Hey, I get that voting is done by IBMA “members” and you can’t force their hand when it comes to these sorts of matters but the leaders can create a vast landscape for those strolling by to be intrigued. Articles are more likely to be picked up by outside media sources, videos are more likely to be streamed, and word is more likely to be spread if bluegrass adjacent names are heralded. Bluegrass music is loved by some very unlikely but very liked artists. We have to wrap our arms around all of them and squeeze until they feel loved. We shouldn’t wait until they come to us. If they mention a love for our music casually in a random article then we, like a nosy neighbor, poke our nose in and invite them to dinner.

Our music is brilliant! I have full confidence that their fans will fall the same way I fell. The same way you fell. Trust that feeling. Open the gates. Tear the gates down. They won’t trash the lawn. When all is said and done, the grass will be greener than ever.

I know this isn’t the first letter you’ve read regarding this and it certainly won’t be the last but I do think that I offer one differentiator from the rest. I’m not going to only be a consumer with complaints moving forward. It’s not fair to you who are in the trenches to be shot at by outsiders. Bill Monroe’s Neighbor is my effort to help with the cause so please hear me when I say you have a new advocate. I’m here for ya and I hope you’ll be there for me. Please consider this our casserole greeting and HOA complaint. Thanks for all you do.

Clint Austin, Bill Monroe’s Neighbor

  • Date: October 7, 2020
  • Clint Austin