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Attracting New Audiences to Bluegrass Music - Leadership Bluegrass 2023 Panel

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

On March 8, 2023 the Leadership Bluegrass Class of 2023 discussed the important issue of keeping bluegrass music alive for generations to come.

The panel was designed to brainstorm some of the barriers that many feel to hearing/playing/or participating in bluegrass music as well as some potential solutions that organizations or individuals may take to help open the door for new generations of fans, musicians, and audiences.

Barriers to Entry:

  • Failure of education systems to adopt vernacular music. Jazz has made its way into the core curriculum in higher and secondary education while bluegrass and string band music has not.

  • Lack of cultural relevance: Bluegrass and its instruments still remain far removed from popular culture. This is largely an issue of exposure

  • "Coolness factor” Bluegrass music is often viewed as “Old People’s music

  • "Gatekeepers”, (those who seek to label "true bluegrass music" vs. "not real bluegrass") are pushing folks out who would otherwise participate in the bluegrass culture and bring new audiences into the fold.

  • Stagnation within the genre - same people are getting awards so people are giving up on voting/involvement

  • Regionally, it’s not as accessible of a genre in some places

  • Lack of broadcasting - reaching audiences with current broadcasting

  • Price of festival entry for families - Young families are discouraged from attending festivals due to costs.

  • Intimidation factor re: virtuosity in playing keeps some amateur players from learning the music

  • Socio-economic status might inhibit entry for certain people groups

  • Tradition is viewed as “old and crusty” by younger generations

Possible Solutions:

  • Focus on Teacher training, promoting educational material to secondary and primary education.

  • Help the industry adapt to modern times- IBMA could serve as a hub for information

  • Cross-posting - IBMA can Collaborate/interview/host successful artists and have these videos be posted on the artist's page/social media

  • Include Old Time and other related genres on the radio

  • Advocating for inclusivity at festivals/classes, and bluegrass events

  • Leverage audiences from popular performers like Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle

  • IBMA could assist in planting festivals in spots where they are needed

  • Improve representation in leadership - particularly diversity of age so that younger generations are represented

  • Expand the history to be inclusive, including the contributions of early blues, old-time, and country musicians (Camps, education)

  • Festivals can aim to target young families, as kids academy attendees are much more likely to remain longtime supporters

  • -Encourage volunteers at festivals

  • IBMA could create a “task force” dedicated to reaching young/newer audiences

  • Tell theroots music story” and how multi-faceted/diverse early musical influences were in pre-bluegrass history.

  • Frame the music around Community, joy, and creativity

  • Encourage organizations to adopt an Instrument loaning program so that the barrier to trying an instrument is low

  • Encourage families to attend Bluegrass Festivals via family passes / special discounts

  • Local Associations can promote kids and families activities

  • Encourage and support young bands - the “cool, hip, party” vibe from bands attract new audiences regardless of the genre/how straight-ahead bluegrass they might be

  • -For bands: IBMA could set up simple, practical solutions to helping young bands stay on the road Hotel sponsorship, gym memberships, etc

  • Encourage leaders to work within their own communities and networks- recognize opportunities to expose new audiences to the music.

  • Include Songwriting competitions, group folk singing, and other opportunities to engage with the culture that are not “hot jams” (Blackpot music festival does this well)

  • Offer free concerts for the school systems, then offer students to come to the shows over the weekend for free

  • Partner with community arts organizations and emphasize history to help involve people of color

  • Accessibility - give young people a feeling of belonging... involve kids in making music

  • In the Netherlands, the festival hires a teacher to serve for three months at the local elementary schools- these students perform at the local festival stage

  • Festivals/camps can offer talent shows to offer easy opportunities to foster community

  • Hire Younger bands, in and out of the strict bluegrass genre, to put the music in front of younger people

  • Use paid campaigns on social media with age-specific goals

  • Floyd Country Store has a “Share the music program scholarship” - whenever folks buy a ticket to a show/festival, they are given the opportunity to donate

  • Artists can promote on their website that families can come for free to their shows

  • IBMA can support JAM, Jam Pak, and local kids roots music organizations - this is a faster solution than trying to change public school education

  • Offer classes/clubs as Boys and girls club after-school activities

  • Encourage philanthropic giving to the movement

  • Get the Navy and Army Bluegrass bands involved - they can come to schools at no cost

  • Henhouse Prowlers use their non-profit “Bluegrass Ambassadors” to raise money for school visits

  • Special Consensus created the Traditional American Music program (TAM) - this pamphlet was revised by the leadership bluegrass class of 2023 to serve as a modern resource for teachers and musicians looking to supplement their tours by arranging school visits.

Listen to the full audio from this panel here:

Watch my presentation here on the subject here - April 12, 2023

Annie Savage, Greg Cahill and members of the 2023 Leadership Bluegrass class will introduce a ready-to-use tool to connect schools and bluegrass music. This tool, a revision of the IBMA Foundation’s Bluegrass Music in the Schools pamphlet, gives every bluegrass clinician and artist an entree into schools and provides a complete resource for any school to plug into their existing music curriculum.

Includes tips on program funding and how to create new revenue streams for touring artists through opening up public schools for assemblies and clinics.

Virtual workshop presenters will include Annie Savage, Greg Cahill, Austin Scelzo and Gieselle Tambe-Ebot.

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