I’ve finally had a quiet Sunday to contemplate my Leadership Bluegrass experience. It’s been a crazy week in our household, with the tornado path in our neighborhood, the first Tennessee coronavirus confirmation, Cora’s school closure + subsequent talent show performance last night.
Neil Young sang, “Tell me why is it hard to make arrangements with yourself, when you’re old enough to repay but young enough to sell.” When I was young, I didn’t get it. Now this very sentiment defines my daily struggle. I’m working hard to have a creative career. I’m a hands-on single mom, probably too hands-on (do I need to practice fiddle with the kids every night? No. But it’s the highlight of my day…). And as the kids have become more independent, my desire to give back to music and community has increased. How do I manage the trifecta of self + parent + service? Like Neil said, how can I make this arrangement with myself?
Last October, I applied to an intensive 3-day program called Leadership Bluegrass through International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) to find out. I asked for recommendation letters from Jack Waddey, Alison Brown, and Ted Shupe, all busy community leaders who stopped what they were doing to help a girl out. And, as Meredith Watson can attest, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get accepted.
I was accepted in December. So what next? I received emails explaining how I could mentally prepare for the experience. I began to realize there were many people working incredibly hard behind the scenes to plan for my leadership learning experience.
Upon arrival at the BMI boardroom on Monday, March 2, our 26-person class was greeted by volunteers from all over the country; they’d traveled to Nashville to run this program. I was floored by the amount of effort and care undertaken by Kathy Hanson, Nate Lee, Annie Savage, Nolan Lawrence, Kris Truelsen, Jordan Laney, Dustin Boyd, Ron Raxter, and Janet Brightly, as well as Paul Schiminger and Casey Campbell from IBMA. They had planned seminars, tours, panels, concerts, receptions and meals with the finest possible attention to detail. The authenticity of their belief in the program struck me on the first morning and resonated throughout my experience there.
The 25 class members I met had impressive resumes, yet each person was clearly open to learning. I realized that everyone had a different reason for being there, but everyone shared the goal of learning as much as they could.
Ned Luberecki pointed out that Leadership Bluegrass alums often have a difficult time summarizing the program, and now I understand why. This year, the program covered topics as varied as leadership, social media, music publishing and licensing, generational differences, entrepreneurial business tools, education, live music presentation, legalities for non-profits, and more. Panels were led and attended by top business leaders, executives and musicians. I was humbled by their achievements and their advice.
My leadership personality takeaway? I’m an “Orange,” according to our quickie litmus test. Only three other classmates joined me as Oranges. We are high-energy, enthusiastic, creative, skillful, flexible, and validated by visible results. Our little team created an “Art First Train,” signifying our Wild West approach to creativity and results. I really clicked with these folks, and now I know why.
My Orange traits came to light in the days following the program. I was pretty reserved when it came to thinking of topic ideas during the heat of the class. But after the program ended, in my own creative space, ideas began to flow. I had to start writing them down.
Each classmate, impressive in his/her own right, added an individual stamp to the week. Here’s a rundown, from my perspective:
-Worth Dixon: D’Addario Strings (NY). I’ve been a D’Addario artist since 2006, so I already liked Worth before I met him; I admire D’Addario as a company. Worth is unique and impressive with his background as an engineer. He approached me with the new XT Strings line and asked me to try them out…and he was able to explain the science behind the technology of the strings. I wish I understood! D’Addario is lucky to have him on their team.
-Brian Paul Swenk: FloydFest, Banjo Player (VA) I bonded with Brian over our shared “Orange” personality traits, and in another life he might become my therapist. With a warm and relaxed presence, Brian radiates the values of a life given to music on many levels. Or maybe I just liked him because he’s from the best state (Virginia).
-Suzy Thompson: Berkeley Old Time Convention, Old Time Artist (CA). I jammed with Suzy on Monday night, and I appreciated her fire on the fiddle. She personifies a life serving music well, and I admired her from the moment I met her.
-Rick Faris: Guitarist, Special Consensus (TN). A fellow “Orange,” I’ve long admired his guitar skills. We both recall a 2004 festival in Missouri when I followed him around and learned his guitar licks. He was vocal and added much insight to discussions.
-Jake Blount: Artist-banjo, fiddle (Washington, DC). Jake said some interesting things in class and then I got to hear him sing and play Monday night at the jam. Wow. He’s a timeless talent. I’m glad we became friends. During the Silent Auction, I had to let him have my desired item (a black hoodie) when he didn’t have enough fake money. I could tell he wanted it more than my son could want it! Good move on my part—I think it’s why we’re still friends.
-Marianne Kovatch: Old Time musician, Blue Ridge Music Center (VA). We jammed together on Monday night, and she exemplified Old Time etiquette, welcoming me into the fold. She was vocal and involved in discussions, and I admired the multi-faceted musical life she has created, which serves her community and others.
-Jen Danielson: Pandora (TN). I met her in the elevator on the first morning. She’s a badass overseeing Americana, bluegrass and country at Pandora after a decade at CMT. She was warm, friendly and involved in discussions.
-Greg Garrison: Bass player of ‘slam-grass’ kings Leftover Salmon, composer, music educator extraordinaire (CO). We’ve known each other from the Colorado music scene since my Boulder Hit & Run days in 2003. His perspective as a Rockies jam-grasser was a priceless addition to our group. He is a talented solo artist in his own right (check out his new album ‘Sycamore’ on Spotify) and knows what it’s like to be a single parent musician.
-Ned Luberecki: Sirius Radio Host, Banjo Player & Teacher (TN). I met Ned when we were both playing a festival near Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota, in 2004. I’ve always been a fan of his banjo playing and wacky personality, and I’m grateful of his generosity as a friend, as well. He serves music and community in many ways.
-Fred Knittel: Smithsonian Folkways marketing specialist + folk radio host. (Washington, DC). I sat next to him the first day; he was warm, intelligent, friendly, and involved in discussions.
-Dave Howard: Louisville Folk School Executive Director. I knew him from his days as a touring mandolinist with 23 String Band. I’m impressed with his “adulting” as a bluegrasser, and meeting people like Dave is one of the main reasons I wanted to attend this conference. He leads by example.
-Evie Ladin: Old Time Artist (CA). I jammed with Evie on Monday night, and we bonded as members of the “Orange” club. She always had a good insight in group discussions and was the leader of the “Art First Train” in our exhibit of wild and wacky Orange behavior.
-Thomas Cassell: Wonderful mandolinist/singer from the best state (Virginia). I presented his graduation plaque at the graduation ceremony and look forward to jamming with him in the future.
-Ethan Charles: IBMA, (TN). I think it’s pretty cool that Ethan came to IBMA as an ‘outsider’ (non-bluegrasser), and now he’s on the ‘inside’ (works full time for IBMA). He brought an outsider perspective to our discussions, and I think we need that!
-David Brower: Piedmont Council of Traditional Music (NC). David and I sat together on the first day, and I was pleased to get to know him a little better throughout the three days. I respected his insights and feedback during discussions.
-Michelle Lee: WOBL Radio Host (OH). I’ve known Michelle for years as she’s generously given herself to presenting bluegrass music on-air. I’ve always admired her passion for this music, and I now admire her even more for her persistence and achievements (IBMA 2019 Broadcaster of the Year Award!)
-Ed Leonard: Billy Blue Records President, Attorney (TN). Despite his impressive and intimidating resume, Ed is a human like the rest of us. I’m amazed that he was able to attend—he’s the father of nine children!
-Didier Philippe: La Roche Bluegrass Festival (France). It was a pleasure to spend time with Didier during meals and tours. We worked on a team during the business class, and I was impressed to learn about his many accomplishments as the coordinator of the most important bluegrass event in Europe.
-Natalya Zoe Weinstein: Artist, Zoe & Cloyd (NC). Natalya is a wonderful fiddler and mother of a 5 year old. It’s amazing what she’s able to pull off as a touring artist, educator, and mom, and I love meeting inspiring musicians of her caliber. I’m glad we were able to connect and play together at her show at the Station Inn on Thursday night!
-Lauren Price Napier: The Price Sisters (KY) Impressive young singer and mandolin player, Lauren is also an authentic, humble and likeable person. I am glad I was able to connect with her on several levels during team discussions and during meals. I can’t wait to see how her career unfolds!
-Ange Rees: Dorrigo Folk & Bluegrass Festival (Australia). Ange added such a unique perspective to the word “folk” music, as she comes from another continent. I always appreciated her input and feedback. Her presence added so much value to our class, in more ways than one. I drove 15 minutes to class, yet Ange traveled all the way from Australia to be there—I respected that!
-Ben Wright: Henhouse Prowlers, Bluegrass Ambassadors (IL). I had heard of the Henhouse Prowlers of Chicago, a successful touring bluegrass band. But I was unaware of and blown away by Bluegrass Ambassadors, a nonprofit Ben co-founded. The band travels as musical diplomats and shares music throughout the world, working with the US State Department. Ben personified the Neil Young message I mentioned earlier and was an example to many of us.
-Abi Tapia: Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum (TN) I met Abi many years ago when I was working the door at the Station Inn. She’s become an integral part of the CMHOF’s education program, and she’s a wonderful musician herself. I’m proud to know her and respected her insights during class discussions.
-Amanda Thompson: Frankfort Bluegrass Festival (IL) I introduced Amanda on the first day, so I learned that, like me, she’s a busy mom of two young kids and wears many hats. I admired her persistence in bluegrass and appreciated her time apart from her family to attend the conference each day.
-Roxanne Tromly: Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum (KY). Insightful, intelligent, and vocal during discussion, Roxanne inspired me with her resume and even more so in person.
Now for the follow through. Yes, I’m busy with the kids, with my new album, and with all of my boring adulting prerequisites like paying the insurance bill. But I leave this conference inspired by the many stories I heard and the people I met. These classmates and planning committee volunteers have found ways to serve music and community in their own ways, in their own communities. I’d like to thank them for sharing their time with me, and to let them know that I learned a lot from their examples. Wish me luck as I seek my own recipe for the balancing act.