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

Where is the Next Bluegrass Generation?

This weekend I attended a meeting for the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association ( While discussing elections of new board members, we talked about the age relevance of the membership. Of those attending, I was one of the youngest at the meeting, and I’m 55 years old!

Why aren’t younger music fans attracted to bluegrass? There are a lot of negative factors, I suppose. It is not like there are not enough young bluegrass players making names for themselves. Molly Tuttle, Billy Strings and Sierra Hull are three of many that come to mind. However, it also matters how the older crowd reacts to them as well as how they are promoted within the community. The three above can easily perform any bluegrass standard asked of them, but they also look outside of the box, performing more progressive forms of bluegrass, which traditionalists tend to shun. A tree that is not allowed to grow will eventually die.

I have mentioned the Junior Appalachian Musician program ( in an earlier blog, and I must say, this program has its ear to the ground! Right now, JAM has satellite programs throughout the Tennessee/Virginia/South Carolina/North Carolina area. However, programs like this need to be in other areas of the country where bluegrass is popular (Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, Northeast, California). Young students would truly appreciate people who take the time to teach them music as well as encourage them to learn about their culture.

It could be that bluegrass still has that stigma of being “old folks music.” The stigma is heightened usually by these older people turning a cold shoulder to the younger crowd. I used to see it a lot when I attended a monthly jam session in Flint, Michigan years ago. I haven’t been there in years, and hopefully the attitude has changed. But in all honesty, I don’t see much of that “transfer of knowledge” from older generations to the next. I am always reminded of that scene from Fahrenheit 451 in which an older man on his deathbed is reciting the book that he memorized to a child so that the child can continue the book’s importance.

How many older bluegrass musicians are actually sitting down with a youngster to show him/her the beauty of the bluegrass sound on a guitar, banjo, or mandolin? Does apathy live in the senior, the youngster, or both? One can learn to play an instrument from hundreds of videos, either purchased or on YouTube. There are thousands of teachers at music stores. Of course, that costs money, and are you getting a bluegrass guitar teacher or one that teaches rock, jazz, blues, classical and other genres? Whatever happened to the joy of seeing a student successfully learn and play an old folk or bluegrass song and that serving as payment received?

With the Coronavirus pandemic still hanging above our heads, festivals that include workshops are pretty much cancelled for the summer and into the fall. Social distancing is another thorn in the side as far as teaching music. We cannot let these evils kill any enthusiasm that may come from an interested youngster with bluegrass music. We need to do what we can to encourage the younger generation that appreciates bluegrass music. It could be free basic lessons, free performances, showing them a bluegrass documentary and helping with references, setting up jam sessions just for kids, but mainly, showing how great the music really is.

It is rare that these youngsters will actively search out bluegrass mentors. They have that comfort zone of sitting in a basement and playing video games when not in school. We as the mentors have to be the active ones! Make yourself available, look for ways to get their attention (flyers posted at music stores or strip mall bulletin boards), reward those kids that DO show an interest and improve on themselves. These kids will decide the future of bluegrass music.

With that said, I want you to see this video of my friend Brittany Haas, along with Lauren Rioux, showcasing a young fiddler named Claire.

Chew on it and comment.