by Dan Schram
The circulating word is that the International Bluegrass Music Associations (IBMA) Awards are looking for a new home. A group of local bluegrass musicians and enthusiasts are, of course, trying to make that new home here in Raleigh. Indeed, a five-minute video produced by the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau recently landed on YouTube, appealing to IBMA on behalf of the state’s bluegrass traditions and the city’s entertainment assets. I sat down with Hank Smith, banjo player extraordinaire, last week to discuss this effort:
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: Who came to you with the idea of bringing the IBMA to Raleigh?
HANK SMITH: We first heard about it from a videographer friend of ours who mentioned he interviewed bluegrass stars Jim Mills and Tony Williamson about IBMA moving to Raleigh. He approached us to interview because he wanted our perspective on the subject as younger members of IBMA with the thought that we could appeal to a younger market. Our role is the same as any other person interested in bringing IBMA to Raleigh. Hopefully, our perspective on the subject will help persuade the folks at IBMA to relocate to our fair city.
Our band, Kickin Grass, has been a member of IBMA for 10 years, and we have attended the conference eight times over the last decade both in Louisville and Nashville. We went last fall and showcased three times, attended seminars and jammed in the suites with industry folks. We love what IBMA does for bluegrass and the bluegrass music industry. As the industry and the music itself naturally evolve and change, so must we. We are harbingers of that change, along with all bluegrass musicians involved with IBMA. Bringing IBMA to the home state of such major bluegrass events like Merlefest, for example, seems natural.
Why do you think Raleigh is a good fit?
As mentioned, North Carolina is already the long-standing (and most likely, permanent) home of Merlefest—one of the largest, most attended bluegrass and related acoustic music festivals of its kind on the East Coast. North Carolina is home to Earl Scruggs, a living legend and musical innovator in the genre. And it’s a hotbed of outstanding bluegrass music and IBMA winners.
Raleigh has a rabid audience for bluegrass of every stripe, from the traditional to the contemporary and beyond. If IBMA were located in Raleigh, it would stand to reason that overall membership and attendance to the conference and award show would increase. Raleigh is also centrally located at the intersection of three major interstates and has an international airport. The three major universities located in the Triangle as well as Research Triangle Park bring a wealth of resources and people that would most likely accept an organization like IBMA in their community. Locating IBMA here would open the door for a newer, younger audience that can help spread the word and carry on the bluegrass tradition.
What support have you received from local business/government leaders on the project?
None yet, but we hope to. I think this is still news to Raleigh, so give it time.
When do they expect to make a decision?
I would imagine they will make a decision within the year.
Needless to say this would be a large get for the Triangle. Hopefully, these local advocates can muster the support they need to make the case that Raleigh is an ideal home for the IBMA Awards.