Bluegrass Music

IBMA 2023 Award Ballots

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.

Bluegrass Music Musical Instruments

Tidbits #4: ArtistWorks, SPBGMA, Landon Bailey, and Me!

I’m not into football like I was before the whole “take a knee” thing. I won’t be watching the Super Bowl. I do think that it is funny that after over a decade of QB-ing for the Detroit Lions and nothing to show for it, Matt Stafford’s first year with a different team has led him to the big game. He played amazing with the Lions, but with a lackluster supporting cast, he could never get any respect from the NFL or press, but if LA wins, He has a chance to be a hall of famer.

But enough of that! Let’s talk music, specifically bluegrass! Have you checked out the ArtistWorks YouTube channel lately? It has always had some great instructional videos on its channel, but the last month has been fantastic! Great lessons from Chris Eldridge of The Punch Brothers, banjo legend Tony Trischka, and mandolin magician Sierra Hull. However, the best two videos they have posted recently are fiddle duets with Darol Anger and Bronwyn Keith-Hynes. This is old-time fiddling on overdrive. ArtistWorks has always been a great resource for beginner to intermediate musicians wanting to learn more. If you have never checked this channel or ArtistWorks’ website, do it soon!

I regret not being able to go to the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (SPBGMA) last month in Nashville. I will do whatever I can to go next year. In the meantime, attendee Stephen Hudson captured a lot of jamming going on with his video camera. What is always great with bluegrass jams is that pros sit in with amateurs and it ends up a good time. The amateurs feel blessed to get a chance to jam with a hero, and the pros get to be regular guys/girls, while also seeing what is out there amongst the fans. I have said it before – bluegrass artists are the only artists that I am aware of that regularly rub elbows with their fans, getting to know a lot of them personally (there are a lot of bluegrass musicians playing big stages that I call good friends), and will stay until the last autograph is signed. Now, check out one of Stephen’s videos.

There are a lot of people on YouTube that review guitars, amplifiers, and effects pedals. I’ve subscribed to some of them, and one in particular that amuses me is Landon Bailey. His delivery is a combination of Bill Murray, Steven Wright, and Don Imus. You can never guess what his next video will cover, except that it will have something to do with music. Like his 15-minute video of a wind-up metronome clicking at 100 beats per minute. Check him out, you will love his wry sense of humor.

Finally, I put a video on my channel that is a lesson on beginner bluegrass bass with an electric bass guitar. It is rough to say the least, as it was my first attempt at editing, and since I use an older digital camcorder, the video can be grainy when there is not full light. Take a look, and please give me some feedback.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music Coronavirus Musicians

Enjoying Music Visually

With the COVID thing going on, most musicians and bands have had to cancel live performances. To make up for the lost income, the more industrious performers are either doing virtual concerts, stepping up to online teaching, or being creative on sellable swag.

So most of you know that I am a contributing writer for Fiddler. In my years of writing for the magazine, as well as my involvement with the bluegrass music scene, I have become friends with a lot of bluegrass fiddlers.

Two fiddlers that stand out in my friendship are Brittany Haas of Hawktail, and Bronwyn Keith-Hynes of Mile Twelve. Both are amazingly talented, as well as absolute sweethearts. They can call me any time if there is something that I can do for them, and are always there if I need a quick quote for an article. Something both of them have done (apart from each other) that I absolutely applaud can prove to be a great gift for the holidays.

Fans can only purchase so many CDs and T-shirts to keep bands afloat. A few months back, Hawktail made available 12-by-18-inch prints showing musical notation of songs from the albums Unless and Formations. Printed on parchment style paper, it looks as if it was taken from sheet music printed over a hundred years ago.

As for Bronwyn, she has recently released her solo album Fiddler’s Pastime. One of the more clever items available on her website is a handwritten page of musical notation from one of the songs on the album. Viewing it, you actually see what Bronwyn sees, hears, and thinks as the pen meets the paper.

Why do I bring up these two visual items up? Because they are awesome to say the least! Frame them, and you have a fantastic gift for someone into either or both artists. If you cannot find a fan, them get them for yourself!

Hanging a painting of a portrait or landscape on your wall is so typical. As I am a music aficionado, what hangs on my walls is mostly music-related, such as concert photographs and posters. Now, I will include framed music notation. There are a number of reasons why putting this on your wall is a plus. Here are just a few:

  • It is a lot more eye-catching than the typical painting.
  • As you look at it, you tend to create the shown melody in your head.
  • If you are not so competent on a musical instrument, you can at least follow what is written when you listen to the song.
  • You are getting inside the performers’ heads.

While some people do frame and hang old piano music, it is usually done as more of a historic representation, or perhaps enjoyment of the cover illustration. That type of printed music was meant to be read and performed, not framed. However, in the case of Hawktail and Bronwyn (and perhaps any other musician/band doing the same thing that I am not aware of), the music has already been presented in a listenable format. Now, these artists want to show you what the music looks like, perhaps even why they took it in a certain direction.

The most heartwarming thing about these printed notations to me is that the artists wanted the listener to be a part of their process and outcome. It makes the music more encompassing, just like reading liner notes of an album WHILE you are listening to it. There is so much more to soak in from the music as you look at the notation. I hope that others appreciate these personal connections like I do.

For more information on the music notations:
Hawktail –

Bronwyn Keith-Hynes –

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

We Need a New or Updated Bluegrass History Book

I’m big on updates. Every time I read a book or watch a documentary that overviews a subject and I see that the copyright date being over a decade old, I’m griping that there needs to be an update. Call me a curmudgeon.

My latest update concern is a book on bluegrass music, especially its history and current situation. There really has not been an authoritative book on bluegrass in decades (there have been some book published within the past few years, which I will discuss later). The two bluegrass bibles that most people look to as far as history, artist profiles, and essential recordings are Bluegrass: A History by Neil Rosenberg and America’s Music – Bluegrass: A History of Bluegrass Music in the Worlds of Its Pioneers by Barry Willis. There are other books, but none covered the bluegrass scene like these two. Unfortunately, they were both published in the 1980s, and have not seen any updating (Rosenberg’s book was given a new preface on its 20th anniversary reprint, and Willis’ book saw a second edition in 1992).

I lent out my copy of the Rosenberg book years ago and haven’t seen it since. I still have my copy of Willis’ book, which I picked up for $4.99 when Border’s was going out of business. To give you an idea how much these texts are still valued, a web search shows that a used copy of the Willis book goes for $50.00 and up. The Rosenberg book can still be had for a reasonable price used (around $15.00).

Reading the Willis book is incredibly enjoyable. There are lots of direct quotes from first- and second-generation pickers, which give it that down-home family feel. However, the first generation is all but gone, and second-generation bluegrass musicians are disappearing quickly as well. The scene has changed, and we need to have colloquial conversations with the newer players.

This is not to say that nothing good has been published since the 1990s. In 2004, two great books on bluegrass were put out: The Bluegrass Reader, edited by Thomas Goldsmith, and Homegrown Music: Discovering Bluegrass by Stephanie Ledgin. Both books take a good look at the music format, with Goldsmith compiling a number of insightful interviews with bluegrass personalities, and Ledgin giving a brief overview of styles, instruments and performers, as well as extensive appendices of resources.

However, both of these books are now 16 years old, and a lot has happened in bluegrass since the. Ledgin spotlights an 11-year-old Sierra Hull, who is now 28 years old, a graduate of Berklee, and has a number of albums and awards under her belt. There is a need for some coverage of the most recent generation of bluegrass artists such as Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, and Sarah Jarosz to name a few. Nickel Creek was getting some notice back then, but now all three members have tons of achievements on their resumes.

I think about all of the bands that have had an impact in the past decade and a half. Some have come and gone, while others still carry on. Bands like Della Mae, Mile Twelve, Flatt Lonesome, Sideline, and the Becky Buller Band are the tip of the iceberg. While Ledgin has a large list of resources in the appendices, many of these publications and companies listed are no longer in business.

Yes, an updated almanac on bluegrass music is needed in order to keep the attention of the younger generation interested in the genre while still holding on to the older fans. While the music continues to move forward, it also needs to have excellent representation with its history and archival notes.

Short note: Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, fiddler for the bluegrass band Mile Twelve, has recently put out a solo album entitled Fiddler’s Pastime. This is one of the best fiddle albums that I have heard in a while. It goes beyond bluegrass. If you want to hear some tasteful fiddling, consider picking up this disc.

Chew on it and comment.