They Came, They Sawed, They Picked: Notes from the World of Bluegrass 1999

By Paul Moffett

The annual orgy of bluegrass music (if one can use such a word as `orgy' when describing a genre as relentlessly family-friendly as bluegrass) that is the World of Bluegrass arrived at the Galt House the third week in October, promptly filling the halls of Al Schneider's riverfront hotel with impromptu jam sessions. This year, the IBMA posted signs politely informing the jammers that there would be no hallway picking after 4 p.m. but the sessions continued in hotel suites long after the business travelers had bagged it for the night.

As befits a week-long event, the World of Bluegrass combined a business trade show (booths plus seminars and workshops), a three-day fan festival and a major awards show into the schedule, with the entirely foreseeable result that no ordinary mortal could possibly get around to all of it. Which only goes to show how far Mr. Bill Monroe's little back-porch music has come. Consequently, what follows is not at all a comprehensive look at the event; rather, it's just one person's impressions.

The Trade Show

Schmooze City. Players, promoters, record labels, guitar-mandolin-banjo makers and sellers by the carload. One fellow drove up from Sulphur Springs, Texas, with a collection of old guitars, mostly Martins, to sell. As of Wednesday, he still had all he had brought with him.

Even web-based businesses had booths. The iBluegrass magazine people were in attendance. Quizzed about how there was any revenue being generated, the owners, Skip and Glenda Odgen, admitted that there wasn't much. Instead, they were making their revenue by building and hosting artists' websites, plus similar ventures. Glenda is the publicist for Bela Fleck's recent Warner Bros.' release, The Bluegrass Sessions: Tales From the Acoustic Planet Vol. II.

I managed to get back to the trade show twice. The second excursion resulted in me standing around for some three hours, talking bluegrass music `bidness'; I went directly home afterwards and took a half-dozen Ibuprophen tablets for the pain in my lower back and feet. Fun can surely be painful at times.

According to IBMA Executive Director Dan Hayes, attendance at the Trade Show was a record 2,000 plus.

The Awards Show

There was more serious celebrity-watching at this event. Entering the lobby of the Palace, I glanced up to see the King of Bluegrass, Jimmy Martin, walking ahead of me, so, of course, I had to do the fan-boy thing (though I had a legitimate excuse) and say `hi' to him.

Downstairs in Stagedoor Johnnies', Kathleen Hoye was breathless over having seen Gillian Welch ("my hero," she said), who was nominated along with a slew of other performers for Clinch Mountain Country. Various members of the many bluegrass bands were wandering around in room, recognizable mainly by fans, thought many of them also looked like musicians.

Then there were the celebrities backstage: Ricky Skaggs, Joe Diffie, Earl Scruggs, Kenny Baker, Ralph Stanley, Laurie Lewis, Del McCoury and on and on. Them we did not see until the show started and they started handing out awards:

The winners' of the International Bluegrass Music Awards are as follows:

Entertainer Of The Year: The Del McCoury Band; Vocal Group Of The Year: IIIrd Tyme Out; Instrumental Group Of The Year: Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder; Male Vocalist Of The Year: Ronnie Bowman; Female Vocalist Of The Year: Lynn Morris; Song Of The Year: "Three Rusty Nails" By Ronnie Bowman, written By Ronnie Bowman, Terry Campbell And Jerry Nettuno; Gospel Recorded Performance Of The Year: "Three Rusty Nails" By Ronnie Bowman, Produced by Dan Tyminski And Ronnie Bowman for Sugar Hill Records; Album Of The Year: Clinch Mountain Country By Ralph Stanley & Friends, produced By Bil Vorndick For Rebel Records; Instrumental Album Of The Year: Bound To Ride by Jim Mills, produced By Jim Mills for Sugar Hill Records; Instrumental Performer Of The Year, Banjo: Jim Mills; Instrumental Performer Of The Year: Bass: Missy Raines; Instrumental Performer Of The Year: Dobro: Rob Ickes; Instrumental Performer Of The Year: Fiddle: Randy Howard; Instrumental Performer Of The Year: Guitar: Kenny Smith; Instrumental Performer Of The Year: Mandolin: Ronnie McCoury; Recorded Event Of The Year: Clinch Mountain Country by Ralph Stanley & Friends, produced By Bil Vorndick For Rebel Records; Emerging Artist Of The Year: Mountain Heart.

For a complete list of prior winners go to www.IBMA.org.

The three-day Fan Fest followed the other events; press deadline made it impossible to include any information about this part of the show. Look for more in the December issue in Berk Bryant's Bluegrass Beat column.