Bluegrass is, once again, a record-setting hit in Raleigh.
With marquee acts like Steve Martin and Bela Fleck on the bill, plus an anticipated Rhiannon Giddens speech, last month’s International Bluegrass Music Association World of Bluegrass festival set another attendance high in 2017, according to figures released Tuesday by the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.
This year’s total attendance topped 221,000, up slightly from 2016’s then-record total of more than 217,000. The total direct economic impact also rose, to $11.7 million, up from last year’s $11.5 million, according to the tourism bureau. The visitors bureau notes that the economic impact comes from new money coming into the local economy and doesn’t include local resident spending.
The total World of Bluegrass attendance figure includes people attending the events from Sept. 26-30, including the IBMA convention, nightclub performances and awards show, plus the free Wide Open Bluegrass street festival and ticketed Red Hat Amphitheater shows.
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The week of bluegrass events has been an unqualified hit since the organization, which represents the bluegrass music community, relocated from Nashville in 2013. It has set new attendance records every year except 2015, when inclement weather forced the outdoor portion inside the Raleigh Convention Center.
In its first five years, the festival has drawn a total attendance of more than 856,000, according to the bureau, and generated a total estimated $48.88 million.
IBMA’s contract calls for one more year in Raleigh, and negotiations to extend its stay beyond 2018 are ongoing with “all parties involved actively pursuing an extension,” according to a news release.
“There’s no definite timeline,” said IBMA executive director Paul Schiminger. “But the dialogue has been really constructive, and we’re optimistic about being able to move forward.”
When the city and the Raleigh Convention Center made its bid to relocate the festival to Raleigh, it was unclear whether it would “take off,” said William Lewis, IBMA Board member, in a news release. He’s executive director of PineCone, the local nonprofit organization that produces the musical part of Wide Open Bluegrass.
“But IBMA believed in the vision, as did corporate and community partners like PNC and the city, and now the event has grown into a destination that music fans from around the world love and plan their travel around,” he said.
Last month, Raleigh city leaders said keeping the event in Raleigh is a priority. The weeklong bluegrass festivities cap off a month of weekly music and entertainment events in downtown Raleigh.
“In terms of sheer numbers, size and volume, Wide Open Bluegrass is our largest event of the entire year, every year,” Loren Gold, executive vice president of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in September. “Nothing else we do approaches that level or magnitude.”
By the numbers
Here are attendance numbers and estimated visitor spending since the International Bluegrass Music Association moved its convention, awards show and festival to Raleigh.
Direct economic impact
Source: Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau