Bluegrass awards show coming to Raleigh in 2013

City lands awards shows starting in 2013

dmenconi@newsobserver.comMay 16, 2012 

  • International Bluegrass Music Association Founded: 1985 in Owensboro, Ky. Number of members: 2,500 Past IBMA entertainer-of-the-year winners: Steve Martin and Steep Canyon Rangers, Dailey & Vincent, Grascals, Cherryholmes, Del McCoury Band, Rhonda Vincent, Alison Krauss, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Hot Rize

— Raleigh is drawing the highest-profile event in bluegrass to the state many consider to be the music’s ancestral home. The International Bluegrass Music Association awards show, the genre’s equivalent to the Grammy Awards, is coming to town.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane will announce Wednesday that the city has landed the IBMA awards show and convention for 2013-15.

The IBMA formed in Kentucky in 1985, later moving to its current home in Nashville – host to this September’s 2012 awards show, with more than 60 acts performing. The IBMA board of directors has been contemplating a move, and a delegation visited Raleigh in March to check out the city’s convention center and other facilities.

The board was scheduled to vote on the potential move at a meeting last month. In what might have been a harbinger, William Lewis, executive director of Raleigh-based PineCone, the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music, was recently appointed to the IBMA’s board. Musicians and fans hailed the move as a positive one both for the association and for the lively-but-lonesome sounds of bluegrass, with its characteristic high-pitched singing and high-level musicianship on fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitar.

Longtime IBMA member and convention-goer Tony Williamson, a highly regarded mandolinist who owns an instrument shop in Siler City, said moving the event from Nashville to Raleigh signals a welcome shift back toward the roots of bluegrass.

“It is very exciting, a really good thing for Raleigh and for the IBMA,” Williamson said. “In terms of the history, I think North Carolina is every bit as much the birthplace of bluegrass as Kentucky.”

The IBMA’s annual convention, trade show, awards presentations and performance series annually draw such artists as Alison Krauss and Union Station, Steve Martin and Sam Bush. Former IBMA board member Don Light said that North Carolina’s historical connection to bluegrass makes it a fitting home for a major bluegrass event.

“There’s a definite connection historically and to the present day,” Light said.

But Light added that the IBMA could run into difficulties attracting the field’s biggest names to Raleigh. The much larger-scale Grammy and Country Music Awards have rarely ventured away from New York, Los Angeles or Nashville, in order to make it easier to attract major artists close to home.

Still, the city’s musical history is compelling. Raleigh’s bluegrass past includes local stints by acts that include “Father of Bluegrass” Bill Monroe and brother Charlie in the 1930s, and Lester Flatt and Shelby native Earl Scruggs, who were regulars on radio station WPTF in the 1950s.

From the definitive five-string banjo sounds that arose from Scruggs’ home turf to the rock-influenced “newgrass” sounds of the late ’60s and ’70s, many of the genre’s major developments originally took off in North Carolina. Light recalled that North Carolina was a trend leader when bluegrass migrated from country schoolhouses and off-hours radio broadcasts to college campuses and coffeehouses.

North Carolina also remains a hotbed of bluegrass fandom, from the many summertime festivals dotting the state to the countless informal picking sessions held in venues from farmhouse kitchens to small-town theaters. In recent years, bluegrass-influenced groups such as the Concord-based Avett Brothers have been attracting younger listeners.

Indeed, there’s a long tradition of young people turning out for shows including such Tar Heel-grown musicians as Scruggs, guitar legend Doc Watson, fiddler Bobby Hicks, guitarist Curly Seckler, and former Ricky Skaggs banjoist Jim Mills, who said he’ll be “just tickled” for the IBMA to come to Raleigh.

According to IBMA, as many as 4,000 fans attend the event for three days or more, with an economic impact estimated at more than $3 million. Activities range from the concerts and award shows to professional seminars on music-business matters and booths displaying instruments and other bluegrass-related items. Known as the “World of Bluegrass,” the event started in Owensboro, Ky., and also took place in Louisville before moving to Nashville in 2003.It’s not clear if today’s announcement by Mayor McFarlane will include details about the awards show and convention, but participants in the March event anticipated that concerts would be held in the Raleigh amphitheater next to the convention center. Whatever the arrangements, the show’s move to North Carolina sounds like good news to people like Williamson, who love the captivating, Carolina-grounded sounds of traditional bluegrass.

“I think there’s going to be some consideration for a new mission, to get back to the grassroots,” he said. “People want to see something real; that’s why we all get into this. Bluegrass music is about excitement.”

Menconi: 919-829-4759 or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat

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