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What I Learned from the International Bluegrass Music Association's "World of Bluegrass"

Updated: Sep 23, 2023

In 2021, my band, the Rock Hearts, played at the International Bluegrass Music Associations World Of Bluegrass event in Raleigh, NC. We were 1 of 20 bands selected from around the world to perform as Official Showcase artist. I journaled my experience to share with you all!

Day 1 in Raleigh:

-Met and got to hang with some really awesome people in the bluegrass world at the "Leadership Bluegrass" Reception. Attendees were all alumni from the Leadership Bluegrass Program, which is a once a year event where 25 people are selected to work on solving real world problems in the Bluegrass world- including things like maintaining the "bluegrass" category in the Grammys and running 501c bluegrass associations.

Special thanks to Bill Thibodeau for taking me on as his guest.

It was real neat to meet Joe Newbury in person, of whom I took some classes with during the pandemic- I remember his kind, thoughtful, and generous answers to a sort of virtual interview that I had with teachers at the Ashokan Bluegrass camp. He also wrote the song "Singing as we Rise" - which I've been singing for years. Also was introduced to Dan Boner, director of the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass ensemble and ran into Belmont students from my visit in 2020!

Day Two at IBMA's "World of Bluegrass"

-Met Ned Luberecki in person after hearing about him for years! Ned is the radio personality of Serius XM satellite radio's Bluegrass Junction, Plays with Becky Buller and Stephen Mougin, and taught my good friend Chet Duke how to play banjo!

-Stephen Mougin was a chorus teacher and ran the musicals in Massachusetts before moving to Nashville and creating "Dark shadow Studios"- they recorded the Rock Hearts Debut album!

-Attended a "gig fair" which is like speed dating for bands- 6 minutes with each agent/booking organization from all over. Hopefully our 2022-2023 season will be filled with new adventures! Crossing fingers for a West Coast trip.

-Ran into Hilary Klug, internet superstar and reason for my getting back into clogging/flatfooting - and my purchase of a dance board! She was super encouraging and loved hearing that someone picked it up because of her.

-Heard the keynote address from Dudley Connell about keeping Music alive in the Pandemic.

-Performed at the Convention Center and Lincoln Theater in our Showcase performance. Walking into Lincoln Center, we ran into another band in the green room. I said "has anyone ever told you that you look like Maddie Denton?"

(Actual Maddie Denton, fiddle player with Dan Tyminski and East Nash Grass, jokingly "Yea, that no good fiddle player" (UPDATE: She just won the 2021 momentum instrumentalist of the year award!)

Me: (drops case) "Wait, you're actually Maddie Denton?!?" I told her what an inspiration she was throughout CoVID when she was the standing fiddle player every week at the station inn with Dan Tyminski (who sang "I am a man of Constant Sorrow"

-Then got to hear my friends Twisted Pine kill it afterwards!

-Finally, finished the night off with jamming until 4am!

Day 3

-Attended the Momentum Awards Luncheon where up and coming industry artists/professionals were honored, including Maddie Denton who I ran into the day before and told her how much her playing with Dan Tyminski inspired me. I got a picture with her after she won "Momentum instrumentalist of the year"

-Met up with Stephen Mougin, the one who recorded or first album on Dark Shadow Studios. He complimented our set and encouraged us that we are on the right path

-Spent the afternoon at the Exhibitor Expo where bands and organizations throughout the country set up booths. We had a "Rock Hearts" booth and had a ton of fun jamming around it and talking to folks. Got a picture with Danny Paisley who's killing it in the bluegrass world today.

-Spoke with the folks at "Leadership Bluegrass". They select 25 people each year to attend a three day retreat in Nashville where you learn how to preserve and promote bluegrass music worldwide.

-Spoke with Pete Wernick, banjo player of Hot Rize and creator of the "Wernick Method", which teaches folks all around the world how to jam on bluegrass music. He also gave some great encouragement for the band and told me he would write a recommendation for leadership bluegrass!

-Got interviewed by Bluegrass TV and North Country Public Radio. Sammy from bluegrass TV encouraged us to create more video content. He also posted a live video of us jamming back at the Hotel

-Ended the day in "Bluegrass School" learning from my amazing bandmates about classic country (Keith Whitley, Conway Twitty, Don Williams, Buck Owens, and Dan Fogelberg) and some amazing second gen bluegrass I hadn't heard before (Red Allen and Lou Reid)

Day 4 at the International Bluegrass Music "World of Bluegrass" Festival.

-Met John Lawless, editor of Bluegrass Today. He's done some amazing work for bluegrass music and helps encourage new artists like the Rock Hearts and young folks like me!

-Attended the International Bluegrass Music Town Hall meeting and spoke about/participated in conversation around a vision for the future of roots and bluegrass music education and the possibility of partnering with the National Association for Music Education.

-Backed up an artist in the Songwriters showcase and made some new friends in the creative community

-Got some portraits done with the fiddle!

-Was gifted two THIRD ROW tickets to the Awards Ceremony (Red Carpet of Bluegrass!) from Laura Orshaw to the band. Billy and Joe generously surprised me by encouraging me to go in their place- know what a joy it would be! And boy was it amazing. Alex and I were seated right up next to the "big wigs"!!

-Saw my friend Bronwyn Keith-Hynes take home the fiddle player of the year award!! My heart was happy for her. She played some triple fiddling with Jason Carter and Laura Orshaw on Jerry Reed's "East Bound and Down'

Wrapping up the week feeling grateful and inspired for all that's next for Bluegrass Music and my own musical journey with the Rock Hearts.

Po Ramblin' Boys Perform Jerry Reed's "East Bound and Down" at the Awards Ceremony

Returning to World of Bluegrass in 2022

Here's an update from this year's visit!

We shot a music video in Raleigh last week and Bluegrass Today already reported on it! This was captured at the convention center during the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual "World of Bluegrass" Festival.

Sammy Passamano runs the 615 Hideaway Record label that we signed with just a couple months ago. Grateful for all these guys!

Speaking at the 2022 Bluegrass Town Hall Meeting

"I am a young musician and teacher from Connecticut who found a deep love of bluegrass music as a college student.

At IBMA's World of Bluegrass Town Hall meeting this year, I inquired about IBMA's vision for music education and, more specifically, IBMA's role in interacting with the school systems as well as its professional affiliations with the National Association for Music Educators.

I left this meeting feeling inspired and excited for continued conversation around the subject, so I contacted Pat Morris to request the email addresses of the folks I noted being interested in the conversation. (Please let me know if you think others would be interested in this conversation- I had written down Deanie Richardson but didn't get her email.)

I hope I can be of service to IBMA by continuing and moderating the dialogue over email.

I've been a public school music teacher for the past 4 years, but I recently took a leap of faith, pursuing self-employment in an attempt to combine my love of Bluegrass music with my training and passion for music education.

Last month, my band- the Rock Hearts, performed at a local High School in Rhode Island. We also spoke about the many career opportunities that exist in the music world.

The conversation and music was well received and many of the folks up here in the north have never seen a mandolin or banjo before.

We were also able to partner with the local bluegrass Association, the Rhode Island Bluegrass Alliance, to put instruments in students' hands who inquired afterwards.

This next month, I've arranged to visit two more high schools in my state.

I was an orchestra teacher before, so I proposed a workshop visit as well as a joint orchestra and Bluegrass band performance in the upcoming Spring concerts.

As I work out the budget with school systems, my hope is to employ local bluegrass musicians to accompany the orchestra. I understand that the Bluegrass Foundation offers mini-grants for work like this, and will be looking into this sometime this week.

This work and partnership came out of a variety of multi-style suggestions that I sent to the orchestra and music teacher network that I have built in my area.

This is the first leg of my new journey as an independent music educator, and I am hopeful that it is only the beginning of an exciting new line of work.

My previous school district has a curricular theme: "Blues", and I plan to propose some sort of workshop there soon.

I recently read up on the Bluegrass Foundation's Arnold Shultz fund and started thinking of how I could bring musicians of color into this mostly white district- or into areas of my state with larger black and Latino populations.

I would love to keep the forward momentum going and maintain conversation around music education in this email thread.

In my notes from the meeting, I thought I'd share that Pete Wernick has made significant contributions to the world of public education with his line of thought that an easier way to "pave the road" for Bluegrass Education in school would be to include it in a more broad inclusion of American Roots Music.

He has contacted the Western Music Association, Blues Foundation, and folk alliance, requesting a k-12 curriculum for inclusion and appreciation of American Roots Music.

I am admittedly still new to the world of bluegrass and the tremendous work that has already been done through IBMA, but I hope to lend my heartfelt enthusiasm and excitement as a contribution to its growing work. "

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