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Vol. 31 No. 11 December 2016


ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: Come Hither to Go Yonder

International Bluegrass Editor: Kelly Kessler

Vol. 31 | No. 11 | December 2016

Designer: Erin Faith Erdos


Paul Schiminger Executive Director

Kelly Kessler Director of Communications and Professional Development

Leah James Director of Member Services

Eddie Huffman Director of Convention Services



Joe Mullins, Chair Ben Surratt, Vice Chair Denise Jarvinen, Treasurer Regina Derzon, Secretary Alan Tompkins, Executive Committee member

Becky Buller-Artist/Composer/Publisher Jeremy Darrow-Artist/Composer/Publicher Jamie Deering-Merchandisers/Luthiers Mike Drudge-Agents/Managers/Publicists Silvio Ferretti- International John Goad-Print Media/Education Marian Leighton Levy-Recording/ Distribution/Marketing

William Lewis-At Large Steve Martin-At Large Stephen Mougin-At Large Mike Simpson-At Large Wayne Taylor-Artists/Composers/Publishers Bree Tucker-Myers- Event Production Bob Webster-Broadcast Media



The monthly emailed publication of the International Bluegrass Music Association

(ISSN #1095-0605) IBMA: IBMA is the trade association

4206 Gallatin Road, 37216 USA 615-256-3222 | 888-GET-IBMA Fax: 615-256-0450 Email: Website:

that connects and educates bluegrass professionals, empowers the bluegrass community, and encourages worldwide appreciation of bluegrass music of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Statement of fact and opinion are made on the responsibility of the writers alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of the officers, directors, staff or members of IBMA. Portions of International Bluegrass may be reprinted provided that explicit citation of the source is made: “Reprinted with permission from International Bluegrass, the publication of the International Bluegrass Music Association,�



Cover photo: Alane Anno, TOC Photos: Todd Gunsher

Features 4 A Letter from Joe Mullins 6 From Italy to the U.S. to the World (of Bluegrass) 8 Come Hither to Go Yonder 11 Remembering Dale Sledd

Plus 12 New releases 14 Industry news

We value our members. This newsletter is our primary conduit for sharing news across our trade organization. Our goal is to carry news each month from all constituencies of IBMA’s membership. Deadline info: news items and press releases are due at the IBMA office via snail mail or email by the 12th of the month. Submitting before the deadline is encouraged. Email all materials to Kelly here, or mail to 4206 Gallatin Pike, Nashville, TN 37216.

MEDIA GUIDELINES: • Word .doc or .docx files preferred. • Images welcome. Please send images saved as jpegs at 72 dpi, and not larger than 5 Mb. • Links to video, audio and downloads are all welcome.

International Buegrass

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Thanks, IBMA!

A Letter from Joe Mullins, chair of the IBMA Board of Directors. photos: Willa Stein

As we enjoy the holiday season and plan for a new year, I would like to offer a few thoughts regarding our association’s past, present, and future.   I am honored to serve our board of directors as chairman and grateful for the support and encouragement from our membership. When I was asked to accept a nomination for a board seat just over two years ago, I had no idea such an appointment was in the near future, but I have a passion for every constituency our association represents and will do my best to communicate effectively and lead with integrity.    When I was first asked to consider board service, I accepted because I believe wholeheartedly that the IBMA has made major contributions in creating better opportunities for each member of the bluegrass community. As we reflect on the past, our association was created out of necessity. By the 1980s, passionate and professional leaders of our industry knew we could improve each sector of the bluegrass music business if we created an association. By inviting artists, promoters, broadcasters, record labels, retailers, associations, educators, engineers, and more to work together and establish common goals, the founders of the IBMA helped create a brighter future. How thankful I am for the perseverance of those who invested and sacrificed a vast amount of time and resources to give our association a firm foundation.    That future they envisioned over thirty years ago is now! I am always very emotionally moved during the Hall of Fame inductions at our annual awards shows. Having the great fortune of enjoying lifelong family friendships with many of our genre’s finest performers, I’ve cried buckets of tears as we honored the Stanleys, the Osbornes, Lawson, McCoury, and all the others. During our 2015 awards show, I had a few thoughts about our association that I hope our readers and members will appreciate.   


International Bluegrass | December 2016

One of the most respected female entertainers in all of music took the stage representing the IBMA. Alison Krauss was certainly blessed with gifts and talents the world seldom sees. But consider this, the IBMA was founded in 1985; Krauss signed with Rounder Records in 1985. Before the IBMA, opportunities for female artists were far too rare. Our association continues to celebrate all bluegrass artists, regardless of gender, race, nationality, or age. Thanks, IBMA! Krauss has won more Grammy Awards than any other singer in any genre and is the most awarded female artist in Grammy history. Before the IBMA, there was not a Grammy Award category for bluegrass. Thanks, IBMA! As Krauss so eloquently presented a detailed history and in-depth perspective of the great Larry Sparks, I was so grateful to be in the audience and thankful to be a member of the IBMA. Sparks’ music has been part of my life since day one. He began his career in the Ohio neighborhood where I grew up and my dad played on Sparks’ first album. While thousands in the bluegrass community have long respected the music of Larry Sparks, his Hall of Fame induc-

tion put his name into Associated Press news releases worldwide for the first time. Before the IBMA, there was no official International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. Thanks, IBMA! Did you have a part in any of our recent IBMA accomplishments: the Hall of Fame celebrations, Distinguished Achievement Awards, the Grammy Educational Seminar, Leadership Bluegrass, or the thousands of dollars our trust fund distributed to bluegrass community members in need this past year? If you are not a member, why not? If you are grateful for the opportunities we all enjoy to see and hear bluegrass presented and promoted professionally, worldwide, then I encourage you to contribute. I said contribute because if you are a member but you are not participating in the support and encouragement of IBMA efforts, please consider finding a part to play. Inspire others to become members or provide a gift membership to someone or an organization. Please remember, if you don’t pitch in your part, one day you won’t have a part to pitch in!  The IBMA has accomplished so much and benefited so many, including thousands in the industry and millions

of fans. Let’s celebrate our accomplishments in the new year. I’ve been part of the bluegrass community all my life. Right now, we have more opportunity than ever with performers working all year, not just in festival season. Recordings are released each year from dozens of creative labels and hundreds of inventive, inspiring bands. Quality instruments are available affordably, and donor and scholarship programs put them in the hands of youngsters everywhere. The future is bright!   Lastly, please note I have continually written the IBMA. We are the International Bluegrass Music Association, an association of music industry enthusiasts with the common purpose of respecting the past, celebrating the present, and planning for the future. The IBMA is not just one week out of the year with a great business conference, awards show, and weekend festival. The IBMA is you, me, and hundreds of other members, supported by a dedicated staff at our office, working long hours to ensure that we keep accomplishing our goals. I’m glad to pitch in my part and I trust you will as well. Thanks, IBMA! -Joe Mullins 

NEW: GIVE THE GIFT OF IBMA MEMBERSHIP Here’s a thoughtful gift for the bluegrass lover in your life: give the gift of IBMA membership. You can purchase any level of membership online. (You may also download a form at the same link, if you prefer a mailed-in application.) And you’ll be able to download this new gift certificate to give to that lucky someone.


International Buegrass

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FROM ITALY TO THE U.S. to the World (of Bluegrass) A family committed to community / by Bruce Morrow

Everyone in the bluegrass and Raleigh communities is deeply grateful for the commitment of Chiesi USA. Chiesi’s significant contribution as an IBMA partner and principal sponsor help make World of Bluegrass a huge success. -Paul Schiminger, executive director, IBMA]

Cary, NC – How did the U.S. affiliate of a family-owned Italian pharmaceutical company become a principal sponsor of IBMA’s signature event? Think of it as a family commitment to community service. By supporting IBMA’s World of Bluegrass, Chiesi USA was keeping a decades-old company promise: to make their community a better place to live by contributing to the cultural, social, economic, and physical well-being of the people in it. It’s a family promise, according to CEO Ken McBean. “Our commitment is literally in our family DNA,” he says. “When Giacomo Chiesi founded the company 81 years ago, he was responding to a need in Parma and the surrounding villages for medicines that were not readily available. Since then our family, wherever we are in the world, endeavors to serve our community by filling the unmet need.” The focus has grown far beyond the founder’s hometown as Chiesi has expanded into dozens of countries on multiple continents. The promise is two-fold – to enhance the quality of life in localities where Chiesi operates and to serve the critical needs of patient communities within the company’s therapeutic areas. In the United States, Chiesi


International Bluegrass | December 2016

(“key-AY-zee”) is specifically focused on therapeutics areas that include respiratory, cardiovascular, neonatology, and Cystic Fibrosis. These needs are global. The Chiesi Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded “to capitalize on Chiesi’s legacy of knowledge,” has initiated the Neonatal Essential Survival Technology Project (NEST) to improve the quality of neonatal care in countries with limited resources. Numerous NEST projects are currently underway in under-resourced regions, including the construction of a new Neonatal Care Unit at the Saint Camille Hospital in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso in Sub-Saharan Africa. Closer to home, Chiesi USA supports local and national activities focused on finding cures, improving the standard of care, and enhancing the overall patient experience by working closely with patients and families, healthcare providers, patient advocacy groups, and associations such as the March of Dimes, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and American Heart Association. Chiesi employees are deeply invested at the local level, participating in events related to the company’s therapeutic focus. On a given day, you might find Chiesi team members participating in an AHA Heart Walk, supporting CF


research by competing in the New York City Marathon with the Boomer Esiason Foundation team, or partnering with hospital organizers planning a NICU Family Reunion to celebrate the progress of children whose lives began in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and reconnect them with the caregivers who provided support to them at a difficult time.

photos: Todd Gunsher, Willa Stein

Jason Beyer, Director, Strategy & Corporate Development, is a member of a Chiesi team currently building a strategy around corporate social responsibility. “We live our values intuitively, but we’ve always been great at putting our commercial strategies into action. It makes perfect sense that we can do even more by setting expectations and assigning responsibility for how we perform as a corporate citizen,” he says. Because children are often the most vulnerable members of the community, Chiesi has made them the focus of outreach efforts. In addition to employeecoordinated drives like Toys for Tots, Coats for Kids, and Backpack Buddies – a program designed to provide meals for food-insecure children over the weekends when they don’t receive a school lunch – the company is defining a keystone initiative focused on the well-being of children in the local community. A variety of options are under review. “We’re looking for the greatest need,” Beyer says, “and we’re going to fill it.” This is the kind of can-do attitude you’ll find throughout Chiesi in the United States and across the world. It’s what they call a family value, and it’s a promise they intend to keep. “It’s in our family culture to do more,” McBean says. “That’s why we’ll never be satisfied with our effort. Gratified, maybe. But never satisfied.”

International Buegrass

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COME HITHER TO GO YONDER A North Carolinian’s journey to bluegrass via Japan Pt.2

Photos by Jon Kasbe

“Well, what is tradition? Everything is. Well everything is going to be a tradition, you know?” -Toshio Watanabe

In the mountains above the city of Takarazuka in Hyōgo Prefecture, steep hillsides, swathed in thickets of dark green trees, crashed down to a valley of rice paddies. Here the air hung thick with the heavy humidity of a Japanese summer. The car speakers blared an early John Hartford album, appropriately signaling the start of a weekend of bluegrass music. This would be the final weekend of my ten-week stay in Japan, and the scene was set for immersion in a tradition all of its own. I was en route to the Takarazuka Bluegrass Festival, both the most prominent bluegrass festival in Japan and the truest celebration of the spirit of the Japanese bluegrass community. In 2012, over 60 bands would take the stage over the course of four days to celebrate the 41st annual occurrence of Japan’s first bluegrass festival. The festival, started in 1972, was initially modeled after its American counterparts by Takarazuka’s founding fathers Toshio Watanabe and Sab Inoue, who had experienced Carlton Haney’s early stateside productions. In the decades that followed, the American and Japanese festival traditions moved in different directions. Almost every Takarazuka festival goer took the stage at some point during the weekend, playing short fifteenminute sets from a small stage at the


A young fan finds the spirit at Takarazuka’s mainstage.

base of a rolling hill. The official sets started around 11 a.m. and lasted until midnight, but large jam circles would keep the banjos rolling until at least sunrise. Rather than packing in around the stage during performances as is done at American music festivals, the crowd spent the majority of their time clustered around campsites several hundred feet from the stage, gathering with old and new friends. Whether casually jamming, sharing food and beverages, or simply reminiscing on times past and musing on the present, performing was clearly not the sole focus of this festival. The emphasis, instead, was quite simply on the connections shared by the people who comprise the community itself. The Japanese bluegrass community is a niche market, small and relatively insignificant on the global scale. It is not large enough to support many professional musicians, and only barely large enough to support a few business infrastructures. Chief among them, BOM Services (a mail order record store), the bluegrass magazine Moonshiner, and the Red Clay Records

International Bluegrass | December 2016

recording label facilitate the continuation and growth of events like the Takarazuka Bluegrass Festival. Rather than seeing this as a limiting factor for the community, I see it as a huge asset, contributing in large part to the community’s identity and history. It is just small enough to be fully connected and interdependent. This interconnectedness translates to a sense of collective identity and belonging which I see as crucially important in explaining why this community has continued to thrive since its formation sixty years ago. In a time where modern community and communication structures allow many of us to feel more connected than ever before - despite interacting less - the Japanese bluegrass community continues to thrive on intense in-person interactions. There’s a true sense of duty to pass the music on to both newcomers and the younger generation of pickers. It’s an intensity that one rarely sees, even in America’s own tightly knit bluegrass community. Perhaps it’s because of the geographic distance between Japan and most other bluegrass communities in the


world. Or maybe, with the relatively small number of Japanese bluegrass lovers, it’s readily obvious if the community begins fluctuating in size. Regardless, the Takarazuka festival is a weekend bluegrass binge - and if you show up with an inkling to teach some tunes or learn a few new ones, you better buckle up for the ride. I attended the festival in 2012 on my own and again in 2013 alongside Mipso. Both times I slept very little, played a lot, and laughed constantly. The festival takes place on a hillside campground about two hours from downtown Osaka, with a small stage in the center of the grounds acting as command center for the sprawling tent sites fanning in every direction. Many early bluegrass fans have camped in the same spots for over thirty years. Where once this first generation slept alongside their various bandmates and buddies under tarps, now they all have children and grandchildren in town and elaborate areas constructed for cooking and reveling together. And the food and beverage scene is out-of-control amazing! It’s not every day your fiddle tunes are accompanied by squid jerky, sake, and okonomiyaki. Bluegrass clubs from the major universities seemingly fail to sleep. They spend the entirety of the weekend alternating shifts between performing, attending clinics, and tending to the food stands where they sell boatloads of ramen and Japanese curry to fund their yearly activities. Though there are certainly highlight performances - sets from pioneers like Bluegrass 45 or younger hotshots The Bluegrass Police - most energy is spent catching up with old friends over a cold beer and a couple of tunes, or finding someone new to pick with far from the stage lights. More than half a century after the initial encounter between Japanese

Shin Akimoto and Sab Inoue perform a duo set.

Show Hashioka finds a quiet spot to brush up on lyrics.

and American bluegrass cultures, they have melded together – in a dynamic exchange where each culture is capable of both sending and receiving - to create something that is unique as its own cultural phenomenon. Language barriers be damned, the music has united us in an amazing way! And despite all of our nuanced differences, one thing remains the same: at 7 a.m., after a long night picking, the sound of a trio of banjos playing fiddle tunes is truly one of the most disturbing things on the planet. About the Author Jacob Sharp is a founding member of the Chapel Hill, NC based stringband Mipso and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in Human Geography and International Studies. He currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. This is the second installment of a two-part series on the bluegrass community in Japan featured in IB. Find the first installment “Long Journey Home”, in November 2016’s IB.

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Japanese bluegrass influence on my own music “From my friends in Japan, I saw the ability of music to form a community that offers profound meaning to its members.” “So now, bluegrass is my music. So that means I don’t feel I’m, uh, how do you say –bluegrass is my soul music. It’s not, I’m not, only fascinated by bluegrass as an American music but it’s a part of my DNA. And I’ve spent enough years of my life, physically and emotionally, with bluegrass.” -Hiro Arita, Japanese banjo player

Mipso in the streets of downtown Osaka.

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My personal journey with Japanese bluegrass music started around the same time that my band Mipso hit the road full time and began recording and performing as a career. The lessons I learned, both musically and beyond, have informed how and why I approach the music I make now. From my friends in Japan, I saw the ability of music to form a community that offers profound meaning to its members. I also saw the power of the stories, emotions, and moments we share when playing for one another or together, and the ability music gives us to communicate at a deep level. I play around 175 concerts a year across the country, interacting with communities far from my home and sharing with them the experiences and emotions most valuable in my own life. It’s my hope that those who hear my music leave feeling the same way that I left Japan - with a confidence that we all have a lot more in common than we could have imagined. -JS

Dale Sledd Remembered Dale Sledd was a great asset to the success of The Osborne Brothers sound with the 3rd vocal part of the harmony singing and his guitar playing alongside the Brothers for several glorious years. His superb guitar style fit letter perfect with the Osborne sound. He was the featured vocalist on the classic “Will You Visit Me On Sunday” that stands out in my mind. I will always remember him as a big part of the Osborne sound. Thanks, Bobby Osborne When Benny Birchfield left the band in 1964, the singer/guitarist slot was filled by Missouri native Dale Sledd, who remained with them into the 1970s. The stability of the trio enabled an almost psychic unity among the singers, and listening to the recordings they made, one can believe they could do anything they wanted. Whether it was elaborate part-switching, unusual and harmonically sophisticated chords, traditional trios in the mold of Bill Monroe’s classic lineup, or soulful, open-throated wails, their vocals rang out with an almost supernatural intensity. – from Jon Weisberger’s No Depression article, “Osborne Brothers - A high lead, a long run”, February 29, 2000

Video: "The Osborne Brothers with Dale Sledd"


CD Reviews by Megan Clarke and Kelly Kessler

Irene Kelley These Hills (Mountain Fever Records)

The Gospel Plowboys Welcome Home (Mountain Fever Records)

Singer/songwriter Irene Kelley’s quietly stellar Mountain Fever Records debut sets a high bar. Her trademark writing is matched with her expressive vocals and a dream lineup of accompanists. Kelley’s found success writing songs for Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, Loretta Lynn, the Osborne Brothers, and more. Writes music historian Robert K. Oermann of this album, “This is music to cleanse the soul. This is music to lift you up. This is music to touch your heart. This is the music of Irene Kelley.”

The Gospel Plowboys’ newest release hits home on the warmth of the vocals. The band ranges in style from traditional gospel to contemporary bluegrass, with an uplifting thread throughout. The title track, written by Indiana evangelist Billy Fields, captures the ministry of the Gospel Plowboys. Listen for “Everybody Will Be Happy”, an upbeat and toe-tapping song of praise that shows off the band’s intertwining and soaring a cappella harmonies.

The musicians featured on the album are Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Adam Steffey (mandolin), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Scott Vestal (banjo), Mark Fain (bass). Harmony vocals contributed by Claire Lynch, Ronnie Bowman, Sharon White Skaggs, Cheryl White, Dale Ann Bradley, and Steve Gulley, as well as Irene’s daughters, Justyna and Sara Jean. ( Video: Before You Call Me Home

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The Gospel Plowboys are Andrew Brown (bass, vocals), David Brown (guitar, vocals), David Murph (mandolin, vocals), Jon Goodson (banjo), Kris Miller (guitar, vocals), Michael Jenkins (guitars, vocals), Ron Stewart (fiddle). ( Video: Everybody Will Be Happy

WE VALUE OUR MEMBERS. We invite publicists, artists, and managers to submit new releases by our members for review in IB. Please send a CD and one-sheet to Kelly Kessler, IBMA, 4206 Gallatin Road, Nashville, TN 37216. Or submit a digital album and one-sheet to

The Larry Stephenson Band Weep Little Willow (Whysper Dream Music)

Blue Highway Original Traditional (Rounder)

The Larry Stephenson Band is fine form these days, with Kenny Ingram’s feel on the banjo melding perfectly with Stephenson’s tenor. On Weep Little Willow, they survey old chestnuts from Monroe, Delmore and Wiseman in a satisfying way. They also serve up an exciting blend of new keepers from Ulisse, Salley, and more. The vocals are polished, the drive is solid. And as Larry Stephenson fans have come to know, the only disappointment at the end of a first listen is that there aren’t twelve more tracks to discover.

The Blue Highway sound is unmistakable, and it recently won them the nod of “Best Bluegrass Band of All Time” by Bluegrass Today readers. Thanks to the exceptionally long tenure of their lineup, this band brings a maturity and a near-psychic blend most bands could only dream of. Now that Rob Ickes has stepped out and 20 year-old Gaven Largent steps in, that blend crackles with the spark of new ideas. (Give a listen to Lane’s “Long Row to Hoe” to hear it. Better yet, listen to the whole thing.) The quadruple threat is as strong ever– songwriting, harmonies, arrangements, playing. This set of mostly new, mostly traditional songs of grit and loss are capped with a quiet wonder, “Top of the Ridge”. More a meditation than a song, it is impossible to listen to without having your mood shifted.

Larry Stephenson (mandolin), Kenny Ingram (banjo), Kevin Richardson (guitar) and Matt Wright (bass). ( Video: LSB Live at Randy’s Picking Parlor

Blue Highway members are: Jacob Burleson (banjo, mandolin), Gaven Largent (resophonic guitar), Shawn Lane (fiddle, mandolin, guitar), Tim Stafford (guitar), Wayne Taylor (bass) ( Video: If Lonesome Don’t Kill Me International Buegrass

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INDUSTRY NEWS ALL CONSTITUENTS: WOB Directory Available for Download photo by Willa Stein

Were you at World of Bluegrass 2016? Do you need contact info for exhibitors, or for the booking agents for official showcase artists? Download a directory here that includes email addresses and websites. If you’re not familiar with Excel, please look for the tabs at the bottom left to switch between the exhibitors and agents lists.

Send any industry news items

for publication in IB to Kelly Kessler at Deadline info: news items and press releases that reach me by the 12th of the month have a very good chance of running in the next month’s newsletter. Submitting before the deadline is encouraged.

Media guidelines:

• Word .doc or .docx files preferred. • Images welcome. Please send images saved as jpegs at 72 dpi, and not larger than 5 Mb. • Links to video, audio and downloads are all welcome.

14 International Bluegrass | December 2016

December 2016

CONSTITUENCY: Luthiers and Merchandisers IBMA Members Straight Up Strings to Benefit Bluegrass Trust Fund

ATASCADERO, CA. November 4, 2016 -- Siminoff Banjo and Mandolin Parts, developers of Straight Up Strings, is offering their signature banjo and mandolin t-shirts for pre-sale until December 5, 2016. Customers have their choice of shirt colors, which will ship on December 16, 2016 in time for holiday gift-giving. The front-end illustration and rear illustration of the instrument are printed on the front and back of the soft tri-blend shirts. At checkout, customers have an opportunity for 50% of the profit from their shirt to go to IBMA’s Bluegrass Trust Fund or California Bluegrass Association’s Youth Fund. The shirts are $20 plus shipping. This holiday donation pre-order goes along with the company’s recently announced “give-back” program, in which 5% of a Straight Up Strings sale goes to the brand endorser’s chosen non-profit when the endorser’s name is mentioned at checkout. For more information, please contact Kali Nowakowski ( or search “pre-sale” at













International Buegrass

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please remember the

BLUEGRASS TRUST FUND for your end-of-year giving

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A Letter From Joe Mullins, Chiesi and World of Bluegrass, A North Carolinian's journey to bluegrass through Japan, pt. 2 and more