Earlier this month, it was announced that the Bluegrass Hall of Fame would be taking over publishing duties of Bluegrass Unlimited starting with the November 2020 issue. Ever since the passing of long-time publisher of Pete Kuykendall back in 2017, his wife Kitsy has held the reins and is eager to see this transfer come to fruition. This looks to be a good fit, as the HOF has the resources to provide historical input as well as knowledge of the audience that would read the magazine.
I know for a fact that running a business like a magazine is treacherous. I have written for a number of magazines over the years, and many of them no longer exist. Knowing the readership is probably the most important factor for keeping a magazine alive. I was a regular contributor to a magazine called Bluegrass Now years ago. It was probably the closest competition to BU. It was bi-monthly, but had a much more glossy appearance to it than BU. Unfortunately, the print costs forced BN to go online only in 2008, which led to the publication’s complete demise a short time later.
BU has a unique position in the magazine world. Its subject coverage (bluegrass music) is a niche/boutique audience. It can’t compete with other music magazines like Rolling Stone, but it doesn’t need to. It is a specialized reference for bluegrass music to other parties. It puts out special issues each year dedicated to musical instrument manufacturers, a festival guide, and an artist talent directory. Each regular issue has about five articles on either performers or venues/events, a Q&A section assisting reader inquiries, and a short “in the news” section. They also occasionally publish a “letters to the editor” section when space allows. There are a lot of advertisements, especially from festivals. Of course, with those events being cancelled during the Coronavirus, page count with BU has been down most of this year. In short, it is a comfortable read for the audience it is intended to meet.
My only real complaint about BU is the coverage of artists over the years. It seems that when you get the latest copy, the cover story is about a performer that they just did a story on within the past two years. The editorial end always feels like it is in its own comfort zone and doesn’t want to step out of it unless it is absolutely necessary. As BU is the primary resource on bluegrass music to the masses, it has so much opportunity to knock down walls and introduce its audience to new and innovative bluegrass talent. Putting a new voice in bluegrass on the cover would show that the editors and publisher have their ear to the ground and want to not only see the format continue, but also to grow even more.
At this point, it looks as though BU is being put into good hands. I hope that the new editorial staff considers the potential power that they have with the magazine and becomes more innovative than ever before. With the decline in paper publications due to access online, it will be an even greater challenge. Let’s hope they are up to the task.
Chew on it and comment.