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Out Now: Lillian Werbin

Mar 28, 2024

Out Now: Lillian Werbin

If you’ve met Lillian Werbin before, you know that they possess a radiant energy and a deep love for community while working tirelessly to create a more inclusive music industry. Lillian is a behind-the-scenes star of the queer music industry. They are the Chair of the Board for Bluegrass Pride, they volunteer to support LGBTQ+ events, and they sit on the boards of International Bluegrass Music Association’s Foundation and the Rhapsody Project. In addition to all of this, they are the co-owner of Elderly Instruments and co-direct Midwest Banjo Camp, Midwest Ukulele Camp, and The Banjo Gathering

Lillan and I spoke together on a panel presented by Bluegrass Pride in 2023 at Folk Alliance International. The panel examined on a systemic level how the music industry can adopt more socially sustainable models of business, especially for folks who have been historically marginalized. Lillian works hard to promote inclusivity. They are a pillar of the queer music industry, a gem of a human being, and someone who isn’t often found on stage, but holds up the community from behind the curtain.

What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear is having my intentions misunderstood. Being responsible for others and making decisions on their behalf can be nerve-wracking, and I like my reasoning to be clear.

What is your current state of mind?

Anticipatory! I feel I should state that my mother died earlier this year, so my “current state of mind” fluctuates regularly. In a year, there is so much to celebrate and mourn that I find myself generally in a state of anticipation of the next moment.

What would a “perfect day” look like for you?

My current ability to balance work/life can come down to the hour, as my personal and professional lives blend 7 days a week. A “perfect day” is when I’m able to accomplish what is needed professionally without sacrificing my personal relationships. Ideally, I’m awake before the sun, there are only a few tasks/meetings to accomplish, there’s at least 5 bouts of big laughter, and some time spent outside in the fresh air.

Why do you work in the music industry?

I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I find those who work in the music industry are a more serious type of authentic and genuine. Working from behind the scenes, I’m lucky enough to meet new people regularly. From the big smoke shows to hometown heroes, I find music lovers prefer to be unapologetically themselves. Which is interesting and entertaining most of the time!

When working on a project, what’s more satisfying to you, the process or the outcome?

The planning process is most satisfying and I enjoy the outcome more if I’ve helped execute. The process of taking a few ideas and elements, and building them into a project, can be magical for me.

You are the Chair of the Board for Bluegrass Pride. What drew you to getting involved with BGP? What do you like most about it? Are there any new projects that you’re excited about?

Yes, I’ve been Chair of Bluegrass Pride for a little over a year. I had been a board member and found I had more interest than my regular term. I enjoy developing programs and maintaining welcoming events for LGBT+ musicians. I’m most excited about our Rainbow Book initiative, which seeks to create a network of vetted venues to play and homes to stay. We launched the application process in early fall of 2023.

What has it been like for you to hold a behind-the-scenes role supporting queer music?

Being behind-the-scenes supporting LGBT and queer music allows me to revel in my own queer joy, which often takes a backseat to how I’m often perceived. When I’m able to fulfill these supportive roles, I feel more connected to the community.

In 2022, you won the IBMA Momentum Award for Industry Involvement. You are someone who is extremely involved. Could you share with us some of the great work you’re doing that led to this recognition?

My job by day is CEO and Co-Owner of Elderly Instruments, where I manage the overall business. It’s Elderly’s consistency that allows me to assist in other events and businesses in the U.S. I co-direct Midwest Banjo Camp, Midwest Ukulele Camp, and The Banjo Gathering. Aside from Bluegrass Pride, I sit on the boards of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Foundation – where I am a committee member of The Arnold Shultz Fund – and the Rhapsody Project.

Photo courtesy of Lillian Werbin.

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Out Now: Lillian Werbin
Out Now: Lillian Werbin