On Sept 26th, I started my 2022 IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) World of Bluegrass week with a 4am departure from Ohio. The trip down was full of dark skies and thoughts, thoughts of what this year’s conference would hold. As only my second IBMA conference, I wanted to have some kind of plan going in. Yeah, I know, plans do not go as hoped during the chaos of IBMA but I wanted to try and have a small plan that would allow for flexibility. After my co-pilot, Michelle Lee, offered minimal assistance during the early hours of the ride, she woke up enough to start bouncing ideas around and come up with a plan. After a couple stops for gas and food, we arrived in Garner, NC at Lorraine’s Coffee House and Music. While having an awesome lunch at Lorraine’s Coffee House and Music, the anticipation was building as I looked at all the big names covering the walls.
Unloading ALL the stuff from the car to the hotel reminded me of all the hard work that is ahead but I kept reminding myself of the number one agenda item for the week – HAVE FUN! You know it’s going to be a great week when the first two people you run into is Pat Morris, Executive Director of IBMA and Mike Simpson, Chair of IBMA Board of Directors. Meeting these two men last year were one of my highlights – they both bring excitement, laughter and great love for bluegrass beyond their strong presence in IBMA.
Ok, as I sit for a moment and take in a deep breath prior to heading out and starting the week, our plan is finalized! Our plan – to have fun, to meet new artists, to gain more music and connections with the international bluegrass artists, to talk with others on how to bring bluegrass from various regions together, find ways to support artists, see artists live that I have yet to see and much more. We are set – Let’s begin the week of IBMA World of Bluegrass of 2022.
Michelle Lee and I headed over to the Convention Center to sign in and get those lovely name badges that seemed to always find their way turned around so no one could see your name. Just my quick thought, possibly print the information on both sides. The volunteers and IBMA staff seemed to be a little unorganized, but they were very friendly and helpful. It could have also been that we were early, and everything was still getting figured out. Thanks to all at the people at the registration tables for the help, kindness and hard work! To kill a little time, we headed over to the Marriott bar to meet up with Rick Litiatco (the one and only) from California which I have been wanting to meet in person for a while now since we are best friends on FB. And with meeting Rick, I also met Dave Gooding from California. These two guys are a great bunch of fun and great reps from the California Bluegrass Association (CBA)! Oh, wait, I cannot forget to say what a pleasure it was to meet Francois from France. Wow, what a time we had!
To embrace the nice weather and the closeness of the venues, Michelle and I walked over to The Dillon for the Leadership Bluegrass Alumni Reception. At one of the many intersections, we joined Ben (class of 2020) & Cassie Lynn Wright for the uphill climb to the beautiful rooftop reception. Throughout the evening of great hors d’oeurves and wine, we caught up with friends from last year and met new ones this year. With the sun beating down on us, we were able to meet Chris Howard-Williams, chairman for Bluegrass in La Roche, France. It was awesome to learn more about their festival they host annually. From there Michelle Lee caught up with fellow Leadership classmate of 2020, the General Manager of the Bluegrass in La Roche, Didier Philippe and talked about the idea of getting more international bluegrass music over here! She came back with only good words and more ideas. As the sun continued to set and create a beautiful sky, Anna Kline, Business Development Director of IBMA, ran into us for like the third time. Although the evening was winding down, I can assure you that we did not see the last of Anna!
While walking the few blocks back to the hotel, I couldn’t help to notice that it did not feel like the downhill that it should have been since it was uphill on the way to the reception. Anyone else experience that feeling? Knowing what type of week, we have ahead, we figured we better get a good dinner and somewhat of an early night when we could. So, pizza at Jimmy V’s it was and boy, you just can’t go wrong with that type of decision! By the end of the first day, we had already started touching on the goals that we set out to do – get more international music and bringing regions together.
On Tuesday, I was able to stay in the hotel room and finish up the write-up for the October Artist Spotlight on MichelleLeeOnAir.com while Michelle Lee attended the Leadership bluegrass masterclass – Broadcasting Bluegrass: Trends, Opportunities and Challenges. Speaking for myself, I had the better deal (comfort). Once we had our work done, we went over to set up the booth and then an awesome ceasar salad from Jimmy V’s – yum! Now that most of the conference type items are completed, it is time to get the true Week of IBMA World of Bluegrass started. The stage was set and looked like a cozy one at that. Craig Havighurst sat down with two well-known artists within the Bluegrass world – Dale Ann Bradley, multi-award-winning legend and C.J. Lewandowski, co-founder of Po’Ramblin’ Boys and discussed their start in music and their journeys. When two stars sit on a big stage and open up in the ways they did, my heart gets touched. It is so inspiring to hear how music can change a person’s life and when it also gives them a talent to help spread joy to others as well. Thank you, Dale Ann and CJ, for sharing your stories with us! What do you do after such an interview, you go to rambles and listen to some bluegrass music!!!
To keep with our plan of getting to hear and find more international bluegrass artists/bands, we went to catch Curly Strings from Estonia, country in Europe. This will not be the first time seeing them, as we met them unknowingly at lunch, but it will be our first seeing them as a performing band. Let me tell you, they were amazing. They sang in their native language, and it was beautiful! The energy, emotions or thoughts that came to you during each song matched the type of the stories they explained before each one. They gave us fast tempo, slow tempo, happy and sad songs – it was a show to remember. There are plans for them to return to the US in 2023 at various well-known stages including the Grand Ole Opry as part of winning the 2022 International Band Performance Grant. Congratulations to them for winning the scholarship and maybe I will catch you all next year!
From there we ran over to catch our buddies with Nick Chandler and Delivered. “Oh, hey Anna, nice to see you again” as we ran into her once again. Watching and listening to Nick Chandler and Delivered always makes me leaving a show happy! Nick can definitely show one around the sounds of a mandolin and Gary can definitely give you a reason to smile. The new band members give a great new vibe and I can’t wait to hear more new music from them all! Their song ‘Hello’ is a number one song and new songs off their new album are good ones to remember in the coming weeks.
After giving a few hugs and “see ya later”, we ran around the building again to catch The Kody Norris Show. I have been wanting to catch them for a while now. The wait was worth every minute! Their music was great but they were also extremely entertaining! I will never be able to look at a moon-pie the same again and will always be in “aww” on how fast someone can call an auction. If you get a chance to see them, make sure you do!
To finish Tuesday evening off, we went to catch Caroline Owens. WOW!!! If you have not seen or heard her yet, it is a must! Her voice is beautiful and many times it will remind you of someone else’s voice. After seeing her show, I have given her the name ‘Dolly.2’ in my mind because they are the same in many ways. These two ladies don’t just share similar voices, they have names in common and most of all, their politeness is exactly the same – well, at least from what I get from seeing Dolly in public and hearing from people that have worked with her. Caroline sings beautiful songs that she has of her own but also songs from the past that will have you drawn in, tapping toes and possibly singing along. I hope that you all get to see Caroline Owens in person just as much as I hope she gets to meet Mrs. Dolly Parton. If these two would do a song together, I think I might just cry – probably not but I am sure it would be a great one!
On Wednesday, we started the day off with having breakfast with a few wonderful folks – Starlett & Big John and their new mandolin player, Kevin Strouth. Always a great time-sharing laughs with them! I was able to attend the Agents, Managers and Publicists Constituency Meeting. I felt honored to be in there since I am VERY new to this whole world. As for just a few weeks ago, I was called a “bluegrass virgin”, so you could imagine me sitting in this type of meeting. There was a lot of discussion between individuals but my mind just kept catching onto a common theme, that artist need help getting word out and venues need more people. All that info just made my mind spin and go every which way. I am honestly surprised that Michelle Lee didn’t smack me after I came back to the booth and spitting ideas at her. From here, we hope to grow a couple of the ideas into reality and implement things within the year.
During the time I was in the meeting, Michelle Lee was “manning” the booth so-to-say but honestly, I think she was having a blast interviewing Morgan Brake and having her perform at the booth. Morgan is an up and coming artist with a beautiful voice. Following that Michelle Lee met up with Caleb Bailey and did a quick interview regarding his new album Camille. If you ask me, I love the song Camille because of the history that is told through the song. Caleb created a beautiful song as a tribute to the heartbreak and devastation in Nelson County, VA that was caused from Hurricane Camille in August of 1969. Caleb not only researched it, he met survivors and was invited to sing the song at the Nelson County Historical Society commemoration event on August 19th, the same night 53 years later. Congratulations Caleb, what an honor!
Once I was out of the meeting, I snuck over to catch Kristi Cox perform. Ever since I heard her song ‘Person of the Year’, I have enjoyed listening to her ever since. Kristi Cox is a Multi-Golden Guitar Award-Winning and is from Australia. Not sure about you but that is now two people from Australia that I love – Kristi Cox and Keith Urban. I was honored to meet the singer of one of my favorite songs (‘Person of the Year’) that paid tribute to those that worked the front lines of the pandemic. The song personally touched my heart as a nurse and having friends that have faced many rough days during the pandemic. As I listened to Kristi Cox sing, it is easy to dismiss all the other sounds around and being drawn into the song. The song ‘If Heaven Was a House’ was amazing and really stuck out to me during the ramble.
Finally, back at the booth to help Michelle Lee, we got ready to have Starlett & Big John go live on Facebook. Starlett & Big John are a newer band but wow, they are good! Starlett has a voice that is very unique, has many ranges and continues to shock me with every new song of theirs. When you combine Big John’s voice with Starlett’s, all I want to do is sit on a swing on a porch and enjoy a summer day! Their album is such an awesome mix of bluegrass songs – it is one of my favorites!
Closing out Wednesday, we drove into town (just a little bit) and met Mike Mitchell and his family for an awesome Mexican dinner! It was great to sit down, talk about new ideas and hear of what has gone on over the last year. As a great day night cap, we headed over to meet Corey and Missy Zink. Waiting patiently for them, we ran into some of our favorite people – Pat Morris, Judy, Jerry and Erin Salley, and then we noticed Nick Chandler and his band but we were unable to make it over prior to the Zink’s coming in. After chatting for little while, we headed back to the room to try and rest.
Thursday was a BIG day… Thursday was the day of the IBMA Industry Awards Luncheon. We sat at a table they had reserved for us, and we can’t imagine it! We are sitting next to Brink Brinkman, Glen Duncan, Louisa Branscomb, Adam Engelhardt and my favorite – Marsha Duncan. We are immediate “name” buddies! What a great table to share the lunch with. The time had come – “Broadcaster of the Year”, I was nervous for Michelle Lee (pretty sure she was too) but I was also excited to see her name among the other nominees. Michelle Lee works harder than anyone else that has so much passion for their job – she is definitely one that is boots on the ground and treats all equally. I have learned so much about the back end of things within the music world – I never knew so much happened on the other side of the radio. I Thank Her for showing me some of what she does, allowing me to become a big part of it and possibly enhancing it even more. So, if you have a good tune, let me hear it and I may have an “in” on getting it some airtime. Ha ha! Congratulations to Chris Jones from SiriusXM for winning the Broadcaster of the Year Award. Congratulations to all the Industry Award winners! It was a great luncheon to be a part of!
From the luncheon, we were back to the booth for another great day of meeting artists, fans and everyone in between. I was able to catch Nick Chandler and Delivered performing at The Bluegrass Standard showcase booth. Always love catching their shows. Then I had to turn around to go live with Caleb Bailey & Paine’s Run on FB at Michelle Lee On Air’s booth. WOW!!! As I have mentioned previously, I love the songs they sing. Each song makes you learn a new history fact or reminisce something from the past. Shortly after Caleb finished, we were to have Lorraine Jordan live on FB but unfortunately, she wasn’t able to make it due to scheduling conflicts with events and all the greatness she had going on at her Coffee House – what a great place by the way! With a time slot open and the energetic men of Rock Hearts asking if they would be able to play, Michelle Lee said, “well heck yeah!” So, back to work I went, going live on FB with Rock Hearts. I enjoyed every minute of it! They have such an energy that you want to be around. If you haven’t seen or heard this group from New England, you need to check them out. Their newest single out ‘Wanderlust’, with special guest Michael Cleveland, was released in August of 2022 and climbed the charts.
Now it was time to pack up real fast and close the booth down – it was a sad time but there was no time for tears! Michelle Lee had to be front and center for the IBMA Songwriter Showcase. As Michelle Lee found a new love of having a booth, she has always loved Emceeing the Songwriters Showcase. As I finished packing everything into the car, I was able to make it back and catch most of the artists. All the artists were very talented. One duo, Lizzy Ross & Omar Ruiz, sang a song titled ‘I Can’t Say Nothing’ that stuck out to me. From there, we ran to the room and got ready for the red carpet and awards night.
Red Carpet and cocktail hour are always a great time – catching up with people you haven’t had a chance to say hi to, seeing everyone all decked out, listening to the great IBMA Kids on Bluegrass, eating a couple (and I mean like two) of hors d’oeuvre and then head into the auditorium for the IBMA Awards show. I am not going to go into each category and tell you who won because if you don’t know already, you can see them listed on the IBMA website. Obviously, everyone has been talking about the technical difficulties that occurred during the show, but I am not in the position to critique or provide ideas – it’s all above my paygrade. Now, the one thing I can talk about is how talented each and every artist that performed are – the show performed by all the artists was AMAZING! Congratulations to all the winners and to all the artists that were nominated in all categories. You all amaze me!
After an awesome evening listening to great music and celebrating the wins that many dream of, we headed back to the hotel for some food! “WHAT!?!” Yes, my exact word when I found that the restaurants were closed! If we could only get the hotels and IBMA to possibly work together and get the bar/restaurants to stay open a little later during the IBMA World of Bluegrass week – I am sure we all, including waitress/waiters, would benefit from it.
Friday in our mind was Funday Friday for us. Our plan was to check out all the other booths and listen to more music! The booths were all awesome, ranging from multiple instruments, handmade straps, t-shirts, hats and so much more. One of those booths that stood out was the Cincinnati Washboards from Argentina. Michelle Lee is still, to today, threating to learn how to play it as an instrument. Please everyone, please keep supporting her as a broadcaster, not sure if I could handle a “washboarder”. Ha! Ha!
It was a difficult task, but I was finally able to pull Michelle Lee away from the washboards and over to the stage we went. It was time to catch our great friends Darin & Brooke Aldridge. I love being able to see them perform – the entire band is so talented! To sweeten the show, Kristin Scott Benson stepped in to play a little banjo for them. Their shows are always top-notched. I must say Samantha Snyder killed it on fiddle!
Sister Sadie put on one kick-ass show, if I may say so myself. The collaboration of all the ladies is outstanding. Having Jaelee Roberts as lead vocal would be wise of any band – killer voice and I look forward to watching her career continue growing. Then you have Gena Britt on banjo – I have to say, her new single ‘A Little Bit of You’ is freaking awesome. Don’t forget Deanie Richardson on fiddle, not sure what more you can say besides, “wow”. Their new mandolin player Mary Meyer has added a new type of energy for the girls. And a Sister Sadie show would not be complete without the great entertainment and rhythm from Hasee (bass player). Their show always has me leaving with the thought, “and that is how they have won entertainer of the year award”. Love catching Sister Sadie when I can! Don’t forget to check out their new single out right now, ‘Diane’.
We decided to catch a great salad from Jimmy V’s again – yum – and there may have been some pizza as well, I love pizza! What do you do after getting your belly full, well, you head back to the stage and catch the show that you have been wanting to see for some time now! Let me tell you, that wait was well worth it. WOW! Now that was a show that I will remember for a long time. Della Mae has become another one of my favorite bands in just a couple songs. The music and vocal mix were amazing! These ladies totally know how to put a show on – WOW! Oh, I have already said that but it is well deserved. Vickie Vaughn on bass is a great addition to Della Mae and definitely adds spice to the band. Listening to Celia Woodsmith as their lead vocalist left me almost speechless. In my opinion, she has a voice that is so passionate and smooth sounding. It took me days to figure out how to describe her voice but it finally came to me, her voice is so smooth that it sounds as if she is making love to the lyrics. As she draws you in with her smooth voice, the next song, she can have you wanting to dance with her upbeat rock sound. Whatever it is that grabs your attention, Della Mae is definitely a band to put on your list to see! Congrats to their fiddle player, Kimber Ludiker, for winning the 2022 IBMA Momentum Mentor Award.
To finish the week with the performance of Della Mae was the best ending for the best week! I feel that all my goals were met in some form or another. I met so many new people, talented people, from here in the United States and abroad. I learned so much information that I hope I can use to help Michelle Lee or you, as an artist. Michelle Lee and I’s main goal of helping artist has only grown after this week. We are looking to add more ways that could be coming in the near future!
I thank all the artists that bring the awesome music that they work hard every day to bring us, and I thank all the broadcasters that bring the music to us fans! Keep up what you all are doing – I cannot wait to see what comes from it all!
And as Michelle Lee says, “Until next time, I thank you!”