Bluegrass festival gives Raleigh a vote of confidence - three more years

dmenconi@newsobserver.comMay 13, 2014 

  • Tickets on sale

    Ticket prices for the International Bluegrass Music Association conference include $50 single-day tickets to the Oct. 3-4 Wide Open Bluegrass shows at Raleigh’s Red Hat Amphitheater, and $75 for a three-day pass to the Sept. 30-Oct. 2 Bluegrass Ramble club shows. For details, see ibma.org/world-of-bluegrass.

— After Raleigh’s hugely successful first year as World of Bluegrass host, the city got a three-year vote of confidence Tuesday.

At a news conference to announce details about this fall’s second edition, the International Bluegrass Music Association also announced it has signed a three-year extension. That will keep its annual convention and festival in Raleigh through 2018.

“The first year went so well, we don’t even want to think about leaving,” said Nancy Cardwell, the association’s executive director.

Last year, the music association relocated its convention to Raleigh after an eight-year run in Nashville. Despite skepticism about the move from some in the bluegrass community, crowds flocked to Raleigh.

An estimated 154,000 people attended an expanded version of the IBMA convention, including nightclub shows, a free street festival and two sold-out concerts at Red Hat Amphitheater capped by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.

Main-stage acts for the Red Hat shows this fall include Ricky Skaggs with Bruce Hornsby, Brevard Grammy-winners Steep Canyon Rangers, Del McCoury Band and a reunion by the influential Colorado bluegrass band Hot Rize.

About 84,000 of last year’s attendees came from outside Wake County and generated $10 million in visitor spending, according to figures from the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau. The association also got a boost, claiming a 39 percent jump in membership since 2012 to almost 3,000 members.

The attendance shattered expectations, with the crowds and participatory nature of the music turning downtown Raleigh into an urban version of a rural bluegrass festival for the weekend. Impromptu jam sessions broke out all over the city, and some of the best music happened after-hours in unusual places such as hotel hallways.

From fans to visiting celebrities, everyone went away impressed.

“It’s been great that the music is literally on every corner,” said platinum country star Lee Ann Womack, who came from Nashville to listen (but did not perform). “To hear real music like this again, it’s been great. I’ve not been around music this rootsy in quite a while. This has probably been the two greatest days of my adult life.”

Happening this year

The 2014 model happens Sept. 30 through Oct. 4. Returning this year will be:

• The free Wide Open Bluegrass street festival, with 80-plus acts on four outdoor stages.

• The Bluegrass Ramble of 30-plus acts playing seven nightclub venues in downtown Raleigh.

• The bluegrass music association trade show and business conference at Raleigh Convention Center.

• The music association awards show at Memorial Auditorium.

• The World of Bluegrass headline shows at Red Hat Amphitheater.

• The Whole Hog Barbecue Championship.

There will be some new wrinkles this year; an artist has been commissioned to construct a piece of public art – a performance stage made of discarded banjo parts and built around the statue of Sir Walter Raleigh next to the Raleigh Convention Center.

Still, Tuesday’s biggest news was the three-year extension, which ensures the convention and festival will be in Raleigh for at least six years.

“Historically, the IBMA has not left a city unless there’s a good reason,” Cardwell said. “We stayed a lot of years in Nashville and Owensboro, Ky., before that. We appreciate the support of the city. Being here longer also makes it easier to plan ahead, for us as well as the city.”

Mayor Nancy McFarlane was more succinct.

“Raleigh loves bluegrass,” McFarlane said. “I feel like we’re owning the bluegrass thing now.”

Menconi: 919-829-4759 or www.newsobserver.com/OnTheBeat

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