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Avoid meltdowns. Here’s our guide to navigating Wide Open Bluegrass with the kids

Most of the Streetfest stages along Fayetteville Street have only limited seating, if any, so expect to stand up. That’s tough for little kids, who won’t get to see much beyond people’s backsides. If you want to get a good glimpse of the stage, try walking to the side, or even behind it if there’s access.
Most of the Streetfest stages along Fayetteville Street have only limited seating, if any, so expect to stand up. That’s tough for little kids, who won’t get to see much beyond people’s backsides. If you want to get a good glimpse of the stage, try walking to the side, or even behind it if there’s access. newsobserver.com

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World of Bluegrass 2018

The International Bluegrass Music Association conference, awards ceremony, Bluegrass Ramble and World of Bluegrass is in Raleigh, NC, Sept. 25-29, 2018. Find our stories here.

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Be careful giving your kids a taste of bluegrass. They might just get hooked.

Kids love the fast picking and steady beat of bluegrass, and while they may not understand the nuances of harmony just yet, the sound of people singing together on stage is sure to perk up their ears — and maybe even inspire them to sing along.

Here are a few tips for navigating the Friday and Saturday’s free Wide Open Bluegrass Streetfest with kids, from babies in strollers to teens.

1. Take in the sights and sounds

Most of the Streetfest stages along Fayetteville Street have only limited seating, if any, so expect to stand up. That’s tough for little kids, who won’t get to see much beyond people’s backsides. If you want to get a good glimpse of the stage, try walking to the side, or even behind it if there’s access. The sound won’t be ideal, but a peek at the musicians in action can help connect kids to the music, and they’ll have a better picture in their heads once you return to the crowd.

You’ll also want to consider earplugs or protective headphones for small children. The stages are amplified and can get a bit loud if you end up standing close to a speaker. Nearby food trucks run generators as well, which adds to the noise.

2. Getting around

The crowds can get pretty thick at Streetfest, which can be stressful for families with small children. If you’re pushing a stroller or walking hand-in-hand with smaller kids, avoid the center of Fayetteville Street when you can, opting instead for the sidewalks when you’re trying to get from Point A to Point B.

Designate family meeting places in case you get separated — lots of food trucks and vendors will have unique signs or decorations you can use as a landmark.

Aim to park near where you think you’ll be at the end of the day. It means more walking to begin with, but you’ll be glad the car’s nearby when your feet hurt from a full day of walking and dancing.

Musicians Dwight Hawkins and Alex Brady perform on the street during the International Bluegrass Music Association's Wide Open Bluegrass in Raleigh

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3. Build in breaks

The music is just part of the experience at Wide Open Bluegrass. Be sure to take time (and bring money) for meals from food trucks or downtown restaurants as well as frequent snacks, which keep kids’ (and parents’) energy level up and meltdown potential down. You can also pack your own snacks, of course, and you’ll want to have plenty of water.

If you don’t mind sitting on a curb, you can often find a place to sit and snack that’s still within earshot of the music. All that snacking and curb-sitting can get grubby, though, so be sure to pack plenty of wipes.

You’ll want to plan ahead (as best you can) for bathroom breaks. The Raleigh Convention Center is your best bet for indoor restrooms. Otherwise, you’ll need to scout out portable toilets on side streets along Fayetteville Street.

For families needing some time away from crowds and noise, designated quiet spaces are in the Convention Center (Room 307, changed from Room 303), Exchange Plaza (a white tent on the 200 block of Fayetteville Street), and in Marriott Raleigh City Center’s Chancellor Room.

Tim O'Brien with Jan Fabricius, 2018 fiddle Player of the Year Michael Cleveland and friends plays the Capitol Stage at Raleigh's Wide Open Bluegrass on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018.

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4. What to see

Kids can get a strong dose of inspiration watching their peers onstage, and Wide Open Bluegrass offers plenty of opportunities for that. The Youth Stage, located right outside the Convention Center doors on the Salisbury Street side, features full days both Friday and Saturday of young bands, from college students to elementary schoolers.

Over on Martin Street, J.A.M. (Junior Appalachian Musicians) sponsors a stage showcasing current members and alumni of its program, which connects kids with traditional music and dance in their communities in lower Appalachia.

If your kids need to get the wiggles out, or your teens need a break from their phones, you might head over to the Dance Tent on the Duke Energy Center end of Fayetteville Street. The music there is energetic and upbeat, and the floor is made for dancing.

Plenty of grownups will be busting their moves, especially during structured dances like square or contra or clogging, so sometimes it’s safer for kids on the edges. But there’s room for everyone, and the crowd — and the music — often spills joyously into the street (which is blocked off from traffic, don’t worry).

Budding bluegrassers

If your child has been bitten by the bluegrass bug and is playing an instrument, the International Bluegrass Association has several programs to nurture their interest, including Kids On Bluegrass, which boasts Sierra Hull, Sarah Jarosz and Molly Tuttle among its alumni. Visit worldofbluegrass.org/participate/youth for more information.

Locally, PineCone — the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music — offers youth jams, performing opportunities, and a summer camp. Find out more at pinecone.org/content/youth-music-programs.

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