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Bluegrass Music

The Sir Walter Raleigh Statue and Why I Left the IBMA

I was recently scanning the articles on the Bluegrass Today website and came up on the following op-ed from former International Bluegrass Music Association employee Abby Lee Hood:

I recommend a full reading of it, but in short, Hood suggests that the IBMA stop using the statue of Sir Walter Raleigh as part of its World of Bluegrass advertising representation. The image is of the statue of Raleigh (namesake for the city in which WOB is held yearly) with a banjo slung over his shoulder. Cute, funny, eye-catching. But Hood thinks that the use of Sir Raleigh is offensive since he had reportedly murdered native Americans while attempting to colonize early America for the English.

Of course, the comments to her editorial were about 90% against. Most people saying what I stated in the previous paragraph and that bluegrass music should not get involved with politics.

Well my friends, it is much too late for that. It is about time I talk about why I resigned from Leadership Bluegrass and no longer am a member of the IBMA (which I have hinted at in previous blogs).

I was a member of Leadership Bluegrass Class of 2014. I met some fantastic people there in the bluegrass music industry, many of whom with which I still stay in contact. Our chat group was continually discussing concerns about promoting various aspects of the music. Then around 2017, things started to change. The California Bluegrass Association participated in a gay pride parade with a float that had IBMA signage on it. This was never approved by the IBMA, but the executive director (Paul Schiminger) and the board did nothing to prevent it or reprimand the party. Soon after, there was praise on the chat group for this person taking that initiative. Then, there was a debate regarding boycotting the WOB at Raleigh because of North Carolina’s stance on transgender people using the bathrooms of their choice. This was obviously a few vocal people speaking for themselves and not the membership, which is very family-oriented and ripe with Christian values. Those vocal members also made it a point that if anyone had a dissenting opinion, they were considered bigoted and should not be heard from (sound familiar?).

I decided that it was at the point that I should resign from Leadership Bluegrass, since it seemed that the direction of LBG (as well as the IBMA in general) was straying away from the association’s Mission Statement: “The IBMA is the non-profit music association that connects, educates, and empowers bluegrass professionals and enthusiasts, honoring tradition and encouraging innovation in the bluegrass community worldwide.” I sent in my LBG membership identification materials to the IBMA office with my letter of intent.

I received a phone call from Mr. Schiminger a few days later, and we had a productive discussion on the matter. However, my mind did not change, and I did not renew my IBMA membership when it became due later that year. I also discussed this with one of my songwriting partners, which did not change my mind either.

As the years have rolled on, I have noticed that the IBMA has taken a stronger political stance (leaning left), and seem to be negligent of understanding the values held by a large contingent (probably a large majority) of the membership. Recently, the IBMA was supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement (go to that organization’s website to read about its Marxist agenda) by participating in a Blackout Tuesday with its website. Yet they have never spoken about the vandalizing of the Bill Monroe statue that stood in front of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, which was done by the BLM protesters back in June.

Former IBMA employee Abby Lee Hood has been a voice in the leftist protests (check her Twitter account). She worked for the association for a few months in 2019, yet her influence has had an impact on Mr. Schiminger, the current staff, and the board members. The thought of promoting bluegrass music in the community has become secondary to the appeasing of the left. It has only been in the last two years that “Diversity and Inclusiveness” has been added it the Values section. The IBMA doesn’t want to offend anyone that is so easily offended and will resort to violence if their demands are not met.

What do I see in IBMA’s future? Well, just like every other association surrendering to the Woke generation, there will need to be a certain ratio of minority and gender-based members on the board, with no concern of their expertise in the bluegrass music industry, but only to make sure that those lifestyles are represented. Perhaps for the yearly awards given out, the removal of the Gospel Recording of the Year replaced with, say, Inspirational Recording of the Year, so as to appease the non-Christians and atheists. We may even see a removal of all images and references to Bill Monroe. Yes, he is considered the Father of Bluegrass Music, but he also participated in comedy routines early in his career that consisted of blackface performers. Think about it.

Part of this left-move by the IBMA is the fault of the membership. Most do not really care about politics, as long as the WOB presents a lot of great bluegrass talent during the fan fair days in Raleigh. It is about time the membership take a look at what the IBMA does with the money it gets from its members. There are a lot of great programs that the association has continually presented. However, some are becoming political and PC-correct so as not to offend the few that are vocal.

I suggest that if you are a IBMA member, then you should thoroughly read the associations’s website (http://www.ibma.org), closely examine what the association does in comparison to the Mission Statement, and if you are confused or have concerns, then contact the IBMA office or one of the board members. It it their job to listen to your concerns.

Chew on it and comment.

By Matt Merta/Mitch Matthews

Musician and writer (both song and print) for over 30 years. Primarily interested in roots music (Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk). Current contributing writer for Fiddler Magazine, previous work with Metro Times (Detroit), Ann Arbor Paper and Real Detroit Weekly, as well as other various music and military publications. As songwriter, won the 2015 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (Bluegrass Category, "Something About A Train," co-written with Dawn Kenney and David Morris) as well as having work performed on NPR and nominated for numerous Detroit Music Awards.

2 replies on “The Sir Walter Raleigh Statue and Why I Left the IBMA”

In your blog post here, you have managed to basically summarize my discontent, if not downright contempt for the state of things in the IBMA. I ceased being a member and attending the event too. I fail to understand why anyone wants to turn bluegrass music, as limited as it is, into a vehicle to wade into the political sphere with all of the other slanted media. I was told that I’m a bigot, misogynistic, xenophobic and homophobic by a young lady who truly knows NOTHING about me. All of this helped me conclude I’d be far better off to disentangle my life from social media. Best decision I’ve made.

But I wonder who will rise and lead the organization back out of the wilderness? If not people like you and I, then whom? Bottom line for me, I don’t have the time to save people from themselves.

Anyway, thanks for voicing my sentiments.

Liked by 1 person

Don, thanks for your comments! That means a lot to me, coming from a person of your stature in bluegrass music.

The problem seems to be that there’s a very small yet very noisy contingent in every non-political association that strives to make it political. This is what has happened here. The problem is that the silent majority is allowing it to happen. They don’t have to be vocal about it, but dropping out of membership is a good silent way to say that one doesn’t approve of the direction the association is going.

Bluegrass fans are all encompassing, from staunch conservatives to hardcore liberals. The music was the way that we all could keep our political views to ourselves and enjoy the jamming and clogging. The most political we should ever be is to argue about ideas like “Is it bluegrass if it doesn’t have a banjo?” or ” Upright vs. electric bass?”. Those are friendly arguments around the campfire, yet we all go back to jamming and enjoying the friendships.

Hopefully, some more will see the light and strive to make the IBMA go back to being non-political. Until then, I hope to see you out on the road again when this pandemic stuff is cleared up. And hopefully we can pick a tune or two together. Be safe!

Mitch/Matt

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