Bluegrass Music

The IBMA Virtual Conference – Really? Really???

Even though I am no longer a member of the International Bluegrass Music Association, I still get regular emails from it regarding monthly activities and, of course, an invite to register for the annual World of Bluegrass conference. This year, due to the Coronavirus, the conference is being held virtually.

Now the IBMA knows that it could never get away with charging the usual $300 or so that it would cost for a normal in-person conference. The cost this year is $99 for members and $149 for non-members for the Business Conference portion (which is the only portion that I ever attended anyway). But what do you really get for that cost?

Well, you will get to “virtually” attend a number of seminars dealing with the business end of bluegrass music. Great, but with everyone lately doing the work-from-home option and connecting to meetings through Zoom or some other online conference application, the World Wide Web can only handle so much. The chances of crashes are extremely high. Additionally, the opportunities to ask questions and get an answer back is highly unlikely.

One of the regular activities at WOB every year is the Gig Fair, which artists do a speed-dating style of interaction with booking agents and event organizers to secure gigs for the upcoming year. I am wondering how well this will go by trying to do it over the internet instead of speaking with people face-to-face and physically handing out press kits.

However, the one concept that I have the most problems with is the Virtual Exhibit Hall. During a normal conference at WOB, dozens of musical instrument manufacturers, festival organizers, record companies and artists set up display tables in a hall and allow attendees to try out new products and talk with the band members. It is a VERY physical experience! Many attendees love to try out a new guitar or banjo, shake hands with a bluegrass performer, and grab up a bunch of free swag. With the virtual aspect, that has all disappeared. Now everything will be only available to see on the computer screen. But … the IBMA still plans to charge exhibitors $300 to $400 to appear at the Vitrual Exhibit Hall.

Seriously? Something that can be done on the manufacturer’s website, such as product questions, price guides and feedback, the IBMA is going to charge a few hundred bucks for them to do at its virtual conference? I am sure that there will be a few that will succumb to this “virtual” pick-pocketing, but I am sure that there will be many others that will opt out just for the reason that it seems ridiculous.

I am sure that there will be enough people to register for the virtual business conference for the IBMA to not lose a lot of money, perhaps even make a few bucks from it. However, for whom is this all benefitting? The WOB always served as a great networking opportunity as well as a chance for fans to get up close to their favorite bluegrass artists. The virtual idea seems only like an opportunity for someone to take someone else for granted.

The IBMA is losing touch with its original objectives and philosophies more as each year passes. The Coronavirus has screwed up everyone’s normal schedule and lifestyle. We all need to adapt. The IBMA should also remember that the bluegrass artists, event organizers, and managers went broke this summer due to cancelled shows. It should have swallowed its pride and postponed the conference for this year, or perhaps moved it up to the late Winter/early Spring of 2021 when the world may have a better handle on the virus. Instead, it continues to think only of itself and its progressive ideas. While I miss many people that I have networked with in my previous trips to the WOB conferences, I seriously feel that I am not losing anything by not attending them any more.