The World of Bluegrass — which has lured thousands of visitors to downtown and generated millions of dollars in economic impact since it moved to Raleigh — is sticking around.
The International Bluegrass Music Association's weeklong bluegrass festival, conference and awards ceremony will return to Raleigh for three more years — through at least 2021.
IBMA officials and the city of Raleigh made the announcement Thursday along with the first flurry of performer details for this year's festival, which will be Sept. 25-29.
This year's sixth edition is the final year under IBMA's last extension, which was announced in 2014. The IBMA moved the event here in 2013 after nearly a decade in Nashville.
It has set attendance records almost every year since.
IBMA executive director Paul Schiminger said that World of Bluegrass' success in Raleigh had "brought a lot of other cities out of the woodwork" to try to lure the festival away.
"But our first priority was always to work with Raleigh," Schiminger said in an interview after the announcement. "We were not going to consider any other place until we had exhausted all possibilities here, and we're excited we'll be here another three years."
Last year's World of Bluegrass events — business convention, nightclub performances, awards show and "Wide Open Bluegrass" outdoor program — drew total estimated attendance of more than 221,000. That generated $11.7 million in direct visitor spending, according to the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau (GRCVB).
The five-year totals for World of Bluegrass are more than 856,000 in attendance and $48.8 million in direct visitor spending.
Still, some uncertainty remained about whether an extension would be worked out. While both IBMA and city officials said last fall they hoped to keep the festival in Raleigh beyond 2018, negotiations took longer than anticipated, leading to some angst among local fans.
"IBMA has become such a part of Raleigh's fabric, it's hard to imagine late September without it here," said Steve Eisenstadt, a local musician who describes himself as a regular "wall to wall" attendee. "Rumors were flying around, which was very concerning."
Finances were the sticking point. In years past, the festival received $100,000 annually from Raleigh's business development fund (drawn from occupancy, prepared food and beverage taxes). That was applied toward the rental of the Raleigh Convention Center and the free outdoor street festival.
Under the new deal, the festival will get $265,000: $175,000 from the business development fund, $60,000 from the city of Raleigh and $30,000 from the GRCVB. The IBMA committed to spending all additional funds in Wake County on local goods and services.
Any business development fund grant over $100,000 requires approval by the Raleigh City Council and Wake County Commissioners. Both approved their respective contributions this spring.
It is an unprecedented amount of public support for a music festival in Raleigh, according to GRCVB executive vice president Loren Gold.
"If you look at the sheer numbers of the direct tax impact in the city and county, the ask was justified," said Gold. "Local taxes paid because of the festival were over $600,000 last year."
Gold added that none of money for the bluegrass festival will be coming out of the city's general fund.
Main Stage headliners
As for this year's lineup, the first round of main-stage headliners at Red Hat Amphitheater includes Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless and reigning IBMA Entertainer of the Year, Earls of Leicester.
Also on tap is a special collaboration featuring the first women to win IBMA awards as instrumentalists, who include guitarist Molly Tuttle and mandolinist Sierra Hull.
The "Bluegrass Ramble" lineup of nightclub acts was announced earlier this month. Still to come are announcements on IBMA Award nominees, keynote speaker, more Red Hat acts and the lineup for the Wide Open Bluegrass free street festival.
Tickets are on sale at WorldOfBluegrass.org.