Well, it’s that time of year again. The International Bluegrass Music Association sends out its first round balloting for the 2023 awards. Since I am no longer a member, I don’t get to nominate or vote, but I am still on the Association’s email list, so I get the announcements. Also, my inbox gets inundated with dozens of emails from artists, managers, booking agents and record companies with “For Your Consideration” in the subject line.
For anyone not familiar with the IBMA’s process, the first round consists of any member can write in anyone that they want for any category (bands, musicians, vocalists, songs, albums) and send it back. The second round usually lists about 10 names in each category, from which you select five. The final round lists five or so nominees, for which you choose one. There are other awards given out during the business days at World of Bluegrass that are usually chosen by the board members, such as the Momentum Awards and Hall of Fame recipients.
I have always been disillusioned by the IBMA awards, much like my apathy towards the Grammys. The mass membership does not critically look at the past year, especially when it comes to the nominations of vocalists and musicians. In each category, easily 80% of the names are repeats from the previous years, whether or not those artists have put out any recorded material during the year. Songs and albums are pretty much current, but that has a lot more to do with how well the record companies and publicists have done their job rather than how innovative that song or recording is.
When I was a lot more involved with the IBMA, as well as subscribing to Bluegrass Junction on Sirius/XM and talking more with artists, I could tell throughout the year who would win an award without doubting myself. I honestly do not pay much attention now. I am glad that some younger artists such as Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, and my good friend Bronwyn Keith-Hynes are getting recognized without too much prejudice from the traditionalists. However, I was never really interested in award ceremonies, even when some of my work was nominated at the Detroit Music Awards years ago. They may look good on a resume, but personally, I appreciated a positive comment from someone that I didn’t know more than a plaque or statuette.
As for the Momentum and Hall of Fame Awards, that is even more political, so to speak. While I was a member of Leadership Bluegrass, I was part of a small group that was petitioning to get Hazel Dickens to be a member of the HOF. She was already a recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award back in the 90s, but we felt that she belonged in the HOF due to her extensive work in songwriting. She was finally inducted in 2017 with her early performing partner Alice Gerard, right before I resigned from Leadership Bluegrass due to its political involvement.
I know that the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America (SPBGMA) has similar awards at its conference in January, but I have never paid too much attention to it. Perhaps this upcoming year I will, as I do plan on attending the 2024 conference (Please, no family tragedies!). While SPBGMA is not as influential as IBMA, and it does value the more traditional side of bluegrass, I have some faith that SPBGMA values its membership’s thoughts and opinions more than the IBMA. And it has great jam sessions just like IBMA.
Chew on it and comment.