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Oct 05, 2004 - Fwd: Bluegrass Music article

Here's a pretty amazing article on
Bluegrass Music from Reuters.
Lew Scheinman

Amid Tough Times, It's Blue Skies for Bluegrass

Sun Oct 3, 9:15 PM ET
By Deborah Evans Price

NASHVILLE (Billboard) - At a time when much of the
mainstream music business is desperately trying to
connect with consumers and sell albums, the bluegrass
music community has seen its fortunes rise.     

Tapping traditional promotional avenues such as
festivals that have served the genre well for decades,
and combining that exposure with more aggressive
marketing techniques, bluegrass labels have boosted
awareness of the music and its stars.

As the bluegrass community gathers in Lexington, Ky.,
for the 2004 World of Bluegrass event Oct. 4-10,
executives have good reason to be upbeat.

"We are not competing with mainstream country or pop
music," notes Dan Hays, executive director of the
International Bluegrass Music Assn. "We are still a
niche genre, but the number of people who are getting
into it and are finding they have access to it has
dramatically changed over the last decade."

According to a spring 2003 report by Simmons Market
Research, nearly 8 million U.S. adults had purchased
bluegrass recordings in the previous 12 months. That's
double the number reported in 2000.


The growth of bluegrass music has coincided with the
rising success of such artists as Alison Krauss,
Rhonda Vincent and Ricky Skaggs, the enduring
popularity of such veterans as Ralph Stanley and Earl
Scruggs and the massive breakthrough of the bluegrass
soundtrack to the film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
Released in 2000 on Lost Highway/Mercury Records, it
has sold 6.8 million units, according to Nielsen

In general, Hays says, "those people buy more records
than your average consumer does. They are buying other
music as well as bluegrass, but the fact that that
number has grown by that much speaks to their interest
in the music and the fact that it is a growing

According to the IBMA, bluegrass radio programing is
also on the rise. The association has 826 stations in
its database that provide some bluegrass programing,
up from 700 outlets in 1996.

Even satellite radio has embraced bluegrass with
programing on Sirius and XM.

"Bluegrass not only represents a link to the past, but
an incredible musical art form that continues to
evolve in immeasureable ways today," says Scott Lindy,
director of country programing for Sirius. "There are
millions of bluegrass fans in this country. Few have a
full-time bluegrass station to listen to, and most
(stations) only budget a few hours of bluegrass a week
on the FM or AM dials."


The IBMA attributes growth in bluegrass to three
factors: the music itself, its increased availability
and a spirit of cooperation in the bluegrass

"People in the industry are working together more
today than they were maybe a generation ago," Hays
says. "Event producers are tuned in to what's going on
with radio programers, who are tuned in with what is
happening at retail and with record labels. (We) have
that network that has been built."

The music has also become more physically accessible.
"You can find it a little easier today than you could
10 to 20 years ago," both in retail stores and on the
Internet, Hayes notes. "Twenty years ago you really
had to know where to look for it."

Artist accessibility is another positive factor
contributing to the growth of bluegrass. "The No. 1
marketing tool is the artist, the ability for those
acts to actually be out there touching fans," Hays

"If you go to a Rhonda Vincent show, I'd be surprised
if you don't get to hug Rhonda's neck or at least
shake hands with her while you are there. You don't
get to do that at a Britney Spears (news) show ...
Bluegrass artists are accessible and they are the
ambassadors for the music."

The Down From the Mountain tour, featuring artists
from the multiplatinum "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
soundtrack, enjoyed similar success, as did a live
recording of the tour. But the soundtrack and
subsequent activity tapped into an infrastructure of
labels, artists, promoters and broadcasters "that was
in place before 'O Brother,"' Hays says.


Live performances have always been the driving force
in bluegrass music. Although multiartist tours have
done a lot to boost careers, industry observers feel
those opportunities need to be further exploited.

Such tours "could do more than anything else to break
down the false stereotypes sometimes associated with
the genre," says Brian Smith, VP of store operations
for Value Central Entertainment.

"I recently saw Mountain Heart packaged as the opener
for George Jones," he says. "They stole the show and
generated significant interest in themselves and
today's bluegrass music as a result."

Smith also cites the Del McCoury Band's participation
in the recent Bonnaroo festival. "They did wonders for
the format by appearing with such a diverse mix of
artists, both new and old," he says.

"We showcase just about every genre," says Jonathan
Mayers, co-owner of Superfly, the company that
co-produces Bonnaroo with A.C. Entertainment. The
event drew more than 90,000 fans to Manchester, Tenn.,
in June.

"Bluegrass continues to be one of the most popular
types of music we present," Mayers says. "There is an
ever-expanding audience for music that is based on
musicianship and songwriting, both of which (are)
integral to bluegrass music."

(Phyllis Stark in Nashville contributed to this