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Through the Lens

Focusing on the finest roots music photography

Amos lives in West Virginia, where he works with Mountain Stage and takes stunning photographs of live music performances.

Through the Lens

Focusing on the finest roots music photography

Amos lives in West Virginia, where he works with Mountain Stage and takes stunning photographs of live music performances.

The Wide, Wide World of Bluegrass: IBMA 2017

Really nice overview with wonderful pictures by Todd Gunsher. I enjoyed working beside you throughout portions of the week. Meanwhile, here's a video of Rhiannon Giddens' wonderful keynote address.

 

Many thanks for this, Ted.

 

It was nice to meet you too, Ted. Until next year...

I think both Rhiannon Giddens and Sierra Hull are great, and have no issues with her keynote address. Both these performers (and Molly Tuttle) are among the most talented I have ever been privileged to see live. I love music, and don't get hung up on performers based on their gender, or skin color. I must say this whole diversity issue around music which we tend to arbitrarily categorize as folk, roots, country, blues, country rock, "Americana" Bluegrass, New Grass , Gospel Grass or whatever seems a bit contrived. It feels like more of an  attempt to stir up anger, divisiveness, and political controversy where little or none exist. Quite honestly,I am getting tired of it, whether it is sports or music. It seems so transparently politically motivated, and driven more by publications like this one than by fans or musicians. If you can report specific cases where artists in these musical fields are being discriminated against by audiences or record companies, by all means do so. If not, keep it more about the music, and less about an agenda.

It seems strange to me that on a day when additional revelations about the behavior of Harvey Weinstein in the film industry have moved from widespread rumor to undeniable fact, Mr. Woodward would choose this moment to make his post. Ms. Giddens reasoned discussion of Ralph Peer's separation of his recordings into "race" records and "hillbilly" records to market to a specific group and class of potential markets reeks of the same kind of use of power. The abuse of power within the recording industry, the film industry, and business are widely enough known to certainly be more than an "attempt to stir up anger, divisiveness, and political controversy." To deny abuse of power by those in a position to excercise it for satisfaction of their own appetites requires a level of blindness no longer to be tolerated. The well-documented stories about Weinstein provide a cautionary tale for all of us. Issues of race, gender, and class abuses of power will continue as long as we turn a blind eye to them.

Ted - I am not familiar enough with everything Ralph Peer may or may not have done or what was in his heart. To say this country has not had major issues with race and gender is, of course, foolish.   It is certainly not my intent to imply that we should turn a blind eye towards abuse of power. That said, didn't Mr. Poole promote music 70 years ago? And at east based on what you are saying, was the separation of his records due to racism or target marketing? As far as Harvey Weinstein is concerned, I have little respect for Hollywood. The favorite word of the left this past year is misogynist, but most have curiously remained silent, and the word is most in Tinseltown knew what was going on, but chose to remain silent or cover it up. You may speculate as to why, but he was a big Democrat donor. But, that is actually off point. Are you saying that artists are being discriminated against today? If you have specific allegations or examples, by all means, I will be the first to applaud your story. And yes, there sure is great music at IBMA and in Americana these days so continue to promote it!

FWIW - the Shout and Shine event was put on by the IBMA, and the musicians themselves, so they apparently think this is enough of an issue to try and be more inclusive. Are people being actively discriminated against? Who knows as that is very difficult to prove. Most likely not, most of the time. But all the same, I sat in on a discussion at IBMA where some people shared anecdotes about not feeling welcome in certian situations, which means that this is still something that we have to work on (as a society in general). As for what was going on 70 years ago...yes it was definitley racism, I think there's no question that that was the basis of the "target marketing." It was the same in the world of early rock & roll, and music in general back then, that's why there were "race records." 

 

That is good to know in terms of first hand evidence. Still, marketing records by race 70 years ago by race would not strictly be racism if the intent was to give the audience what they thought they wanted to hear

I wholeheartedly agree Ted...great post...do we really have to review the treatment that nearly all great blues and rock and roll artists experienced at the hands of labels like Chess, Specialty, etc.?  Did Little Richard, Otis Blackwell, Arthur Crudup, Bo Diddley get exploited by publishing and record companies?  

If anything, the entertainment industry and music business set the standard for exploitation of the artist and creative talent...then and now...Spotify and their ilk have reduced the artist to a fraction of a cent for their efforts...Weinstein still maintains a casting couch (or at least did till very recently) ...the means to the end might modify itself from time to time, but all of the issues are present and accounted for, and the buisness model, then and now, amounts to exploiting those who lack the deep pockets, awareness, and knowledge to protect themselves...to ignore that because it makes one uncomfortable is irresponsible...if we don't care about those who make beauty in the world, then we care about nothing..

I'd much rather watch a football game without discussing the President or a flag protest...and I'd much rather just listen to the great music that enriches my life every day...I can see a film and enjoy it for what it is...but I also know that women (and children) have been and are exploited sexually and in other ways by the various Weinsteins of the world...it is an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth...to say "I don't want to hear about it" and accuse the victim or the truth teller of stirring up anger, divisiveness, political controversy, etc., is what is wrong with the conversation to begin with...

 

 

 

I wouldn't argue that the current business model for music doesn't rip off the artist. But, my comments refrefer to the Buffalo Springfield catch phrase about something is happening here and what it is "is" exactly clear. He is writing about the IBMA not Chess Records or Henry Weinstein. He refers to diversity returning and glass ceilings being broken. In the 15 years I've lived in Tennessee, I may be naive, but have not found artists not played or excluded or accepted  because of race or gender. Perhaps he is closer on point when he talks about "defining" Bluegrass genre. It has been a pretty tightly defined based on the Monroe model of instruments and high lonesome harmony. I honestly never felt there was exclusion of any players based on anything other than talent. But, the truth is, it truly is a small subset and in that sense, fairly limiting. So if the point is, diversity of style, instruments or sound that is exciting.

John...this magazine used to be just a blog...there was extensive converstaion here about certain program directors and movers and shakers in Nashville basically directing radio stations to play mostly male artists and just sprinkle in females here and there, like "tomatoes" in a salad...it got to be quite a discussion...but there is still percieved to be quite a gap when it comes to fair treatment of women artists in Nashville...this from an article about Sunny Sweeney in 2015 where she had some t-shirts printed up that said "Breaking up the Sausage Party"...

Well, when Keith Hill, a consultant for country radio, said that down there; the floodgates opened. And quickly:

If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out,” Keith Hill tells the industry publication. “The reason is mainstream country radio generates more quarter hours from female listeners at the rate of 70 to 75 percent, and women like male artists. I’m basing that not only on music tests from over the years, but more than 300 client radio stations. The expectation is we’re principally a male format with a smaller female component. I’ve got about 40 music databases in front of me and the percentage of females in the one with the most is 19 percent. Trust me, I play great female records and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryanand Blake SheltonKeith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.

Having said that, I'm not trying to bust anyone's chops, and you seem like a very reasonable and reasoned guy...but that article was the crux of a great debate out here, and the issues are still there...you aren't naive...as you noted, exactly what the situation is isn't totally clear, but when guy of his influence says I'm only going to play a certain number of  "tomatoes" no matter if they have better material or not, that's an issue...the inference is that's how everyone in his position feels and that access isn't equal, and that doesn't even get into the race question...and you get down to subsets of that argument in Bluegrass...if you read all of Rhiannon's speech, she nails the dymnamics of that side of the argument, I believe...nuff said...

I am lucky ... I live in Knoxville and we have a station WDVX that absolutely plays all great music ... women, men, black, white.

Many thanks for the lively, engaging discussion. For the purpose of clarification, please note there are two portions to this article: Todd's reporting and my introduction.

When I speak of diverity returning I remember attending many bluegrass and traditional festivals when I was young. There were African-American players, but they were always older.  Then, later there were none, just a sea of white faces. In the recent past that has changed. So the diversity that I once saw is now returning.

While we may talk about not basing on whether we as individuals attend a performance based on skin color, that is kind of a moot point if bookers and venue owners are not selecting people of color to perform to a paying public. And if a person cannot make a living out of something, they turn elsewhere. 

To acknowledge and report that the IMBA is actively involved in re-establishing diversiting and being inclusive is not being political or divisive. Rather, it is divisive to call something that welcomes everyone to the table "divisive."

When I refer to glass ceilings being cracked and broken I am referring to Molly Tuttle being nominated and winning guitar player of the year -- both firsts. Yes, there may be many women players, but when we speak of ceilings being broken it is when their accomplishments have been rewarded. Like when Katherine Bigelow won an Oscar for directing. Or, in business, when a woman becomes CEO.

We faced similar "issues" and discussions when hippies embraced traditional and bluegrass and began infiltrating the ranks of the "old guard" in the early 1970s. The music not only survived, and became richer and greater because of it, its players standard of living rose along with it. Just ask Bill Monroe.

Traditional and bluegrass music, more so than other genres, was borne out of and reflects the lives and experiences of the folks who make it. It is a living, breathing, evolving thing. Or else, it becomes a museum piece, a mere artifact of the past. . 

Or, as Del McCoury so aptly put it: And the train keeps rolling, and the world keeps turning, all aboard, all aboard.

 

thanks! All fair points, Amos. I did not grow up in the south, but did go to Sunset Park in Avon Grove, Pa. as a teenager. I did not recall any performers or attendees there other than white, though it was over half a century ago. I did later learn Garcia and Grisman met up there when I was attending. I must say, I agree if promoters or venue owners are not booking acts based on race or gender, it is unacceptable. I am just unaware of it. Possibly it may also stem in part because of this genre or category game we play. "Bluegrass" came to mean a fairly specific style, a subset of the larger folk or "Americana" genre. While it has a very loyal audience, it is small, and getting harder for all Bluegrass musicians to make a buck. This is why we see great artists like Rhiannon, Sierra Hull, Rob Ickes, Bela Fleck, and Alison Krauss expand the genre by fusing with other forms. And, I understand that Molly Tuttle is the first woman to win guitar player of the year. Well deserved! I am just not sure whether there has been a female Bluegrass flat picker snubbed in the last, say 15 years because of her gender. At the end of the day, I agree it is just great to see new acts, new directions, and diversity of styles and musicians. I only ask you be careful to not give an impression (even if you did not intend to) that the IBMA or promoters or venues are purposely excluding musicians based on anything other than music without citing examples. If there are, absolutely call them out on it.

 

The best reference for the role of women in bluegrass is Murphy Henry's book, based on her Pretty Good for a Girlwhich began with her Master's thesis based on the life of Salley Ann Forrester. The link is to my review of the book, but better still, read it yourself. In it she describes in detail the difficulty breaking through experienced by women seeking to express themselves in bluegrass. Even when we began attending bluegrass festivals, it was rare to see more than one woman on the stage during a three of four day festival. In Rhiannon Giddens wonderful keynote address at this year's IBMA, she asserts the strong inter-related influences of black and white artists on each other during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as string bands developed. You can read here keynote here or view it here. It's interesting that Bill Monroe fully acknowledged that Arnold Schultz taught him to play guitar, while also making significant contributions to developing the finger picking guitar style attributed to Merle Travis. The firing of black musician DeFord Bailey at the Grand Ole Opry in 1941 because of a supposed licensing conflict, stands as a continuing blot on the history of that institution and the development of country music. 

During the past fifteen years, as you ask, the struggle of Rebecca Frazier, a very fine flat-picker, to receive recognition for her instrumental prowess is well known. Currently, she is having greater success, but it's been a long struggle. The story is long and difficult to pin down as precisely as John Woodward asks, but to anyone who attends bluegrass festivals regularly, the predominence of males is only very recently receding. Bands like Della Mae and Sister Sadie are making inroads. Even more important is the emergence of bands, like Mile Twelve, composed of two women and three men, which features Catherine (BB) Bowness from New Zeeland on banjo. Allison Brown on banjo is and has been a standout on bluegrass banjo for a generation, but women on that wonderful instrument have been few and far between. It's a long and complex story about the role of race and gender in bluegrass and country music. Most recently, the wonderful account edited by Holly Gleason called Woman Walk the Line emphasizes the depth of the issue. Meanwhile, even with the induction of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, the story of the acceptance of women into bluegrass and country music is, at best, a deeply mixed story. 

 

Thanks, Ted. I appreciate the references sources and will check them out. The Sally Ann Forrester book sounds interesting. It may be more difficult to find info. on Rebecca Frazier, but the net can be a good tool.

I saw Ms. Frazier play as part of a flatpicking trio -- with Alllison Brown and Molly Tuttle -- during AmericanaFest. Read more here: http://nodepression.com/article/its-too-late-stop-now-my-five-takeaways-...

Chatted with her as well. She has at lest one album out on Compass, and can be easily found.