Second verse, same as the first – we hope. Raleigh’s debut last year as host of the International Bluegrass Music Association gathering was a smash hit by any measure. Now, the strains of guitars and banjos and mandolins are again wafting through the downtown streets of the Capital City that will be for a second time transformed into the capital of bluegrass.
The IBMA moved a five-day celebration from Nashville to Raleigh, with IBMA meetings and live performances by well-known artists in the Red Hat Amphitheatre. The second Raleigh festival begins this week.
Last year, bluegrass pickers and fans heard some of the best music on outdoor stages and late at night, in the hallways of downtown hotels, where impromptu gatherings of players produced some fine music indeed. That’s the informal nature of bluegrass.
Vendors crowded downtown streets with everything from belt buckles to paintings of bluegrass icons such as Bill Monroe and Doc Watson, and good weather (hoping for the same this year) saw a constant stream of thousands of visitors, most of them out-of-towners, walking along Fayetteville Street and side streets.
Even in those places, there were informal gatherings of suddenly formed bands.
Raleigh proved a perfect host. And bluegrass proved a gracious guest. There was some $9 million-plus in visitor spending, and the IBMA reported a significant increase in memberships.
This year’s lineup of performers is especially strong and, weather permitting, turnout will likely eclipse last year’s debut. It appears likely Raleigh could be the long-term home of the World of Bluegrass. No sense in arguing with success, after all.