Pitching the Big Tent of Bluegrass
September 28, 2012 Leave a comment
By Jewly Hight, Originally posted on WPLN, September 27, 2012
The bluegrass industry’s annual conference and festival – happening here in Nashville this week – is pulling up stakes and moving to Raleigh next year. Industry leaders say they’re aiming for a new balance in the stylistic push and pull between purists and progressives.
Bluegrass was nearly forty years old by the time it got its own trade organization: the International Bluegrass Music Association. The music’s roots in the 1946 string band Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys were clear enough. But the IBMA has always avoided saying exactly how far the music can veer from that template and still be called bluegrass.
“If we decided to spend our time trying to define bluegrass for people, we would spend all of our time doing that, and all of our resources,” says Nancy Cardwell, IBMA’s new executive director.
Cardwell says musicians play the music in their heart and allow bluegrass fans to decide what they like.
The IBMA philosophy sounds great. But as far back as the ‘50s, those who tweaked the traditional bluegrass band model were already raising the ire of purists. The absence of a sanctioned definition leaves the door open for opinion.
Music in Safe Hands
“A Far Cry From Lester & Earl” is a song nominated for IBMA Song of the Year. Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice lament the distance modern bluegrass has traveled from the foundational picking of Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. The band’s concerns are a fair representation of the traditionalist concerns.
“They’re worried that in a generation people won’t know what real bluegrass sounds like anymore, or they won’t recognize it because so many things have been called bluegrass,” Cardwell says. “So there’s that fear going on. But I don’t think we need to be fearful. I think the music is in safe hands.”
Interested in learning more about the music festival industry? Join industry leaders and entertainment professionals like Bonnaroo, SXSW, Harmony Festival and many more as they discuss the industry at the upcoming International Music Festival Conference in Austin, Texas at the Hyatt Regency Austin, December 2-4.