Guest Author - Chris Curtis
In a recent interview with Mary Doub, founding member of IBMA and producer of two major festivals featuring Roots Music, we discussed some exciting shifts in the industry. The increasing presence of woman playing bluegrass, the renaissance of Roots music in the 20 something population, the influence of college programs such as Berklee School of Music and the proliferation of music content on the internet all have a role in the growth of this genre of music.
Mary discussed her view of the woman's role in Bluegrass and Roots music which traditionally had been male dominated. When asked about the challenges she faced as a woman, she stated that they truly were the same as for any person and she felt that being a woman has actually given her more opportunities. "Woman tend to look at things in a little bit different fashion, with a little more detail, and with a little more focus on the personalities of people."
She sees the role of woman in this genre of music as one of significant opportunity. She said: "I think it's a great time for woman in music because of people like Alison Brown, Alison Krauss, Dale Ann Bradley, Laurie Lewis and I love all the girls in Della Mae and Uncle Earl KC and Abby Washburn. I think it's wonderful. It's something that we are focusing on that and trying to get fresh new acts. In these times, there are many great woman bands that fit our focus."
On the stages of IBMA and Grey Fox there is a subtle shift toward very talented woman and young bands. Mary's discussed the need to maintain a balance between fresh new acts and the continued support of the traditional acts. "Grey Fox has had Sarah Jaroz the last couple of years. We had Sierra Hull last year with her band and this year she played as part of the Berklee Showcase. I was so thrilled with Rocking Acoustic Circus when I heard them at IBMA, I really wanted them for Grey Fox the Hill Benders, The Fairwell Drifters last year and Della Mae this year. We're really excited about that and we're always looking for the new talent. But, I don't think we've ever had a Grey Fox without Del McCrory band. They are a solid part of it. Tim O'Brien is always part of it. He is so versatile and amazingly talented that each year he does something a little different. Maybe next year he'll do the O'Brien Family Band with Molly and her daughter and maybe Joel. That would be so good."
One program that has been initiated in the past few years is a partnership with Berklee with their new program focused on Bluegrass and Root music that is attracting a lot of talented young musicians. The success of this partnerships is seen in the swelling numbers of young adults at the festival. Mary's view on this is "We'll probably continue to give Berklee a place in the program. It has brought in a large presence of the 20 something kids, who camp and play music all night. They don't sleep. They create excitement and energy. That's what youth does and that's what you want you want to encourage it, you want that energy. It's so exciting Boston and Berklee seems to be the draw for these really talented kids."
Mary believes the internet is one of the driving forces behind the resurgence and interest is Roots based music. "Although commercial radio tends to ignore this kind of music, with the internet and sites like Pandora, you can go and listen to Tim O'Brien or Crooked Still all this other stuff comes to you and you hear it. People start to hear it then people begin to look for it and find it at the festivals and coffee houses. I think it's begun to break the strangle hold on music because of radio airplay. Especially for this kind of music. It's so exciting to me although it can be scary for a musician, you can go to YouTube and see a live performance of a band. It's a lack of control for the musician. But you see real stuff. You don't have to have someone else create buzz it sort of creates itself. I think it's one of the most exciting things happening in music today but then again, I'm not a musician." She went on to say that the exposure from sites like Pandora and YouTube may spark a promoter's interest but "I dont think any promoter would ever make a decision on a band solely on the basis of the youtube video. You would typically try to get a CD or see the band live. Rarely would we book a band that we'd not seen live."
IBMA is one venue where promoters get to experience new talents. Mary says "it's pretty exciting. With the 4 of us there, we can cover most of it and when one of us sees something that we like, then the rest of us can go look. There's a lot of young people playing this music now." Indeed there are and you can find them at events like IBMA, festivals such as Rhythm and Roots and Grey Fox, small performing art theaters, coffee houses and house concerts. There is richness to this genre of music, steeped in deep traditions but with the energy of a new generation creative fusions that are exciting and revitalizing.
Thank you, Mary Doub, for taking the time to give us your perspective. This truly is an exciting time and your organizations are nurturing its heart and soul.