An overly long analogy about the IBMA

Something about Bluegrass


I dunno. I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say yet, but I’ll give it a whirl.

There’s a really interesting conversation going on right now, initially spearheaded by Pandolfi, but now spilling out into the wider stream. The whole “what is bluegrass” conversation, and it’s almost certain that it’s always been going on but just never showed up on my radar.

I’ve been, in the most nominal sense, a bluegrass musician for close to 10 years now. Jeremy from the Dusters asked me the other night how long I’d been playing bluegrass. I wasn’t sure what answer to give him. Less than a year? Almost 10 years?

Then yesterday I read that Devol interview and the part where he says that the Avetts brothers are “in NO way a bluegrass band” struck a chord. Pardon the pun.

Now here’s a bass player that I love like a brother, in one of those bluegrass bands that gets routinely and deliberately ignored by the IBMA, the supposed torch-bearing organization of bluegrass music, succumbing to the same trap of bluegrass judgmentalism that drives musicians like us crazy. I, for one, happen to think the Avetts ARE bluegrass, whether they care to be considered that or not.

I think RRE and Cornmeal are bluegrass, even if they are loud as fuck and have drum kits and electric guitars. I think Avetts and Mumford are bluegrass, even if they’re poppy and successful. I think the Stringdusters are bluegrass even if they sound increasingly like a really good jamband. I love bluegrass music, but honestly, the shit I can’t listen to for much longer than an hour or so is that SPBGMA (pronounced Spig-ma) style that is arguably the “most” bluegrass of all these subgenres. I surely wouldn’t stoop to calling any of it “not bluegrass”. It just seems hypocritical.

Is there a “problem” with bluegrass? By every available metric bluegrass and all it’s dialects is doing better than ever. Is the problem just that it’s gone beyond it’s traditional borders and has a lot more people involved in the conversation and the scene than ever before?

Is that really a problem?

I could see how it would be if you were the organization that used to be the authoritative voice on the subject for the community that used to be easy to contain within defined borders. I don’t know. The Church analogy still seems fitting. The gated community one, also.

I recently joined the IBMA to see if there’s any interest of this conversation within that community, rather than being one of these folks sniping from the outside. I guess we’ll see.

An overly long analogy about the IBMA