A river never wonders why it flows around the bend
A mountain doesn’t question how it rose up from the land
So who am I to wish I wasn’t just the way I am?
Who am I?
Oh, can’t you see?
A crooked tree won’t fit into the mill machine
They’re left to grow wild and free
Oh, I’d rather be a crooked tree
Recorded by Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway
A report from the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) Convention, awards show and fan fest in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Every year since the IBMA was founded in the early 1980s, they have had a business convention from Tuesday to Saturday in the fall. It began in Owensboro, Ky., and moved through the years to Louisville, then Nashville. For the last 11 years, it has been in Raleigh N.C. It will stay there one more year. In 2025 it will move to a new location, which is yet to be determined.
First a little background about the IBMA. When the first generation of Bluegrass artists started being concerned about their needs as they grow older, like health care and retirement, the IBMA was born. Now besides the organization helping the professional artists, it helps with bluegrass music education for young and old alike and strives to encourage growth in awareness of Bluegrass music world wide.
I went to many classes and saw many bands during my visit this year. I was lucky to have my brother, Chris, along so we actually almost doubled the classes and bands that we saw in our four days at the IBMA World of Bluegrass convention this year.
We attended song circles for those who enjoy writing new Bluegrass songs, which we both do. Chris attended a gig fair, which is like a speed dating session for artists to pitch themselves to festival and venue talent buyers.
The keynote address was presented by Matt Glaser, artistic director of the Americana Roots Music Program at the Berklee College of Music. To quote an article in Bluegrass Today, the speech began with, “I’m on a mission to envision music as one thing.” This would not be an easy task, after all, there are so many music styles to cram under one umbrella – including but not limited to jazz, bluegrass, blues, gospel and Tin Pan Alley. But he quickly made his point through a tour de force of the American songbook, pointing out case after startling case of overlapping repertoire and rhythmic and melodic similarities that obliterates musical boundaries.
I will include a link to this amazing address by this exceptional educator and musician.
(The sound doesn’t come in until 19 minutes into this video, but that still leaves 40 minutes of great examples)
Another eye-opener for me was a class on what AI (artificial intelligence) means to a Bluegrass musician. I had no idea that there are AI programs and apps that will write lyrics on subjects and in a style of chosen by the person requesting it. As I gathered from those who have tried it, “it ain’t too bad, but you have to tweek it afterward.”
The “I” in IBMA — International Bluegrass Music Association — was a major focus in this year’s programming. Besides a class on the state of bluegrass around the world, there were several bluegrass bands from other countries. Bands from Norway, Italy and South Korea as well as festival promoters from Ireland and France made a big impression on all who were in attendance. Bluegrass has been a popular genre in Japan for many years but this is the first time that I heard the non-English speaking bands sing in their own languages and it was very moving! I will add a link to the band from South Korea, Country Gongbang. They were absolutely riveting even though most of us did not understand what the words meant.
- ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR for the third consecutive time: Billy Strings
- MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Greg Blake
- BANJO PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kristin Scott Benson
- BASS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Vickie Vaughn from the band Della Mae (They’ve played the Sportsmen’s)
- DOBRO PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Justin Moses and his wife, MANDOLIN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Sierra Hull (who where both here at the UB Center For the Arts last winter with Bela Fleck and My Bluegrass Heart)
- FIDDLE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jason Carter (from the Del McCoury Band)
- GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Trey Hensley (who has played at Iron Works in Buffalo)
Molly Tuttle won three awards, FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR, SONG OF THE YEAR: “Crooked Tree” and ALBUM OF THE YEAR: “Crooked Tree.”
In her acceptance speech for Crooked Tree (the video of which is at the start of this column), she explained that the “Crooked Tree” is her. She was born with no hair and wears a wig in public and she always felt different than the other kids. She and her co-writer, Melody Walker ,accept and celebrate their differences though the metaphor of the Crooked Tree. Melody was diagnosed with scoliosis in middle school. So at age 11, she had to wear a back brace.
This year’s inductees into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame were the beloved multi-instrumentalist/vocalist considered by many “The King of New Grass”, Sam Bush; one of bluegrass music’s most important early women musicians, Wilma Lee Cooper; and one of the most widely heard mandolin players of all time, musical adventurer David Grisman.
The weekend features a two-day free street festival with multiple stages with many headliner bluegrass bands as well as student bands from bluegrass clubs and colleges throughout the U.S. The ages of the youth musicians ranged from 5 to 25.
We both attended a class on diversity and equity in Bluegrass music. There is more work to be done in this but it is changing with the times. There were more people of color on stage and jamming and women are no longer playing a marginal part in industry, as you may have noticed in the award list above. The bands were mostly younger and the youth programs are thriving.
And may I add, the finale of the awards show was a two-song medley of “Wagon Wheel” and “Fire on the Mountain” (the old fiddle tune, not the Marshall Tucker Band song).
Monday, Oct. 2, 6:30-8 p.m.
The first Buffalo Bluegrass Youth Ensemble practice at Wayside Presbyterian Church, Hamburg.
Thursday, Oct. 5, noon-2:15 p.m.
Buffalo Bluegrass All Stars Lunch at Sportsmen’s Tavern, Buffalo.
Saturday, Oct. 7, 1:30-5 p.m.
Creek Bend at Gullo’s Garden Center, Hamburg.
Sunday, Oct. 8, 2-7 p.m.
The monthly jam session, Bennington Lanes 1374 Clinton Street, Attica.
Friday, Oct. 13, 7-9 p.m.
Creek Bend at the Collins Library, Collins.
Saturday, Oct. 14, 6-9 p.m.
The Panfil Brothers trio at East Eden Tavern & Smoke House, Eden.
Sunday, Octd. 15, 2-5 p.m.
United Heritage Fiddlers open jam at the Dayton Fire Hall, Dayton, N.Y.
Sunday, Oct. 15, 4-7 p.m.
Old-time string jam session at 42 North Brewing Company, East Aurora.
Monday, Oct. 16, 6:30-8 p.m.
Buffalo Bluegrass Youth Ensemble practice, Wayside Presbyterian Church, Hamburg.
Thursday, Oct. 19, noon-2:15 p.m.
Buffalo Bluegrass All-Stars Lunch at the Sportsmen’s Tavern, Buffalo.
Saturday, Oct. 21, noon-4 p.m.
Creek Bend trio at Becker Farms, Gasport.
Sunday, Oct. 22, noon-4 p.m.
Creek Bend Trio at Becker Farms, Gasport.
Thursday, Oct. 26, 7-8:30 p.m.
Creek Bend at the Wellsville David A Howe Library, Wellsville.
Friday, Oct. 27, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Creek Bend, free square dance at Wayside Presbyterian Church, Hamburg.
Thursday, Nov. 2, noon-2:15 p.m.
Buffalo Bluegrass All-Stars lunch at the Sportsmen’s Tavern, Buffalo.
Friday, Nov. 3, 7-9:30 p.m.
The Panfil Family present a Willie Nelson tribute at the West Falls Center for the Arts, West Falls.
Saturday, Nov. 4, 4-7 p.m.
Creek bend with Doug Yeomans at Flying Bison Brewing Co, Buffalo.
In closing, fall is a great time to take a drive in the country and we have bluegrass for you to hear when you get there.