Raleigh-Durham International Airport is alive with ambient noise, from beeping machines to pre-recorded announcements not to leave luggage unattended.
And, for a few days this week, bluegrass music is joining the mix.
As part of the World of Bluegrass festival, which opens Tuesday in Raleigh, the airport has its “RDU Salute to Bluegrass” with live performers set up in the baggage-claim areas of both terminals. Three bands play every afternoon through Friday, providing a musical welcome to arriving travelers.
Dry Bread Road, the mandolin-guitar duo of Rick and Bette Newsome from Youngsville, kicked things off Monday. They were set up back by the escalator between baggage carousels 4 and 5 in Terminal 2 – just below the electronic board listing arriving flights from Pittsburgh, Atlanta and other cities.
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“Are you ready for next week?” asked Larry Beckler of the North Carolina Arts Council, who had just arrived on a flight.
“This week,” Rick Newsome corrected with a smile. “It starts now, actually!”
And they started in on “Gentle on My Mind,” the John Hartford song made famous by the late Glen Campbell. Their set list also included songs by Bill Monroe, Merle Travis and even Steve Earle (“Copperhead Road”).
“We hope that you enjoy the music,” Rick Newsome said, “and it helps you pass the time while you’re waiting for your bags.”
This is the fourth year that RDU has had live music during bluegrass week. After starting with three bands that first year, the roster is up to 15 this year. Wide Open Bluegrass producer PineCone helps with the booking.
It is a paying gig, albeit a modest one. Performers get $300 – plus the occasional tip.
“Thank you very much,” Rick Newsome said after a passer-by dropped a dollar next to their speaker. “There’s really no need for tippin’ today, but we do appreciate it.”
Not many IBMA conference attendees were arriving yet on Monday afternoon, but almost every traveler walking by at least smiled at the music. Some swayed and bobbed heads, and a few paused to shoot video on their phones or dance a bit.
Then there was Brad and Nina Young, a Cary couple who had just flown in from Israel. They were exhausted after a 13-hour flight, but the music seemed to perk both of them right up.
Brad Young read the sign at visitor’s booth aloud – “‘International Bluegrass Music Association,’ there must be a conference or something?” – while Nina shot video of Dry Bread Road to send to friends back in Israel.
“The airport there is hustling,” Brad said, “so we’re sending videos and joking, ‘Here is how we arrived at home.’ ”
“It’s a very nice welcome,” added Nina. “Unexpected. Makes you forget your exhaustion.”
“RDU Salute to Bluegrass” will feature live performers in the baggage-claim areas of both airport terminals, from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. through Friday. To see the band schedule, check rdu.com/bluegrass.