The World of Bluegrass convention in Louisville was, as always, an exciting and draining week. It’s a great experience to be part of this amazing community of people for a week, meeting, picking, listening, learning with people from all over the country, and indeed the whole world. Some highlights:

Picking with the Lilly Brothers

Actually it’s the Lilly Family Band, as the brothers (Everett and Bea) are supported ably by Everett’s three talented sons (Everett Alan, Mark, and David), with both singing and playing, not to mention wacky comedy. I was honored to be asked to play with them at the Fan Fest, and had a great time being part of their high-energy music tapped right into the roots of bluegrass. On fiddle was the legendary Joe Meadows, whom I first heard on 50’s Stanley Bros. records. What a group!

Everett is in his late 70’s and Bea is about 80. Everett, who was with Flatt & Scruggs in the early 50’s and played an important part in their sound, is still an excellent and distinctive singer and mandolin player. He also handles the m.c. work and steers the ship, so to speak. His son Everett Alan had let me know earlier that the typical scenario is for everyone to get together and practice some tunes, then get up on stage and have Everett call off a different bunch of tunes. That’s exactly what happened, so I just went for it and learned some songs on stage. What the shows may have lacked in precision, they seemed to make up in spirit. One thing that kept coming through for me was how that energy and devotion to the old sounds of honest country music creates a world of sound and feeling that is a true thrill to be part of.

In the weeks before the Fan Fest, listening to my old Lilly Bros. records, I got to hear a lot of great banjo work by Don Stover. His driving and sparkling playing fit the music so well, it pointed me right at what I knew I needed to do. Without copying Don’s licks, I tried to carry forth the musical attitude that made the Lillys sound so special. During the shows (2 sets at the Fan Fest, plus an internet Solid Gold Bluegrass broadcast), Everett kept nodding at me for solos, and I’d jump in there. Afterwards he told me I fit right into their style, which made me feel really good. As we parted late that Saturday night, we talked about how we hoped to do it again.

I’m not usually into acquiring new T-shirts, but I came home from IBMA with two nice new ones– one featuring a vintage color photo of the Lilly Brothers, and from Bill Evans that just says “Got banjo?”

IBMA doings

At the IBMA Board meetings early in the week, I got elected for one more one-year term as President. That makes a total of 15 (!) and this will be my last. The Board passed bylaws changes that will take effect next year, including term limits of three years for President. Fifteen is a bit over the limit, so it will be time to move on. A lot has been accomplished by the organization since we started in 1985, and I’m very proud to have been a part of it. With a membership of 2500 from every state and 30 countries, a great track record promoting economic health and expanding the audience for bluegrass, our fabulous convention featuring the internationally broadcast awards show, and many other accomplishments, IBMA has done a great deal. It takes a lot for such a diverse community to pull together, but we’re doing it.

Speaking of the Awards Show, it was one of our best ever, hosted by the inimitable Marty Stuart and featuring great performances by Dolly Parton, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and lots of other top performers in bluegrass. My buddies Nickel Creek took Emerging Band of the Year honors, well-deserved. Inductees into the Hall of Honor were Lance LeRoy and Doc Watson. Since Doc was unable to make it, he asked me to accept the award for him, and I will present it to him in person next April at Merlefest.

Got to jam in the hallway with banjo heroes Jens Kruger and Bill Keith. Those guys can pick! It’s amazing how much good music gets played in that hotel really really late at night.

Unlike a lot of the musicians on hand, I forced myself to get up in the morning and attended some very informative panels. There’s always something to learn, and you can always sleep after you get home. I was especially glad to attend sessions regarding internet music distribution and web site management, hosted by Archie Warnock and John Lawless, respectively. Great job, guys. I hope some of what I learned will make a difference on this web site.

I could go on and on about IBMA, but the best thing to say is try to get to the World ofBluegrass if you can. Next year it will be in Louisville again, the first week of October.