IBMA World Of Bluegrass

By Victoria Moon

Louisville has been batting around the term "music mecca" ever since it was first introduced - for better or worse - in an issue of Playboy a couple of years ago. The question of whether or not Louisville is a nationally known center of music may not be decided in any other genre, but when it comes to bluegrass, anybody who's anybody will tell you the place to be in October is downtown at the Louisville's own Galt House.

The reason, of course, is the World of Bluegrass, hosted annually by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). The World of Bluegrass is a week-long celebration of music, featuring a trade show convention, awards ceremony and three-day concert festival that attracts a cumulative total of approximately ten thousand fans from across the country and the world. This year, the festivities will start on the 18th and run through the 24th.

"The trade show is our business convention, and that happens from the 18th to the 21st for people in the industry," said Dan Hays, executive director of the IBMA. "On the evening of the 21st we'll host the awards show and then that Friday, the 22nd, we start Bluegrass Fan Fest, which runs through the 24th."

While the convention and awards show draw thousands of people to the World of Bluegrass every year, it is the Bluegrass Fan Fest that usually stands out as the highlight of the week, not just because of the size of the music festival, but also because of the spirit of those who perform.

"It's a pretty amazing event," Hays said. "There will be at least forty major bluegrass acts appearing on three different stages over the course of the three days. We regularly draw one of the top lineups of any bluegrass festival in the country, and there are literally hundreds of bluegrass festivals across America and even outside the country. We have all these artists in town for the convention and trade show, and they donate their time to help raise funds for two things: First, IBMA and its projects to promote the music, and secondly, the Bluegrass Trust Fund, which is an indigent fund for anyone in the industry who falls on hard times. All proceeds from Fan Fest go to these two entities and all the artists involved donate their time and all their own expenses".

Hays is right: The lineup for Fan Fest this year is pretty amazing. The list of artists already scheduled to perform at the festival reads like a Who's Who of Bluegrass including The Del McCoury Band, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Lonesome River Band, IIIrd Tyme Out, The Lynn Morris Band, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, Tim O'Brien, The Reno Brothers, Jeannette Williams & Clearwater, 5 for the Gospel, Hard Ryde, Dan Crary, Jerry Logan, Leva & Jones, Gloria Belle & Mike Long, and Mary Faith Rhodes-Lewis on Friday; Blue Highway, J.D. Crowe & The New South, Charlie Waller & The Country Gentlemen, David Parmley & Continental Divide, The John Cowan Band, The James King Band, Nickel Creek, Chris Jones & The Night Drivers, Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, The Kruger Brothers, Ryan Holladay, Butch Baldassari Trio, The Old Tyme Opry Variety Bard Dance Jamboree, Bill Evans and Harmonious Wail on Saturday; and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers, Lost & Found, The Rarely Herd, The Warrior River Boys, The Sullivan Family and The Sidemen on Sunday.

While Fan Fest will - as always - draw in the crowds, this year's awards ceremony will also be a bigger draw than usual: it's celebrating its tenth birthday in a big way. The IBMA Awards Show is where industry insiders get to name their picks for awards like Entertainer of the Year, Instrumental Group of the Year, Album of the Year, Male/Female Vocalist of the Year and Song of the Year. Besides all of the normal awards and performances, IBMA decided to invite all the previous hosts from past awards shows to take part in the anniversary celebration. As of the writing of this story, hosts who have agreed to return are John McCuen, Mac Wiseman, Chris Hillman, Tom T. Hall, Tim O'Brien, Joe Diffie, Laurie Lewis, John Hartford, Ricky Skaggs and Rhonda Vincent. The awards ceremony will also be held in a larger venue this year - the Palace Theater - allowing for even more friends and fans of bluegrass to attend the festivities. "It will definitely be the high point of the week - it's a fun, fast-paced, high-energy show," said Hays.

With an event of this magnitude, it may surprise some readers to discover that the World of Bluegrass started in the quiet town of Owensboro, the headquarters of the IBMA. The founders of IBMA started the organization back in 1985 to promote bluegrass music throughout the world. The trade show and Fan Fest followed in 1987. By the time the awards show was added to the week's roster in 1990, IBMA officials were already having difficulty accommodating everyone who wanted to attend the week's events, and in 1997 moved the event to Louisville for that reason.

"We'd outgrown the hotel and convention facilities in Owensboro; we just couldn't accommodate everyone. In fact, the last few years we were having to refer people to hotel rooms as far away as Evansville, Indiana. Louisville certainly has ample space to take care of everybody and wonderful facilities for the awards show."

But perhaps the best part of having one of the largest bluegrass events in the country right in our own backyard is the element of surprise: the amazing things that can happen when so many artists get together in one place.

"What's so great about the awards show and also Fan Fest is that there are so many artists in town for the convention that even when you don't see someone's name on one of the rosters as playing in the awards show or festival, you will regularly see somebody who sees someone at the convention who is a friend or one of their major influences and they'll say `hey, why don't you come up and play with us' and arrange to do some special number," said Hays. "It's the kind of thing you just don't see at a normal concert or festival appearance. It's what makes this week so special."

For information about the World of Bluegrass, contact the IBMA at 1-888-GET-IBMA or by e-mail at ibma@ibma.org.