Bluegrass Awards?

And the Nominees are…

A few weeks ago I pondered the concept of music associations, most of which have at least two things in common: membership dues and an awards show. For the IBMA, the awards are clearly a big deal, drawing most of the genre’s top talent to Nashville every fall for an elaborate ceremony at the Ryman complete with performances and the occasional A-list presenter. But what do the awards really accomplish? On the surface the answer seems simple–celebrate the best musicians in an effort to further individual careers. But it also serves to outline the current musical landscape (what’s popular, what’s successful, what the genre is), which can be quite the conundrum for Bluegrass.

Last night the IBMA rolled out the list of Nominees for the 2011 awards at a pre-MCR production at the Loveless Barn. There were a few really cool things including Hall of Fame honors for Del and George Shuffler, and a worthy list of Distinguished Achievement Award Recipients including Roland White and Greg Cahill. Truly all the nominees are talented people worthy of recognition (congratulations to all), but what does this list, much of which stays the same year to year, say about our music?

For Bluegrass, it seems the awards have become less focused on empowering our all-stars to be acoustic ambassadors to the music world at large, less about decorating bands on the fringes (not that it was ever really about this at all), which would in turn open some of the many doors to other genres that already exist. Instead, it’s become about building a wall around an increasingly insular musical community with an aging leadership group. This dosen’t mean the winners aren’t amazing and talented, in fact they are beyond talented–this list of nominees includes some of the most virtuosic musicians in the world. But how can it be so consistent year to year?  Is the musical landscape really that stagnant? The answer is a clear NO! But so much of what is going on in acoustic music is not recognized even a little, which is sad considering that the awards presentation is an obvious time to open the doors and broadcast a message of openness and acceptance to the world. It’s one of the only times the IBMA can broadcast a message to the world: this is bluegrass.

Look at the Grammys, where the fans (many, many fans) decide what’s popular. They don’t vote on the awards, but no acts rise to that level of popular appeal with the support of the people. A nomination is a win, so the final decision is not nearly as important as the initial popularity that got you there. Of course there’s an old school musical machine hiding somewhere behind it all, buying success for a few, but as the traditional record industry continues to disappear, quality/unique/authentic acts are coming on strong (acoustic music is all of those things). The music changes and grows over time depending on what the people like. It’s art. It’s the natural order of things, especially on that large a scale.

So what’s so bad about seeing repeat nominees? Maybe it just means that Ronnie McCoury and Rob Ickes have EXTREMELY loyal fans. But if the IBMA is trying to better the genre, it really needs to find a way to spread these awards around. Even though the list of 2011 nominees is a very worthy one, there are still legions of young eclectic players who could benefit from this kind of early recognition. Even a simple set of rules (ex. win once, take 3 years off) would usher in a wave of new names, creating opportunities for bands/individuals and creating more exposure for the music as a whole. We won three awards in 2007, but our involvement these days is pretty limited (we were just nominated for Instrumental Band of the Year). That could all change.

The Emerging Artist of the Year category can be especially troubling, with veteran bands (The Boxcars are already a legit supergroup!) and many repeat nominees (Michael Cleveland has been in the mix many times, and he’s probably the best BG fiddler in the world–emerging artist???). Bands like the Hillbenders, Town Mountain, the Farewell Drifters, Monroeville and Milkdrive should be in the mix. The IBMA could help that happen. And then there are the instrument categories. Talk about repeat nominations–it’s bordering on ridiculous now, and it has nothing to do with how good these players are. It goes without saying that that Rob Ickes is a master dobro player. No need to confirm this with his 15th consecutive award. There’s so much talent out there, and recognizing it would not only help the up-and-comers but also the long over bridge building process that should be a big part of breathing new life into the genre. JD Crowe said it best when he walked up to receive banjo player of the year honors a few years back and said, “Let’s start giving these awards to the younger players.”

Without any meaningful guidelines/direction, the nomination process has not progressed at all in recent years. The Awards have become a bit of an oxymoron: creating increased success for individuals, but shrinking the world where that success has any relevance. That can’t be the point. Bluegrass is full of talent! That is our strength! My message here is positive: great new things are already happening, they just need to be recognized, and they can only help our common goals. Listen to Crowe. It’s time to spread the love and make some new friends. At this point, the masters are firmly entrenched, duly recognized and widely respected throughout the music world (which is excellent).  Bluegrass is strong. It’s time to grow.

  39 comments for “Bluegrass Awards?

  1. August 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    I agree with your thoughts whole-heartedly. Under the current structure, if Rob Ickes doesn’t win dobro player of the year next year, what does that mean? That he had a bad year? Missed a few notes? That someone out there finally managed to top him? Of course the awards should be spread around, and the IBMA would best serve the genre by recognizing more players, younger ones in particular. This would serve not only to inspire younger players, but it would expand public (as well as internal) notions of what is bluegrass itself, which has for too long been too limited. In fact, if they spread it around to more bands, particularly those who maybe are younger, pushing the envelope a bit, and expanding their reach to new audiences and markets, the whole “IBMA ___ of the year” award which actually mean much more outside the “bluegrass world.”

    What about if they bestowed a kind of “Master Status,” a living and playing hall of fame if you will, on those that win year after year. It would really be the sort of lifetime acheivement gold standard, an elite club that takes staying power and years, maybe decades of excellence to acheive? Once the Crowe’s etc. of the world get there, they are no longer in the running for the IBMA awards….

    Just my two cents.
    Jon Lohman
    State Folklorist, Virginia

  2. August 18, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Good post, Chris.
    I read the list last night and thought the same thing. (For as rich of a field as bluegrass is right now, why is the sample so small?)

    It seemed as though the nominations are ONLY for those in the hyper-traditional style.
    I can’t really see bands like Farewell Drifters (who are great!) getting nominated – they’re too far outside the line of what is considered Good and Acceptable Bluegrass.

    It’s what I find disappointing about the bluegrass community in general – the whole attitude of “thou shalt not remove the ancient landmark”…

    Onwards & upwards, and here’s to supporting the progressive minds – yours included!

  3. katie coyle
    August 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm


  4. RK
    August 18, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Good post Chris.
    Except for your comment regarding a rule change (“Even a simple set of rules (ex. win once, take 3 years off) would usher in a wave of new names”), I agree with your points. Seeing the same names over and over makes the awards stagnant and does not embrace some of the young & upcoming artists and in a sense turns the back on the “new & young” fan base. People that are just now becoming fans of bluegrass would also like to see some of the up & comers on this list. It seems as if the committee and those involved are of the “old regime” and trying too hard to protect their definition of bluegrass.

  5. August 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Well put there Chris. What good is an awards show if it is not helping the scene at large? And why is Roland White not in the Hall of Fame yet???

  6. BuildingBridgesToBluegrass
    August 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Hi Chris,
    I have appreciated reading and digesting your eloquently stated thoughts. Thanks for being a sounding board for those of us that are working from all corners to bring the genre of BG to new audiences/ participants.

    I am not sure if you read all the way down the list of nominees, but I’d like to point out that there is a very unique and extremely cool event that is being nominated for “Bluegrass Event of the Year,” called the Wintergrass Youth Orchestra. The event is specifically designed to build a bridge to Bluegrass music, bring new audiences/ communities/ musicians to BG, and it incorporates the participation of 100+ public middle school orchestra students on the Wintergrass Mainstage with the likes of any WG Mainstage act.

    The event was designed to deliberately address the “gap” between BG and “the other world(s)” of music that you speak of…from a very grassroots platform. It serves not only as an amazing and intense introduction to BG for the students and their communities that support them; but it also serves as a learning experience for the BG Community — showing that the symphonic world/ other musical worlds is/are not off-limits, and that it can blend with BG quite well, in fact — lifting all parties to a higher level.

    I applaud the fact that IBMA has chosen to learn enough about this particular event in order to include it in the award nomination line-up. It is, I feel, a step in the direction you are speaking of in the nicely written essay above.

    Looking forward to maybe hearing the String Dusters with the Wintergrass Youth Symphony one fine day!

    Beth Fortune

  7. Drew
    August 18, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Or Del freaking McCoury. He’s been HOF status for a decade now, at least.

    Also find it funny how a guy like Thile can blow people’s bluegrass minds for nearly 20 yrs but the second he starts to do something remotely non-grass he’s quickly forgotten and passed over for noms. Or Andy Hall or Jeremy Garrett or Tyler Grant or Chris Eldridge or…..I could go on for pages.

    But honestly I kinda quit giving a shit about the IBMA awards the yr Shawn Camp got snubbed for Fireball.

  8. August 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Chris you are one logical dude. Clearly and respectfully presented with all the moderation and serious consideration this subject merits. I hope no one misunderstand or misinterprets intentions and turns it into a thoughtless combat. We like both the folks who win and those that don’t but who nonetheless have significant merit.

    The structure of this award has serious issues, I and several others had been promoting and lobbying in so far as we can that they do away with the single Emerging Artist Award and create a new set of emerging artists awards that mirrors the entire current award structure and contains all the same categories as the regular award, but for Emerging Artists. That award would not be voted on by the membership but designated by the current award alumni by their selection of three emerging artists each year for each category and people could only win in one category once. There would also logically be new award categories in both the regular and emerging categories which would result. We even had a name and design, and were calling it “The IBMA Momentum Awards” and even considered bootstrapping it and going alone as a private award for a while as simply The Bluegrass Momentum Award till IBMA either adopted it as their own or did their own.

    I have to say it truly pains me almost physically to see so many young talents have to wait for someone to kick off before being recognized for their years of efforts, virtuosity and their significant contributions to the genre. I can imagine how many young artists have just written off the IBMA as dead and buried because of this. It’s strange but It feels like a last straw moment for some reason. Not because they don’t think the guys who win deserve it, they do, but because the award is poorly designed and rather than encourage and incite, it discourages and abandons. It demotivates rather than motivates, and this primarily because it has not been updated for lack of time and resources.

    When it started all Bluegrass artists were emerging, now there is an establishment, and that is both good and normal, but there needs to be more. A decent sized group of us tried to make that happen for this year but it just never got done because it does take a lot of design. I often wonder if the current design of the awards does not hurt more than help the IBMA. I think it probably does. It communicates the wrong message. But like I said designing a new award series is not as simple as it looks and requires serious work.

  9. August 18, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Interesting discussion and points made. Assuming an association is made up and governed by the people it represents, what role can you and others take to make changes? Change within a community takes consensus building….who’s working on that?

  10. August 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Another excellent essay, Chris. I’m still new enough to the whole bluegrass scene and to IBMA to to be too critical, but you and others (especially Henri) make some good points. Hall of Fame awards are great because once a person wins, they can’t be nominated again. I understand what Henri says about a new design for the awards not being a simple task, but I do think it’s time. It is discouraging for younger musicians trying to make their marks on the world when they see veteran award winners nominated as emerging artists. For the record, no one in my family expects to be there for a long time – we consider it an award of sorts just to be selected for the Mast Farm Inn’s Emerging Artist Concert Series.

  11. August 18, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    We’re in the final post-production stages of completing our documentary on the musical legacy of Bill Monroe as told by his Blue Grass Boys. It’ll be premiered Sept 13 during the museum’s Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration in Owensboro. I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to watch it. IMO it sheds so much light on the question of what is “legitimately” bluegrass and what is “not”. As you can tell from the ROMP this year, we are all about diversity and the big tent here. But you really need to see this film. It literally knocked me out, right there in the editing suite.

    And Chris, if you read this, thanks so much for the fabulous show you all put on at ROMP this year! And the dancing at the end was the best touch ever.

  12. Lucas
    August 18, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    This may be somewhat off topic but I am still trying to understand the whole purpose of the IBMA. Other than putting on an annual “Bluegrass Fstival” (which is becoming way over priced for most folks to attend), what do they really due? I understand the workshops and lectures throughout the week may be informative but after the week is over what do they really do for the music as a whole? They give bands the opportnity to come there and show case if they are willing to shell out all the dollars involved for the right to do that????? (Fees,memberships, passes, etc) That I don’t understand. Am I totally off base here or are there others that feel the same as I do?

  13. August 19, 2011 at 1:53 am

    Thanks for spurring this discussion Chris. It’s valuable for IBMA’s leadership and membership. (And for full disclosure to those reading who may not be aware, I am employed by IBMA.) IBMA can’t grow and thrive in its purposes fully without this type of dialogue and I personally appreciate the spirit of it when it’s presented constructively. My father was a carpenter and built homes, so permit me an related analogy. When considering remodeling something, I wonder if assessing what’s right and what’s wrong about the building aren’t a good place to start? IBMA as an organization has been pretty open throughout its history to those types of assessments and has made it a special priority of recent to genuinely seek it out. IBMA is simply a reflection of its members and some are resistant to change. We should be thankful, because that sometimes prevents us from tearing things down of value that may serve us well in future. Some are more anxious to get on with change and without them we risk unresolved problems and fixing things that need attention or some important opportunities for progress. But I also wonder if just being open to the critique and assessment is enough…or is discussing it alone a solution? At some point specific proposals seem like a necessity and have to come to the fore and be examined. In the case of organizations led by its members who essentially have banded together to pool ideas and resources for their common purposes, we have to build a consensus on how those resources will be used and which ideas are pursued. Unfortunately, a lot about consensus building takes time, it’s inherently not as efficient as simply making up one’s individual mind. The timing of change and/or paying deserved respect for tradition can both lose rhythm with the realities of the world we each see around us. I wonder when this happens whether frustrations aren’t the norm…from whichever side we lean toward. If you would allow me one question for all of us engaged in this discussion – here and elsewhere – and that’s on the prevelence of words like “they” in characterizing who ought to take up either change or to stick with the status quo. Would we instead get farther faster if some of the responsibilities were taken up by “we”? Which leads me to close by encouraging everyone to get involved – and you can do a lot of that with or without paying dues to IBMA. IBMA current policy (maybe in need of change?) on effecting change in who is or isn’t nominated is very simple. You have to get involved with others by joining and vote! And votes to remodel or leave the building the same will count exactly the same. The organization trusts whatever consensus you collectively reach.

  14. August 19, 2011 at 5:26 am

    Why not embrace and award the “sub-genres” of Bluegrass for example Best Alternative BG Band, Best Old Time BG Band, Best Acousticana Band. I believe sub deviding awards would not only give those phenomenal artists that push boundaries a home, but would also make them welcome inside the “Bluegrass” world. Rock and Roll is a massive genre with subgenres that are acnoliged, Bluegrass is the same. I think this change would also show where Bluegrass is heading in popularity.

  15. Brian Lambeck
    August 19, 2011 at 6:23 am

    Well said Chris! Change can be hard, but it has its rewards. It seems to me one of the goals of IBMA is to expand the world of Bluegrass. Opening up the tent to new and exciting artists while maintaining tradition is certainly a worthy goal. As you suggest the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Awards and award shows certainly draw attention to and help promote the genre. The what is “Bluegrass” dialectic will always remain, but why not sub-genre categories? As Henri suggests perhaps a well reasoned and thought out overhaul of the award categories and format would benefit all constituencies.

  16. Jon Weisberger
    August 19, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    As Vice-Chair of the IBMA’s Board Of Directors, I feel pretty safe in saying that the Board would be happy to consider any well-reasoned and thoughtful proposal for revising awards categories and processes. But comng up with one isn’t easy, and there will always be room for reasonable people to disagree. For instance, would mandating Rob’s ineligibility after a win make it the “Best Dobro Player Not Counting Rob Ickes” award, and if so, how would people feel about being nominated for that? How would artists and recordings be categorized with respect to sub-genres and emergent status, and by whom?

    My general feeling is that, as Chris indeed suggests at one point, the awards reflect the community as it is currently constituted and as it currently thinks, and that changing the awards is, in effect, treating the symptom and not its underlying causes. I’m open to being convinced otherwise, but I do think at a serious effort at that will involve the kind of widespread dialogue Dan describes. It’s hard work, but in the end the most effective.

    Thanks to Chris (and all of the commentators) for helping to move the discussion along.

    • August 23, 2011 at 11:21 am

      If the individual has won the award once…… should’nt that be quite sufficient to establish this person or band’s prominance in the industry without numerous repeat nominations ?

    • Greg Tucker-Kellogg
      August 24, 2011 at 8:51 pm

      I want to respond to Jon Weisberger’s hypothetical example of presenting “Best Dobro Player Not Counting Rob Ickes”. A long while ago, I was driving with Andy Hall from Boston to New Hampshire to visit Roger Williams for a lesson. It was my second or third lesson, and Andy wanted to sit in and meet Roger. I had the first Blue Highway album on my car stereo. I remember introducing Rob’s music to Andy, how cool and fresh I thought Rob’s playing was. Rewinding and playing it again. I mention this story because it illustrated how interwoven these influences are, how great players (like Andy) build on other great players (like Rob and Roger).

      Now, Rob might very well win every year for “Best Dobro Player” if that’s what the IBMA Award was. Andy and Roger might lose to Rob, and maybe, possibly, wouldn’t get nominated. But that’s not what the award is. It’s Dobro Player OF THE YEAR. One year. Rob gets the award year after year for a lot of good reasons, and as such a prolific performer and recording artist I can’t think of any reason he shouldn’t get nominated and have a chance to win every year. But aren’t there years where musicians record almost nothing, perform very little, and still get nominated? What does that tell us about the current state of the awards system? Shouldn’t we expect every nominee, and certainly every winner, to have contributed something that stands out in the year of their nomination?

      • Greg Tucker-Kellogg
        August 24, 2011 at 8:54 pm

        BTW, I’m not referring to Dobro players in particular, but instrumental nominees in the large, who (it seems from my distant vantage) can get nominated because they are great players in general, not necessarily because they did something particularly great one year.

  17. Steve
    August 19, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Chris you nailed it…I hope the Bluegrass god’s are listening!!!!!!!

  18. BridgingTheGap
    August 19, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Hi Chris,
    I have appreciated reading and digesting your eloquently stated thoughts. Thanks for being a sounding board for those of us that are working from all corners to bring the genre of BG to new audiences/ participants.

    I am not sure if you read all the way down the list of nominees, but I’d like to point out that there is a very unique and extremely cool event that is being nominated for “Bluegrass Event of the Year,” called the Wintergrass Youth Orchestra. The event is specifically designed to build a bridge to Bluegrass music, bring new audiences/ communities/ musicians to BG, and it incorporates the participation of 100+ public middle school orchestra students on the Wintergrass Mainstage with the likes of any WG Mainstage act.

    The event was designed to deliberately address the “gap” between BG and “the other world(s)” of music that you speak of…from a very grassroots platform. It serves not only as an amazing and intense introduction to BG for the students and their communities that support them; but it also serves as a learning experience for the BG Community — showing that the symphonic world/ other musical worlds is/are not off-limits, and that it can blend with BG quite well, in fact — lifting all parties to a higher level.

    I applaud the fact that IBMA has chosen to learn enough about this particular event in order to include it in the award nomination line-up. It is, I feel, a step in the direction you are speaking of in the nicely written essay above.

    Looking forward to maybe hearing the String Dusters with the Wintergrass Youth Symphony one fine day!

    Beth Fortune

  19. August 19, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Ever since I watched the nominations on the internet, I have been stewing over the nominees. I am new to IBMA and Bluegrass, only 5 years. However I do listen to a lot of Bluegrass as I am a programmer at KAFM in Grand Juction, CO. And I listened to alot in order to educate myself. Now I know that Colorado is a long way from Nashville, but Colorado is supposed to be the up-and-coming Bluegrass Music state. But it seems that what the folks out here like is totally different than what the folks back there (TN,VA,NC)like. I felt like the nominees (for the most part) had to be in the GOB Club. (It reminds me of the frat days at Ole Miss, a long time ago. Some things never change.)I won’t be going to the Awards Night because of this. The nominees are very well-deserving, but I think enough is enough. There are many newer groups who are amazing musically and very deserving. Maybe their fans are younger, or in the wrong geographical area, or not members of IBMA. Many people have had good ideas on changing the system, which is a slow process. Thank you for writing about your thoughts on the awards system. And giving people a chance to voice their opinions.

  20. August 19, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Great job Chris! Although, I think you are incorrect about the GRAMMY nomination process. Media companies and members can submit, but only members can vote. In that case, IBMA is set up in almost the same manner. In relation to this topic, I think it’s unfair to point the finger at any ONE thing in particular. I agree with your argument, Chris, and was part of the group that suggested the changes Henri mentioned. The bottom line is that the IBMA awards are based on votes. Like Dan says, it’s a matter of your participation. I think there would be some major changes in the results if bands like The Infamous String Dusters asked their fans to become members of IBMA. The nominations will follow without even asking. It’s a great organization built for it’s members to really take part and get involved in. I know this because as soon as I put myself out there to be involved and participate, I was being asked. I respect the leadership of IBMA for listening to this dialogue from members and non-members. Again, great job Chris and I look forward to having some more discussion with you soon!

    Thanks for reading my 2 cents..


  21. David Lewis
    August 20, 2011 at 9:55 am


    I find it interesting that nearly everyone I know who likes BG feels pretty much the same way, begging the question, who is IBMA and who votes? Members I assume, but I am not sure I know very many.

    But guys like you and the ‘Dusters, and other bands you mention, are growing the music so hugely, as has been noted, that things like IBMA may just become less and less relevant. Oh well: bring on the music, however it gets publicized.


  22. August 20, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Hey man thanks for hosting such a great topic–I like what you and many others have to say. I also agree with the Dan in that the awards are based on votes so if people feel there should be a change they should get involved, however I believe there are two flaws in this process a) many seem to vote based on their favorite musicians / “Heros” and not on those who put together the most steller body of work for the year. Ex: Tony Rice is my favorite guitar player and one of my biggest heros but that doesn’t make him the man of the year … For me this would be someone more along the lines of Falco, Critter, Grant Gordy, and the list goes on (guys who are changing the game for the given year).. B) Next people might say well vote for those folks… well my answer to that is alot of people don’t have the money or ability to be a member so their voice goes unheard

    I think a system should be set in place that once you win 5 awards or so for a category especially instrument categories you become a legendary member or something like that which qpplies to the statement from Crowe mentioned earlier
    Above all this I think it’s great that people care enough about the music enough to debate in a forum such as this.

  23. Sherri George
    August 21, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Coming from a sports entertainment background, I’m used to people winning who are usually The Best. A team can have a hot night and upset a giant, but overall, if a team wins the NCAA Final Four, they’ve Earned It! 🙂 I truly believe the reason a musician/group should win/be nominated for a “Best .. of the Year” Award is because they truly were The Best in the Biz That Year. New or established, buddy/all-time fav or not, votes & awards should go to those who rocked that year (not 5 yrs ago, or to ensure someone new will still be around 5 yrs in future). I admire Chris for making a suggestion of how to improve the nominations process – with “win once, take 3 years off” – but I genuinely don’t think that scenario would be fair. I wholeheartedly agree with Jon that finding an answer isn’t easy, and “there will always be room for reasonable people to disagree” on how to improve things. And, also with Dan that individuals getting involved and voting makes a difference in who is nominated. I don’t have a golden answer here either, but I appreciate the dialogue in a spirit of trying to strengthen the IBMA Awards and the Bluegrass genre.

  24. Betty Wheeler
    August 22, 2011 at 1:16 am

    The simplest way to change the direction of IBMA Awards is to become a voting member of the IBMA, along with like-minded artists or other professionals.

    Ballpark, NARAS has 10,000+ members, of whom perhaps 8,000 are eligible to vote on the Grammys (and to my knowledge, the Grammys include no awards voted on by fans). By contrast, IBMA has perhaps 2,000 professional members who are eligible to vote on IBMA awards. In some instances, awards are decided by a very small number of votes, and it takes only 10 votes on the first ballot to secure a place on the second ballot (the “candidates for nomination,” with nominees appearing on the third and final ballot). With a voting group of only 2000 or so, it is quite feasible for interested people to have an impact on the outcome, since membership contact information for most voters is available to IBMA members. As we say in my small city of under 5,000, any group of 10 people is a voting block to be reckoned with.

    I like Henri’s idea for Emerging Artists / Momentum Awards across most categories, to make it more likely that highly accomplished younger artists will be recognized without forcing early awards retirement on people who are still very much in the prime of their careers (like Jerry Douglas or Rob Ickes).

    In some cases, IBMA voters have “jumped” younger artists pretty quickly to Entertainer of the Year or other major awards, sometimes bypassing the Emerging Artist of the Year category — for example, Cherryholmes (2005 Entertainer of the Year, bypassing Emerging Artist); Nickel Creek (2001 Instrumental Group of the Year, following 2000 Emerging Artist award); Michael Cleveland (Instrumental Group of the Year, 2007, bypassing Emerging Artist); Infamous Stringdusters (Song of the Year and Album of the Year as well as Emerging Artist of the Year, 2007). However, these examples don’t take away from the more common pattern of seeing a very similar list of nominees in many categories from year to year.


  25. August 22, 2011 at 2:14 am

    Thanks Chris for getting the ball rolling on another topic worthy of discussion. I was disappointed that the IBMA decided to eliminate the “Instrumental Album of the Year” category a couple of years ago, replacing it with an “Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year.” There are a lot of us out there in the professional industry who put our efforts into the making of instrumental albums – you and me included – and the IBMA essentially narrowed the field of potential nominees by reducing this award to an individual song instead of a full project.

    I know that the feeling of some members of the IBMA board at that time was that the category was becoming less viable because fewer and fewer qualifying instrumental projects were being released. However, leadership had been trying to narrow this award back as far as the 1990’s, when I myself was on the board, in the effort to create an awards presentation thought to be friendlier to a television audience.

    This is a chicken and egg situation – IBMA could have encouraged its instrumentalist members by continuing the award and even attempting to educate its members as to the qualifying projects that were out there. Instead, they simply changed the award, without adequately gauging the feelings of membership. And in the process, it was one more nail in the coffin for diversity in membership and in musical scope as reflected in the awards process.

    In my humble opinion, I would like to see the IBMA reinstate the Instrumental Album of the Year category, accompanied it with an educational effort that discusses the range of potential qualifying projects. Let’s open this up to the work of such great artists as Bela, Chris Thile, Mike Marshall, and you (and, to a much lesser extent, me!).

    Bottom line: if people can’t see some kind of reflection of themselves and of their artistic vision in the activities of IBMA, there’s no reason to be a part of it.

  26. August 22, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Part of the problem I am faced with every year when determining who to nominate is knowing everyone one that should be nominated. Similar to the list provided for songs of the year would it not be possible to develop a list for all catagories?

    Change can be scarey but a revolt is even more scarey. Leadership needs to lead and bring a group together to develop these changes if in fact that is what is desired.

    Podunk was honored to win “Event of the Year” last year as much as we were a little disappointed not to be nominated again, as someone said to us “you don’t want to be greedy.”

    In closing Chris has brought some good points that need to be further discussed. Now it is up to IBMA Leadership to develop that group to discuss and move the thoughts into actions for the betterment of the members.

  27. August 22, 2011 at 4:38 pm


    This is the best piece of commentary on awards processes I’ve seen in a long time, and certainly should be heeded by the industry. I sure hope the Powers That Be will pay attention. Those of us buy bluegrass, follow bluegrass bands around the country and WRITE ABOUT IT FOR A LIVING are pretty disgusted with the way things are currently — and honestly I hardly pay ANY attention to ANY music awards anymore. They have become, unfortunately, completely irrelevant because they are a joke — for the most part — in all the ways you describe. Obviously you are passionate about this, and you have stuck your neck out, in ways most professional musicians would never dare, to make an important public statement and urgent push toward a better system that would only serve to BENEFIT all of bluegrass and even the entire music industry, especially if the IBMAs would take the lead and do something constructive to change things. I can totally see other awards systems following their lead, and voila, the whole music industry and all genres could easily be revitalized by the new interest in and attention to the younger, up-and-coming talented bands — not to mention the huge increase in ratings for the no-longer-ridiculous awards shows on TV… You are a visionary in more ways than one. Keep up the good fight, and please don’t stop playing your music for all of us fans!
    Love you guys!
    Kristal “K*Star” Kuykendall
    Little Rock, Arkansas

  28. August 22, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    JD is a wise and generous man. Thank you for going out on a limb and sharing your opinion, Mr. Pandolfi. I sincerely hope it doesn’t affect how you are treated by all of those who were nominated! It’s a pity that politics have to be so detrimental to otherwise extremely gifted individuals and groups. Keep up the good work.

  29. August 23, 2011 at 7:52 am


    Thank you for putting into clearer words what has been said by several people in the past few years every time the “for your consideration” email onslaught gets underway, followed by the nomination “thank you for your nomination vote for me” email onslaught takes place.

    I had posted to the IBMA list a couple years back with ideas on unique nomination categories that were creative and energizing and inclusive. That could give a refreshing and engaging twist to the system. Immediately it was shot down by several who have commented here. My timing was probably too early – or maybe I was not established enough in the bluegrass music profession at that time to be thought of as a reliable voice.

    I am so thrilled now that IBMA is hearing YOUR voice — this is one area that needs serious improvement.


  30. Bluegrasser79
    August 23, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Tony Rice for guitar player of the year?!?!? You have got to be kidding me! It should be call “The Tony Rice Award” for goodness sakes! 99% of guitar players play because of Tony, why degrade his accomplishments by even placing him in the final ballot? And shame on anyone who did nominate, vote for him. He is the best and always will be! Same goes for JD. He is the 2nd best banjo player ever to walk the earth and some idiots think they need nominate or vote for him?!!? Some people are just idiots! Great piece Chris! Sorry to say no matter who joins IBMA or who votes it will ALWAYS be a popularity contest and the “ROUNDER RECORD AWARD SHOW”. I get it though, rounder has a lot of employees who are all members which gives them the right to vote, thus ROUNDER artists dominate the awards shows. Does that mean Rounder artists are the best?….NO, CRAP NO. It just means that Ken has the biggest pool of voters. Anyone remember when Loraine Jordan, who owns a large business, purchased all of her employees IBMA memberships??!?!? THen IBMA said those votes were void?!?!? What is the differnce? ANYONE? IBMA is a crock. I think SPBGMA awards are about as legit these days.

  31. chrispandolfi
    August 23, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    So many amazing comments here. Thank you to everyone. I’m condensing the highlights into a new post to try and move the conversation along.

  32. August 25, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    With sincere respect for the IBMA, has any group and the accompanying album and tour, recently done more to elevate and expand acoustic and bluegrass music throughout the country, as well as outside the USA, than Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers?

  33. August 27, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    This is my second year as an IBMA member and my first to do the whole awards process. I kept my eyes and ears open to not try voting for previous winners with exception of the Gibson Brothers. I agree we need a way to encourage more nominees into the mix.

    Janice Brooks
    Live 365 station Bus of Real Country
    Bellefonte Pa

  34. August 29, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    You sparked me into sharing a small section of my upcoming book…Refreshing to know that so many, have so many thoughts on the matter. Ironically, after writing this – I, very proudly, received the IBMA Distinguished Acheivement Award ! I will leave it at that…..s~

    This may well be where that fine line between expectations based on authenticity and expectations based on taste come together. What creates “the best” way of performing is measured many ways. Many fans use “the way Bill Monroe did it” as their tool for measurement. Those fans are sometimes in the audience and sometimes they are performers themselves. Then there’s the measurement of taste. Can you possibly appreciate talent even when it is not played exactly like it was in the 1940’s? It is not my way of accepting and appreciating music, but I am aware that it does happen. We can start splitting hairs here. Is the growth of bluegrass music a result of traditional limitations, and should it be? I still ride the fence when it comes to the awards system that’s in place for bluegrass music in particular. I have had to learn to appreciate the fact that we have to vote on winners in categories that are stacked with the most talented people in the world, and not only the world of bluegrass. It is difficult for me to regard one performer better that the other 4 or 5 listed on the same ballot. If I based everything strictly on tradition, I might have an easier time with the decision; however, my taste gets in the way. How do I declare a winner in banjo players among J.D. Crowe, Sammy Shelor, Robbie McCoury, and Jim Mills and so on and why isn’t Bobby Lundy in that list? You see what I mean? My taste gets in my way. I like them all, and consider them all to be winners, and that’s just one category. Try to make a decision in the guitar category and I am completely lost. In my opinion there are categories that lend themselves to contest better than others. For instance, the Entertainer of the Year category involves music, hard work and consistency as well as the traditional and taste issues. My reality check comes crashing in when I am sitting backstage and hear a performer tell the crowd about their nomination or award. I have listened enough times to this that I am now convinced that it matters to these talented friends of mine. I am sitting there already thinking that they are the best and, somehow, they are validated by this recognition. What bothers me is the next incredible band that hits the stage that was not nominated for anything. I am concerned because bluegrass being a smaller community than some other musical communities, we need to be careful about negative energy preventing our effort for recognition as a whole. On the other hand, providing a platform for enhancing the performance to the point of being awarded could, perhaps, put the music in a place of significance. I have this wrestling match with myself all the time! Contrary to how I may sound, I do believe and have seen the results of the concept that competition makes us better. This can be anything from doughnut shops to radio stations. Until now I have been mostly quiet on the subject, but I am busy digesting how my performing friends, that I enjoy and admire, are much more comfortable with being measured than I am with measuring them. I would like to think that whichever tool is applied for measuring, that it is being used for enhancing the “show” quality. There are shows, and there’s quality music, and when the two come together, it is magic.

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