From the boiler room of the IBMA, we emerge to let y'all know that the long-planned BluegrassNation.org is getting pretty close to its beta phase, at which point a limited group of artists, businesses and fans will be able to set up pages. That's also when the thing gets out in the world and all kinds of folderol will ensue, I'm sure. But we'll be mighty happy to have it online and begin its real evolution and development. It's only a platform. The rest is up to bluegrass fans. We hope BN takes a place at the nexus of the many bluegrass news outlets, blogs, festivals, calendars and local associations that make up our proud bluegrass nation.
The news of the week though is we've picked a logo, which is right here, and now that the structural stuff is done, this is setting the tone for the visual design. The logo is by Josh Gibson (a very bluegrass name, no?) from near Roanoke, VA. I have important comments about the logo contest we held in concert with Creative Allies below. But first, some context and background...
IBMA's mission is to raise all boats in the bluegrass harbor, and in looking at how to take IBMA's mission online for the first time, we felt like the association should step up its role in developing a larger and more excited audience for bluegrass music. For the millions of people who love it, there are many more who have never found an easy inviting way into the bluegrass scene. Bluegrass Nation will try to be a place where newcomers can get oriented and access great music from yesterday and today, even as veterans use it to keep news and tunes circulating. Users will find events in their area and easy links to bluegrass publications, forums, businesses and of course artists. How to do that best has been the subject of hours of discussions among a trusted group of volunteers and advisors who value IBMA and its role in nurturing the culture and business of bluegrass music. So you know, that includes or has included: journalist/bass player/songwriter Jon Weisberger, long-time IBMA Special Projects Director (and now interim Executive Director) Nancy Cardwell, fiddling music attorney and Leadership Bluegrass alum Stephanie Taylor, IBMA board member and Belmont professor Dan Keen, Monroeville mandolinist and singer Matt Munsey, Infamous Stringdusters banjo player Chris Pandolfi and bluegrass patron/promoter Henri Deschamps. Others have contributed time and ideas.
We're developing Bluegrass Nation, by the way, while IBMA searches for a new executive director, which is hard, and investigates new locations for its World of Bluegrass event, which is hard, and striving always to balance an out-of-balance budget, which is very hard. These noble efforts have sometimes been painted as "turmoil" or "problems" at IBMA, as if some pickers and professionals feel like the budget should be in much better shape after three years of a horrible economy. Or as if the IBMA and its board are not open to ideas and constructive criticism. We're a community that believes in the past, present and future of bluegrass music and its remarkably varied virtues, musical and cultural. Nevertheless, there's an ongoing debate about whether IBMA has become co-opted by Nashville's music biz and has developed an agenda to put money over our music. I certainly don't believe that's happening, and I'd protest if I saw it. But I do believe that the point and usefulness of IBMA is as a TRADE association that seeks to open up avenues of opportunity and success for bands, festivals, songwriters, instrument builders, venues, music companies etc. I call it the Prosperity Gospel of Bluegrass, but that's another column.
Now as for the logo, we congratulate Josh on a great design. But I want to make the story behind that choice clear right here so nobody can say we tried to rig a vote or pre-judge a contest. The vote was advisory, and the fact that we knew and had spoken to the ultimate winner before the contest started is a bit of a coincidence and testimony to Josh's skills as a listener and a designer. I've been in and around design and art direction a long time, and while Josh's logo might not have been your first choice, I hope you'll agree with us that it's a very fine piece of work.
We first came to know Josh through our site developer Ryan DeRose of Charlottesville, VA. They are friends and colleagues. Long before we did the contest, I communicated with Josh and we tossed some visual ideas around more or less for fun. But IBMA knew that to hire him or anyone else to custom design a logo for Bluegrass Nation would cost at least $2,000 and probably far more if we wanted to see a variety of treatments. With our budget stretched on development, we decided to make use of the very cool Creative Allies platform to put the word out that BN was new and seeking a visual identity. As I've said before, we believed the crowd-sourced logo contest could be a good kick-off for a crowd-sourced web community. We also hoped to see good ideas from designers who weren't already bluegrass insiders who might be attached to historical cliches. I loved watching the designs roll in, even the not-so-good ones, because it showed there's a lot of interest out there. Early on one caught my eye by somebody called GiantStep and I flagged it on Facebook. Not long after that, Ryan told me that GiantStep was Josh. Okay, I said. And on it went. Maybe he'd win or maybe not. Then GiantStep/Josh submitted a new design, and I REALLY liked it. It had all the hallmarks of a good logo and it was both old and modern with great color. Our team liked it as well. But there were plenty of other strong candidates, and we put six up for a final Facebook pick-your-favorite vote.
This very nice logo by Ricky Robbins won the popular tally, with 102 votes. And what we'll call GiantStep2, the one that caught my attention became the basis for our final design, came in third with 71 votes. The committee never intended to be locked in by the popular vote winner, but we wanted to get a sense of what folks liked. We all really liked the Robbins design but we felt like GiantStep2 had more of a nod to tradition and history and could work in more contexts. The good news is that the deal with Creative Allies is that we can use any of the logos we like in other ways (t-shirt anyone?) and a royalty stream will go to designer, CA and IBMA. I hope we can have some swag out on the festival tables this summer. By the way you can see a series of Editor's Picks from CA HERE. And I'll confess right here they didn't pick our favorite among theirs. This is quite a subjective business isn't it?
In conclusion (yay!), the design we're going with and published atop this column is ALMOST the design Josh submitted. In response to some feedback and our discussion, we asked him to tweak his original to more clearly reference a banjo pot, and he really came through. It's a subtle change, but it really is what brought it over the finish line for us.
I'll do my best to keep you posted about BluegrassNation.org as it gets closer. Please drop a note with ideas, notions, criticism. We can take it. We're bluegrass people.