North Carolina may or may not be the home of bluegrass. But for at least three years, it will be home of the World of Bluegrass.
As expected, the International Bluegrass Music Association announced Wednesday that it will bring its weeklong convention and awards show to Raleigh for a three-year run starting in 2013. Russell Johnson and the Grass Cats opened and closed Wednesday’s ceremony on downtown’s City Plaza by playing “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and other bluegrass classics.
But the big moment came when Mayor Nancy McFarlane unveiled a banner showing Raleigh’s World of Bluegrass dates. Raleigh’s first edition of IBMA will be Sept. 23-29, 2013, including a four-day business conference, an awards show and a three-day “Bluegrass Fan Fest” featuring more than 60 acts.
The 2011 convention’s events in Nashville drew a reported 16,000 visitors, more than half from out of town. Raleigh city officials project similar figures for next year’s World of Bluegrass, estimating the local economic impact at about $10 million.
At Wednesday’s announcement, various speakers touted the event’s bottom-line potential as well as North Carolina’s illustrious bluegrass past and present. Earl Scruggs, Red Smiley, Doc Watson and George Shuffler are among the North Carolina natives in the IBMA’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame, and Brevard’s Steep Canyon Rangers shared the IBMA’s artist-of-the-year award with Steve Martin last year.
Since 2005, the IBMA’s World of Bluegrass has been in Nashville, where it’s one of many awards shows. Seeking a higher profile, the IBMA board has been looking to relocate the show. More than a dozen cities made overtures, with Raleigh, Nashville, Cincinnati and Louisville emerging as major contenders.
“One thing that really sold us on Raleigh was all the options here and how compact they are,” said IBMA board member Jon Weisberger. “We don’t have to choose whether or not to do shows indoors or outdoors, we can do both. And the convention center, amphitheater and other venues are all right here.”
The Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts complex will also be a venue, along with other downtown nightclubs and Fayetteville Street. New IBMA board member William Lewis likened World of Bluegrass to Hopscotch, the successful rock festival that happens every September in Raleigh.
“We think this will be like a bluegrass version of Hopscotch,” said Lewis, who is also executive director of Raleigh-based PineCone, the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music. “It’s an event that will seize the synergy of downtown and engage audiences and venues beyond just music – photographers, artists, galleries. It could be a signature event for downtown.”