Airshow has long fostered a relationship with bluegrass music. Dave Glasser moved the company from Virginia to Colorado in part because he fell in love with the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. It’s a rare week at the Airshow studios when we don’t have the twang of a banjo or the crisp pluck of a mandolin coming through our monitors. Some of the greatest bluegrass records have been mastered at here – records by Ralph Stanley, Tony Rice, Doc Watson, Hot Rize, Doyle Lawson, Bobby Osborne, Michael Cleveland, Yonder Mountain String Band, Seldom Scene, Earls of Leicester… from all the roots and branches of bluegrass.
So naturally, I came into the Airshow family through a shared connection to bluegrass music. I’ve been extremely fortunate to be able to marry my love of bluegrass with a career that allows me to be a part of making bluegrass music sound its finest.
As an extension of that, I was encouraged to apply for the Leadership Bluegrass program this year. Leadership Bluegrass is a three-day intensive program aimed at developing connections and stewardship among movers and shakers in the bluegrass industry through leadership training, industry assessment, and shared best practices. It’s an effort by the International Bluegrass Music Association to cultivate and build leaders within the professional bluegrass community who will further the education in, understanding of and reach of bluegrass music.
Oh why did I apply to Leadership Bluegrass?
I’m an introvert. I prefer to stay quietly in the background. I re-energize by locking myself away from people and social situations. I’m not great at social media. I hate speaking in front of large groups. I’d prefer to be behind the camera rather than in front of it. The idea of leadership is counterintuitive to me and frankly a little frightening. However, as a female in the male-dominated field of audio (somewhere around 5% of us audio pros are women!), I recognize that I have a unique platform from which I can inspire, educate and encourage more women to enter the field. I suppose that’s what leaders are made of.
So yeah, part of applying was a sort of face-the-fear, just-do-it-you-wimp exercise. But beyond that, I recognized that bluegrass music has had an incredible effect on my life. When I was in my early twenties, I certainly did not expect to be spending my summers going to bluegrass festivals, acquiring instruments like banjos, guitars, and mandolins to hang proudly in my house with the hopes of playing them with at least some skill someday, or (better yet) have my friends play. But here I am, years later doing just that – fumbling my way through the mandolin, playing along with my friends, soaking up the sun (and sometimes snow) all for the love of bluegrass. I’ve dedicated so much of my free time and a great deal of my career to bluegrass music; some would call that a passion. And when you’re passionate about something, there’s a desire to get more involved. Leadership Bluegrass offered me that opportunity. It also offered me the chance to take a trip to Nashville and step way out of my comfort zone.
Leadership Bluegrass format
Held over three days on Nashville’s famous Music Row, this meeting of the minds combines present class members, industry professionals and past graduates of the program with no pretense of hierarchy and with nothing but camaraderie to gain and knowledge to share.
The course is part history lesson, part leadership training, part brainstorming, part networking. Overall, it’s overwhelmingly positive, informative, exhausting, invigorating, and inspiring. The folks at IBMA brought together some brilliant minds for this year’s class and put together a program that none of us will soon forget.
Our bluegrass comrades representing a cross-section of our community – artists, booking agents, publicists, promoters, radio personnel, educators, etc. – discussed with us the challenges, rewards, war stories, and knowledge they had in their areas of the industry. We talked about non-profits, music publishing, components of an artist’s team, online marketing, education, entrepreneurship, and leadership styles. And that’s just scratching the surface. In between the sessions, panels and discussions, we mingled with our classmates, getting to know one another, brainstorming how we could help each other. We analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of different ideas, assessed the opportunities and threats. We put our heads together to discuss hot-button topics in the industry today, such as gender disparity or the definition of bluegrass.
There was a discussion of IBMA as the “chamber of commerce” of bluegrass – an apt framework for the work that the organization does. We (my classmates, colleagues and I, and bluegrass fans in general) are all a part of the community of the music. We have common needs and values that inform the way in which we participate in bluegrass music. To support and encourage that participation, we have a board of directors that represents the wide range of bluegrass interests, and committees dedicated to everything from Bluegrass in the Schools to Songwriting to International outreach to technology, etc. To support of all of this, the IBMA puts on the IBMA Business Conference, Awards show and World of Bluegrass each fall (in beautiful Raleigh, NC again this year!). Beyond that, IBMA provides the community with the much-needed resources like the Bluegrass Trust Fund (that provides financial assistance to artists and other professionals in times of emergency), healthcare, industry mentorship, educational opportunities, etc.
Music education for the future of bluegrass
And speaking of educational opportunities, I really haven’t begun to discuss the efforts being done to bring music education to the schools and to kids around the world. The work of organizations like Wintergrass and the International Bluegrass Music Museum to get kids playing music is both noteworthy and inspirational. Randy Lanham of the International Bluegrass Music Museum threw many of us in the Leadership class way out on a limb by teaching us – in less than five minutes – how to play “Boil the Cabbage” on the fiddle. And it didn’t sound terrible. (It didn’t sound great, either!) But the point is, as we face the reality of decreased (or fully eliminated) arts education in schools, the bluegrass community is stepping up to the plate to help fill the void. I think we can all learn from these efforts to bring arts education to our own communities.
Now, I don’t always listen to bluegrass. My work and personal interests extend the far reaches of musical genres. But what I have found in bluegrass is a community dedicated to the preservation of its history, willing to explore the reaches of evolution of the music, an integrity and professionalism befitting a three-piece suit, and a dedication to the musical education of young and old.
It’s hard to distill all I learned into one nugget. I’m honored to be an alum of Leadership Bluegrass, and to be a considered a leader in a community that is so rich with history, dedicated to bringing every person with an open mind into an environment of professional and musical learning. I’ve walked away with friendships and comrades, and a better understanding of how to make a difference in our industry.
Learn more about the incredible efforts of IBMA and Leadership Bluegrass at IBMA.org.