Monday, October 02, 2006

Opinion: Political content unwelcome at IBMA

I'm labeling this "opinion" so it is clear that I am expressing my personal views. The IBMA's salute to the troops during last week's award ceremony represented an unwelcome foray into the political arena by a musical trade association that should seek to avoid partisan displays.

During the ceremony, musical star Rhonda Vincent led a 15-minute-long musical tribute to past and present U.S. troops that included presenting several dozen uniformed servicepeople on stage, renditions of all the service theme songs by the U.S. Navy bluegrass band, and a call for veterans in the audience to rise and be honored.

Like most Americans, I have great respect for those who wear the uniform and serve in the armed forces. However, in this case, the salute was clearly meant as a statement of support for our government's policy of war in Iraq, which is a matter of significant controversy and divergent viewpoints both in the overall U.S. poplulation and within the bluegrass community.

Yes, I know that many individual performers have used their platforms to make political statements both pro and con about the war and about our political leaders. A few months ago at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, I saw many in the audience respond negatively when headline performer Steve Earle used the stage to denounce the war. At that time in this blog, I stood up for his right to express his opinions.

So what is the difference here? Earle is an individual performer. Whether or not I agree with him, I believe he should be free to speak his mind as he chooses. Of course, the venue presenting him may have a different view, I wouldn't object if the festival chose not to invite him back. In this same regard, I had no objection last week when award-winner Doyle Alexander used his two times at the microphone to praise the U.S.A. in a little-disguised expression of support for the current administration.

But the association itself, in my view, should refrain from taking positions on controversial issues when its membership is certain to contain individuals with divergent views. If a poll were taken, I suspect that a solid majority of members would be supporters of the Iraq war and of President Bush. However, I am equally sure that a significant minority would be on the other side.

Despite coming from a Southern rural tradition, bluegrass as a genre has always been remarkable in welcoming musicians and fans from other cultures. In particular, there has long been an accommodation and mutual respect between pickers from Southern states and those from New England and California, for example. Differences in appearances, cultural styles or religious beliefs, for example, have been insignificant compared with everyone's love of the music.

The IBMA should cherish and reinforce cross-cultural diversity in the music, which adds to the musical vitality and market expansion that are key parts of the association's mission. In my opinion, the over-the-top partisan display at the awards ceremony worked counter to that goal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To advocate that honoring soldiers, past and present, is a political statement is flat wrong. Honoring our soldiers does does not mean pro-war or anti-war. It means thank you for risking your lives and defending our freedom. If there were no war in Iraq would there be objections to saluting the military? Is honoring law enforcement officers a political statement also? Don't they follow the orders of elected officials too? Don't they kill people in the line of duty? Funny how folks who say they support our troops are first in line to DISHONOR them. Funny how you think it's alright for Steve Earle exericise his first amendment right and trash our President but it's wrong for Rhonda Vincent to honor our soldiers. Rhonda Vincent and Country Current did not say one word about politics or war. They simply wanted to pay tribute to our soldiers. The problem was caused by a few whining, sniveling malcontents who want to try and force their anti-war, politcal agenda on everyone else. What a bunch of hypocrits!