The stereotypical image of bluegrass is that it’s a product of rural, bucolic spaces befitting its Appalachian origins. And it’s certainly true that most of the nation’s leading bluegrass festivals happen out in the country, in scenic places such as Wilkesboro or Telluride, Colo.
That makes the downtown urban setting of Raleigh’s World of Bluegrass something of an anomaly on the bluegrass festival circuit. But that doesn’t mean World of Bluegrass isn’t a camping festival for some of its attendees.
“I like this a lot,” said Roy Allen, a retiree from Nashville (the one in North Carolina, not Tennessee), taking in the view of the surrounding downtown buildings from the International Bluegrass Music Association campground.
True, it’s a roped-off parking lot at the corner of Wilmington and Lenoir Streets – just across the way from the Lincoln Theatre, and a few blocks over from the Raleigh Convention Center. But by midweek, the IBMA campground was filling up with festival attendees traveling by recreational-vehicle campers and buses, bringing that friendly festival spirit.
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“There are just thousands and thousands of musicians around and I enjoy the camaraderie,” continued Allen, who also plays guitar in a country band. “You find somebody to play with, jump in and start.”
Yes indeed, plenty of after-hours picking goes on at this festival campground, just like the ones in the outback.
IBMA actually offers two camping options during World of Bluegrass Week. In addition to the downtown lot, you can camp out at the N.C. State Fairgrounds, near the horse complex on Youth Center Road. Shuttle buses run downtown on a regular schedule throughout the day and night.
Both sell out before the festival, so reservations are a must. And it’s a pretty affordable option, if you’ve already got an RV – $30 per night at either location. Downtown is “dry camping,” with no electrical or water hookups, so you need a generator or a willingness to do without.
There’s water, electricity, even good Wi-Fi out there And it’s still reasonable – $30 a day, which is lots cheaper than a hotel.
Ted Lehmann, IBMA attendee from New Hampshire camping at the N.C. State Fairgrounds
That’s one reason why Ted Lehmann, a retired English teacher from New Hampshire (and regular IBMA attendee since 2008), prefers to camp out at the fairgrounds.
“There’s water, electricity, even good Wi-Fi out there,” he said. “And it’s still reasonable – $30 a day, which is lots cheaper than a hotel.”
And if you don’t have an RV or camper, well, you can actually get by without one. Wednesday afternoon found Chris Coker and Amy Easton from Bunn in the downtown IBMA camping area assembling their lodgings for the duration of the festival – a lightweight tent of the sort you’d carry in a backpack.
“City camping’s a little different,” Easton said. “We had to improvise a little. Putting up the tent on pavement like this, we use sandbags to hold it down if it gets windy. But weather don’t dampen no kinda festival. The rains come, you go with the flow.”
Whatever the setting, one attraction of festival camping is the proximity of other pickers. After everyone comes back from a night of festival-going, after-hour jams inevitably break out.
“I play mandolin, too, so I’ll be picking late tonight,” promised Coker. “Every night.”
But that’s strictly optional, of course. Dan Engel of Lynchburg, Va., doesn’t play himself. But he’s still a big bluegrass enthusiast, and he has his own outlook on being a non-playing fan.
We don’t come to Raleigh if we don’t have to, so for us to come for this is a pretty big deal. It’s just too fast-paced here.
Dianna Roberts of Goldsboro, in Raleigh for World of Bluegrass
“I’m not a picker, but I actually think that’s an advantage,” said Engel, leaning against his 1966-vintage silver Airstream camper. “The people who are pickers, they’re torn between picking and listening. Not me. I’m happy to listen.”
To a person, everyone in the campground raved about World of Bluegrass as an event and Raleigh as host – even some who profess to be less than fond of the big city.
“This is a great festival, and being able to bring your own home with you makes it even better,” said Dianna Roberts of Goldsboro. “We don’t come to Raleigh if we don’t have to, so for us to come for this is a pretty big deal. It’s just too fast-paced here. Goldsboro’s just as crowded, but the pace is slower. Raleigh’s pretty with all the buildings, but I still would not care to live here.”