IBMA . . . I know we just met, and this is probably going to seem way too fast . . . . . but I think I love you.
Just about every year – for the last eight years – someone has asked me, “Dave, are you going to IBMA this year?” And, unfortunately, the answer has always been, “Nope, but maybe I can make it next year!” Historically, I have always been hesitant to take days off from school for what might be construed as self-indulgent reasons, and the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual celebration of the high lonesome sound comes right on the heels of our music festival, so I have always passed on the opportunity.
This year, however, was different. I was invited to participate in a panel for emerging artists by publicist Emilee Warner. My segment of the four hour discussion, for which I was joined by Ashlee-Jean Trott, my good friend who books Music City Roots in Nashville, was about young bands getting booked for festivals and gigs before they had signed with booking agents.
Since I had been asked to participate, well, the trip no longer seemed so self-indulgent and I jumped at the chance to go.
After a number of years in Nashville, this year’s conference was in Raleigh. I was overwhelmed from the moment I left my van. There were pickers everywhere. And I truly mean everywhere. In every nook and cranny of the hotel and convention center, on every concourse and walkway, was a jam session. Pickers of all ages and pedigrees were clustered around each other, banging out one bluegrass highlight after the next.
And they were all good. Breathtakingly good. These people had to have been born holding banjos and fiddles.
When I walked into the exhibit hall of the convention center, I damned near lost my breath. A casual stroll through the vendors brought me within inches of a 1924 Gibson Lloyd Loar F-5 mandolin, with the tempting price tag of $175,000, and a 1935 Martin D-18 guitar, which went for a more affordable $45,000. I must admit to, momentarily, considering a second mortgage on my house, but I like being married, so I let the thought disappear from my mind nearly as fast as it entered.
While the week-long conference itself was centered in the convention center, downtown Raleigh was blocked off on Friday and Saturday for a bluegrass celebration for the music’s fans that was completely free. Multiple stages were set up on the street and fans soaked in sounds from some of the genre’s best: Jim Lauderdale, The Boxcars, Della Mae, Chatham County Line, The Steel Wheels, and Bryan Sutton were just some of the artists that played during the Wide Open Bluegrass Street Fest.
After just hours, I was neck deep in music overload.
For fans lucky enough to score a wristband, there was a big to do at the Red Hat Amphitheater. Friday night’s line up alone included Del McCoury Band, The Punch Brothers, and an all star jam with Del, Tony Rice, Bela Fleck, Jason Carter, Jerry Douglas, Mark Schatz, and Sam Bush. While I had a wristband, I missed every single note played. Instead, I wandered around the street fest with Jeremy Darrow, a good buddy of mine from Nashville, chatting about music and sampling some tasty fermented beverages from some of Raleigh’s finer establishments. We also ended up at The Pour House for the Dark Shadows Recording showcase and caught some tunes from The Rigneys, an up and coming bluegrass family band that included two ridiculously talented teenagers on guitar and mandolin.
My night – or, should I say, early morning – ended with The Infamous Stringdusters jamming with some friends at the end of a hotel hallway. Knowing that I had to be on the road home just a few hours later, I eventually tore myself away and went to bed. I headed to my room with the understanding that 12 hours of IBMA was just not enough. My head had been on a swivel since I had arrived and I knew that I barely scratched the surface of what the conference had to offer.
Nice thing is, there is always next year. And, while I love my students, I might not be so hesitant to take a little time off this time.