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Leadership Bluegrass Class of 2023

Updated: Apr 2

I'm tremendously honored to have been selected for Leadership Bluegrass: an "intensive three-day program of advanced-level interactive learning experiences designed to build commitment, motivate talents, and instill enthusiasm for addressing the future of the bluegrass music industry."

I'll be sharing my experience and reflections here on my blog with hopes of inspiring others who might also be interested in educational leadership and the bluegrass music industry.


Key Takeaways

I'll be sharing these at the end of the session- see the bottom of this post for my summary.



NASHVILLE, TENN. (August 29, 2022) – The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) has announced the 2023 class of Leadership Bluegrass, an intensive three-day program of advanced-level interactive learning experiences designed to build commitment, motivate talents, and instill enthusiasm for addressing the future of the bluegrass music industry.

The members of the 2023 class were selected through the 2022 selection process. The decision was made earlier this year to postpone the 2022 IBMA Leadership Bluegrass program and class until March 6-8, 2023, after considering the logistics of ensuring a successful Leadership Bluegrass program, the well-being of the class members, and the quality of the in-person program. All accepted 2022 class members were given a guaranteed spot in the 2023 class, therefore there will be no new application and selection process this fall.

Since its inception in 2000, Leadership Bluegrass boasts more than 500 graduates, and each year a small group of skilled industry professionals are invited to take part in this one-of-a-kind experience. Leadership Bluegrass is an intensive three-day program of advanced-level interactive learning experiences designed to build commitment, motivate talents, and instill enthusiasm for addressing the future of the bluegrass music industry. Each year, 25 applicants from around the world are selected to participate in the class, which is held in Nashville.

“The 2023 Leadership Bluegrass class is a testament to the strength and rich talent present today in bluegrass.” says IBMA Executive Director Pat Morris. “IBMA’s Leadership Bluegrass continues to be one of the most important professional development programs in the bluegrass music industry. Participation in the class and future alumni activities is important to the careers of those selected, the IBMA, and the bluegrass community. Congratulations to the Leadership Bluegrass Class of 2023!”

“We are excited to finally announce the participants in our 2023 Leadership Bluegrass Class. We took time in 2022 to further develop and enhance our existing program, and look forward to welcoming the 2023 class next March,” said Dustin Boyd, chair of IBMA’s Leadership Bluegrass Planning Committee.

The members of the class of 2023 are:

Amy Alvey Golden Shoals / Radio Host WMOT Madison, TN

Marcia Campbell Grand Ole Opry Square Dancers Nashville, TN

Hasee Ciaccio Sister Sadie / Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands Cove Creek, NC

Kristy Cox Kristy Cox Band Hendersonville, TN

Laura Crawford Recording Academy Nashville, TN

Guido de Groot Rotterdam Bluegrass Festival Rotterdam, Netherlands

Jonathan Een Newton Free Dirt Records Brentwood, MD

Frank Evans The Slocan Ramblers Madison, TN

Dave Gooding California Bluegrass Association Vacaville, CA

Christopher Howard-Williams Bluegrass in La Roche La Roche, France

Alex Lacquement Charm City Junction Baltimore, MD

Dylan Locke Floyd Country Store / Handmade Music School / County Sales Floyd, VA

Sarah McCombie Chatham Rabbits Greensboro, NC

Bevin Foley Trout Steak Revival Denver, CO

Austin Scelzo Rock Hearts/CT Bluegrass Association Danbury, CT

Jake Schepps Round Window Institute (Banjo Summit) Burlington, VT

Marianne See Anchorage Folk Festival Anchorage, AK

Mike Simpson International Bluegrass Music Association Bowling Green, KY

Kevin Slick Colorado Bluegrass Music Society Louisville, CO

Gieselle Tambe-Ebot Jam Pak Band Chandler, AZ

Cody Tinnin Stillhouse Junkies Duango, CO

Brandi Waller-Pace Decolonizing the Music Room Forth Worth, TX

Tray Wellington Tray Wellington Band Raleigh, NC

Kalia Yeagle East Tennessee State University / Bill and the Belles Johnson City, TN

Sami Braman The Onlies Nashville, TN

For more information, contact Pat Morris at IBMA via email at or 615.256.3222.

My Reason for Applying:

"Why are you interested in being a class member of Leadership Bluegrass? "

Put plain and simple, I quit my tenured public school teaching job in one of the most elite and affluent public school systems in the world to pursue a dream. That dream sounded like this:

What would it look like to combine my talent, passion, and professional skill in the realm of Music Education and performance with my love of Bluegrass music?

What could come out of committing this next chapter of my life to serving the bluegrass community?

What value could I create in the world of Bluegrass music if, rather than divide my attention and energy between a typical 9-5 and side hustles, I gave it my full energy and dedication?

What opportunities would come my way if I made myself fully available to whatever comes of this dream?

How could I take full advantage of this window in my life where I am free of debt, renting frugally, in good health, and am not tied down in any relationships?

These questions consumed my mind in my final year of teaching public school. I found it difficult to grapple with the inherent dissonance that developed out of telling my students to “dream big”, “Follow your dreams”, and “Imagine a vivid and exciting future for yourself” when I myself was not yet able to take the leap and follow my own dreams. My students and their parents knew that I was a dreamer. I shared my vision publicly for my students, their parents, and the wider community in the signature of every email I sent out.

It should have been no great surprise for them to have received a heartfelt farewell letter at the end of 2020, where I shared my new commitment to bluegrass music and it’s future in a gleeful albeit bittersweet goodbye.

That summer I founded the Connecticut Bluegrass Association, started an online business teaching bluegrass fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and harmony vocals, and joined an IBMA bound Bluegrass band, the “Rock Hearts”. I know this is only the beginning, and would love for the opportunity to maintain this momentum, build lifelong relationships and support systems, and keep this open hearted dream alive by attending IBMA’s “Leadership Bluegrass” this year. I know that If I take full advantage of this time in my life, I can execute powerful and influential service to the bluegrass community.

At IBMA’s World of Bluegrass 2021 Town Hall Meeting, I inquired about IBMA’s vision for music education. That question spawned a hopeful and inspiring conversation around how we can move forward as a community. I hope to build off of and partner with Nancy Cardwell Webster’s Bluegrass Foundation, as well as the work of Pete Wernick, who’s vision is to unite the Western Music Association, Blues Foundation, Folk Alliance with IBMA to advocate for a k-12 curriculum in American roots music. I was so encouraged by the California Bluegrass Association’s youth presentation and I want to make that level of youth involvement the norm for associations around the country.

Put more specifically, I believe with IBMA’s support, the Connecticut Bluegrass Association can become an influential 501C3 non-profit by the end of 2022.

I believe that through my involvement with the National Association for Music Educators and my professional certifications, I can serve as a mediator between IBMA’s vision for Bluegrass Education and the country’s largest professional music educator’s association.



Primary Roles in the Industry

-Fiddle Player/Vocalist in the Rock Hearts, IBMA Showcase Band 2021

-Public School Music Teacher turned Bluegrass Music Teaching Entrepreneur. I created an online Bluegrass School, Teach in person and on Zoom and lead Wernick Method Bluegrass Jam Classes

-Founder of the Connecticut Bluegrass Association,

Industry Involvement

-Performing Artist in a number of bands

-Recording artist on a number of regional projects

-10 years of teaching experience both in public school music settings and privately

-Created an online music teaching business

-Created, MC, and maintain a Bluegrass Music Venue "FCC Bluegrass Coffeehouse"

-Founded the Connecticut Bluegrass Association (

-I teach Group Bluegrass Jam Classes throughout the Northeast and teach workshops at Festivals

-Studied Music Education with an emphasis in Violin and Voice

-Concertmaster Western Connecticut State University Symphony Orchestra 2013-2017

-Western Connecticut State University Opera Orchestra 2013-2017

-Western Connecticut State University Chamber Strings 2013-2017

-Western Connecticut State University Concert Choir 2013-2017

-Western Connecticut State University Chamber Singers 2013-2017

-Western Connecticut State University “Parallel Fifths” A Cappella 2013-2017

-Ridgefield First Congregational Music Ministry Internship 2013-2017

-Newman Center Worship Band 2015-2017

Civic/Community Involvement

-Service at First Congregational Church of Ridgefield

-Youth Ministry

-Adult Ministry

-I have given two public sermons

-4 year internship working with the choir

-Member of Music Leadership Ministry Committee

-Founded FCC "Bluegrass Coffeehouse" where I organize, book, MC, and run sound- providing local bluegrass bands opportunities and local musicians opportunities to learn.

Intervarsity Christian Ministries Student Leader

-I have led small groups and retreats

-Attended two leadership retreats (Summit)

-"Serve Up" New Orleans relief trip repairing homes damaged from Hurricane Katrina

-Worked with "Price of Life NYC" fighting human trafficking in New York

Darien Public Schools:

-Volunteered after hours in the Darien Public School System to work with students to develop their musicianship

-Served on Social Emotional Learning Planning Committee in the Darien Public Schools, developing curriculum for students to build healthy social emotional skills during the school day.

-Taught in professional development sessions

Connecticut Bluegrass Association

-Founded the organization and created/continue to maintain the website

-I run the blog, spotlight bands, promote bluegrass education, and maintain the public calendar


Bachelor of Sciences, Music Education

Western Connecticut State University May 2017

  • Kathwari Honors Program Summa Cum Laude

  • Music Department Chair’s Award

  • Focus in Violin and voice


Western Connecticut State University Teaching Certification May 2017

  • Music PreK-12

Mark O’Connor New American String Method

  • Books I/II Berklee College of Music 2014

  • Books III/IV Southern Maine Community College 2015

American Music System

  • Teaching in the American Music System Southern Maine Community College 2016



"I am a former Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music widely known for my work in contemporary strings pedagogy.

Having known Austin Scelzo for several years I am writing to offer my total recommendation of him in his continuing education.

I’ve seen Austin interact with his students, peers, and teachers in a variety of settings and can say without a doubt that he is an excellent player and teacher, and very well-rounded musician.

It is rare to find someone who is as equally dedicated to developing as a teacher and player. It is also rare to have someone with his maturity and experience going back to school to work towards continuing credits in performance.

Any program would be extremely lucky to have him in their midst. I recommend him completely and totally without reservation.

After having known Austin for several years and observing him closely in his work as a musician and educator in many capacities, I recommend him wholeheartedly as a teacher, speaker and clinician. His work in education is at the cutting edge in our field and he is exemplary in terms of his integrity and leadership."

-Christian Howes



"Austin Scelzo is an ideal candidate for Leadership Bluegrass. I've known him for a little over two years, through a bluegrass camp I run in the northeast. I hired Austin to teach there this past summer, and I've also certified him as a Wernick Method bluegrass jamming instructor. He's completed teaching several jamming classes in Connecticut and New York, and the anonymous student evaluations we use for my camp, and for the classes he's taught, have shown unanimous enthusiasm.

Austin is a focused, intelligent, high-energy person who has just quit his full-time job teaching music and "band" in middle school (for 4 years), to start making his living in bluegrass -- full-time. This is a daring move, and his timing is good -- he's in his mid-20s, is in full "discovery" mode, learning a lot of music, and doing very well teaching a variety jam classes.

Austin is both an excellent fiddler and an excellent singer, and this year landed a spot in a respected band of high-level bluegrass veterans called Rock Hearts (who showcased last month at IBMA). As by-far the youngest member of the band, he's positioned to learn a lot of music (one member was with Joe Val for years).

Austin and I have had a number of conversations about his career and this bold move he's making, forsaking a steady paycheck to jump into the bluegrass world full-time. I've encouraged this move (having done it myself years ago) and have helped him strategize about how to go about engaging in the bluegrass world... hence my strong support of him attending LBG. I think he has the talent in both performing and teaching to establish a solid career that will make a significant contribution to bluegrass. As a teacher, he has the advantage of having taught music in a school setting as well as private settings. Knowing the realities of schools' ways of teaching music gives him a rare and useful perspective on how bluegrass can be taught in schools.

His overall energy and enthusiasm, eagerness to learn, and ability to organize has impressed me very much. I think bluegrass is lucky to have someone like him wanting to get involved and contribute. I'm especially impressed that along with the teaching and performing, he's undertaken to revive the Connecticut Bluegrass Association, and also to launch a performance venue. The energy it takes to do all the above is considerable, but Austin is undaunted and seems to have what it takes to do it all (ah, youth!).

From my experience with Austin I can see why he has been successful in his teaching career. He connects very well with people and loves teaching kids in particular. It's been great to discuss with him the possibilities of engaging middle school students with bluegrass. I think of that age as optimum for bluegrass exposure, knowing that so many musicians in bluegrass first started playing at that age. Here we have someone well-experienced with that age group and eager to make the connections. I wish there were more of them!

I think Leadership Bluegrass will provide good strong nourishment and inspiration for Austin, and will help him with all his endeavors in bluegrass -- his band, his teaching, the CT Bluegrass Association and the performing venue he is running. Because he's full-time now, not part-time like so many bluegrass professionals, he's sure to rise in the field -- and this is an ideal time for him to have the LBG experience."

-Pete Wernick

The Wernick Method

Past president of IBMA


"I met Austin Scelzo in May of 2021 when he came to a band practice with Rock Hearts. It was clear that he would be a good fit for the band. Once we got to know him a bit we discovered his strong passion for bluegrass music. He was teaching Wernick Method classes, online lessons, Darien School strings classes, and in person lessons. He is involved in other bands and is the founder of the Connecticut Bluegrass Association.

When we went to the 2021 IBMA World of Bluegrass Austin took advantage of many educational and networking opportunities. He would always share what he learned and made suggestions to help the preservation of our craft.

Austin in my book is a born leader and has the passion, drive and love of music. He will be a true asset to Leadership Bluegrass and to the entire bluegrass music community."

-Billy Thibodeau

Leadership Bluegrass Alumni Class of 2017

Rock Hearts

Rhode Island Bluegrass Alliance


Key Takeaways

I've done my best to sift through my notes and reflections so that I can present my most impactful takeaways here:

Crowdfunding and patronage seems to be the new norm for funding albums- I wonder what it would be like to partner with a label in this work?

Their promotional capacity on social media and marketing background is their biggest strength - What if labels were aware of successful crowdfunding trends and served as guides for artists to create content?

Leadership Books and talks:

How Great Leaders Inspire - Simon Sinek

What do people like managers and agents do, and when is it time for an artist or event to bring them onboard rather than handling these tasks themselves?"

“How can an artist tell when it’s time to build a team and leave their local market”

  • “Keep people at bay for a while, eventually folks will come knocking”

  • If you can draw a crowd

Tour Dates, press, touchstones, milestones

How to succeed: “One Fan at a Time”

Things to look for in a manager

  • Someone who will work to open closed doors for artists-

  • Someone who has connections with the festivals you are looking to play, people who have experience working with the festivals (Festivals can trust them for good repeat biz)

  • Someone who is a cheerleader, hype person, someone who talks up the band as “the greatest show in the world”

How would you advise an artist in finding a team that will work for them?

“It depends on what their needs are”

Avett brothers just want to create.... They want their stamp on artwork and photos

Sierra is unique in that she is involved

Amythest - shares ideas and demos and wants their opinion

“Pick a case study and share with us how it started and how it’s going”

Sierra Farrell

Sierra had 5k followers on IG, she was signed with Rounder, playing clubs for 100 people

Recorded album slowly

She had a budget for artwork and photos- paid for by label

Booking agent brought her to Orange Peel - Amphitheater


Several viral videos on Tik Tok

Avett Brothers

“Its never been about how many notes, or how precise, its about the heartfelt songs”

  • Songs are “hit songs” when they want to be used at peoples weddings, funerals, etc

“Avett Brothers have always had the song dictate the instrumentation - (what he called True artistry) whereas bluegrass musicians often shape their songs around the instrumentation”

Agents/managers can help with IG and Tik Tok building

  • Management uses “Exosheets” that dictate what needs to be posted when

  • Making sure venues have the materials they need

  • Making cut downs to make the vids as shorts, instagram reels, and Tik Tok


10% booking

15% management

Booking Agents help you make money

You will make more money through ticket sales than you will records

How do you decide when its right for an artist to go internationally

Avett bros started having kids, so their international tour was derailed

“There is a coolness factor in seeing an artist play internationally”

Artists should focus on the ART, you have a better chance at getting people to talk about your material through word of mouth.

Street team - fans putting up posters, asking fans to help promote and put posters up. “We push on promoters often to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing”

Average 15? 50? correspondences between promoter and management

Guaranteed income shows are better for paychecks, ticketed shows better for fan base

Performing arts centers didn’t move the needle as far as building audience- these are paychecks

Hard tix - Bridgestone arena, People buy tickets to see the artist

Soft tix - Country fair, state fair, festival (People are there because they have season passes)

How do you build young audiences?

Pick artists “at the edge of the table” -

Archetype.... 16 year old punk rocker, an outcast

**He picks people that “that lead Artistically “ - which he sees as the key to building an audience

What advice would you give to an artist who doesn’t know who they can trust?

People who return calls, people who are reliable, reputation

Social Media Tips for getting an artist from 5k to 200k

Consistency, scheduled content every week

SHORT FORM video for platforms -

“If you are going to be a working artist, you need them all”

Esp Tik Tok - people are posting a vid from their room then later Opening at Madison square garden

Post things even unrelated to music- the fans are interested in you as people