IBMA 2008

By Bob Mitchell

"International Bluegrass Music Association"

"Infectious Bright Magical Affective"

"I've Been Mostly Awake"

"Informative Bold Miraculous Affirming"

No matter what words are attributed to the letters, IBMA is an event that defies description. Some things are impossible to explain; they must be experienced. For example the joy of love, the beauty of a sunrise over Grand Canyon, the majesty of Niagara Falls, and the goose bumps that result when you hear the blending of a human voice with the acoustic guitar, fiddle, mandolin, banjo and bass. To make matters worse, my editor has given me a limited number of words.

Without qualification, IBMA's World of Bluegrass is an event of the highest professional caliber. It is not only a three-day musical fan fest featuring the best artists in the industry, but also it is a four-day trade show and business conference, offering a wide range courses for established and aspiring musicians, promoters, broadcasters, writers and others. The business conference provided artist showcases, an exhibit hall with more than 100 booths, professional development seminars, member constituency meetings and one-on-one networking. Behind the scenes of this massive event are dedicated, knowledgeable and responsive IBMA staff.

It's impossible to single out one favorite moment but a few personal highlights include an energetic set from Canadian fiddler and step-dancer April Verch; powerful performances from Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper; The Dan Tyminski band; a tribute to the Bluegrass Hotel (Harry Bickle's Louisville home); and being smack dab in the middle of a million smiles, lots-o-hugs, endless music from clusters of pickers everywhere and renewed friendships. During the Special Awards Luncheon program, Alan Munde asked, "What kind of people do you want to spend your life with?" He answered his own question and everyone in the audience nodded his or her head in agreement - he said "bluegrass people." Right on! From the moment a person registered, he or she became a member of one big, happy bluegrass family and it was wonderful.

The historic Ryman Auditorium hosted the International Bluegrass Music Awards, a salute to the year's most outstanding achievements. Dailey & Vincent walked away with an unprecedented seven awards, including Entertainer of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year, Album of the Year (for their self-titled Rounder Records debut), Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year (for "By the Mark"), Emerging Artist of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year (Dailey), and Recorded Event of the Year for Vincent's participation on the album, Everett Lilly & Everybody and Their Brother. Louisville's Michael Cleveland accepted Fiddle Player of the Year (his sixth win in the category) and Instrumental Group of the Year with his band Flamekeeper, for the second year running.

Dale Ann Bradley took home her second consecutive Female Vocalist trophy. Rob Ickes was named Dobro Player of the Year for the tenth time, more than any other artist in a single category in the history of the IBMA Awards. He also received the award for Song of the Year with his band mates in Blue Highway for "Through the Window of a Train," the title cut of their current album on Rounder Records, written by Tim Stafford and Steve Gulley. Other awards included Josh Williams (Guitar Player of the Year), Kristin Scott Benson (Banjo), Barry Bales (Bass) and Andy Hall (Instrumental Album of the Year, for Sound of the Slide Guitar). Adam Steffey claimed his sixth award for Mandolin Player of the Year. WSM's Eddie Stubbs inducted Bill Clifton and Charles K. Wolfe into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder offered a grand finale, tribute medley honoring the pioneers of bluegrass music, performing songs made popular by Bill Monroe & his Blue Grass Boys, The Stanley Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs. It was a magnificent evening.

More than 125 artists represented the best bluegrass music from around the globe! Several of my favorite showcase acts were Red Wine (from Italy), Donna Ulisse, Charlie Sizemore, Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, Valerie Smith & Becky Buller, Palmer Divide, and the Lonesome River Band. The weekend Fan Fest was a "Who's Who" of recognized artists, including Blue Moon Rising, Balsam Range, Josh Williams, Blue Highway, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Doyle Lawson, Cherryholmes, The Grascals, G2 Bluegrass Band (from Sweden), Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain, Audie Blaylock & Redline, and Ralph Stanley II, among others.

Songwriter Louisa Branscomb said "It's more than an event. It's the spirit of bluegrass put into action! Thank goodness it doesn't come but once a year - it takes a year to put into practice all the creative inspiration you get!" She's right. So much bluegrass, so little time.

As the bumper sticker for John Pearse strings says, "Music really does make the world a better place." Indeed it does, especially when it's bluegrass. Although I don't have supporting scientific proof, I feel safe in saying if all the musicians, smiles, instruments, hugs, friendships, instruments cases, musical notes, guitar picks, CDs, barbecue sandwiches, fans, promoters, agents, managers, artists, composers, print media, record companies, music publishers, luthiers, event producers, broadcast media and attendees were placed side by side, they would circle the earth a dozen or more times. So, here's a suggestion: join the circle at the 2009 World of Bluegrass. It will be one of the best decisions you will ever make.

For more information go to http://www.ibma.org/