With Thursday’s announcement that all of this weekend’s outdoor Wide Open Bluegrass events would move inside the Raleigh Convention Center, the clock began ticking. Organizers had about 24 hours to set up seven performance spaces in various quadrants of the convention center in time for the music to start at midday Friday.
They had little choice. With heavy rains forecast, performing outdoors was not an option. That was a dose of reality after the perfect fall weather that accompanied the International Bluegrass Music Association’s first two years in Raleigh.
“When we saw this thing coming down, at first we were saying, ‘Oh, this can’t happen to us, we’re luckier than this,’ ” said Raleigh Convention Center director Roger Krupa. “Well, guess what?”
The biggest challenge will be the shows scheduled for 6,000-capacity Red Hat Amphitheater. Those are being moved into the big exhibit hall downstairs in the convention center, a space that generally holds crowds that size for graduations.
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But live music is more complicated than that. Getting the acoustics of a cavernous concrete space up to snuff will be a tall order – especially with a flat, slope-free floor and a half-dozen oversize pillars to work around.
Video screens will help sight lines. As for sound, the local organizing committee has called for help from various groups, including the people who run the Planet Bluegrass festival venue in Colorado.
“How do you do this?” Wide Open Bluegrass producer William Lewis asked rhetorically. “You get 6,000 people in here and hire one of the best sound companies in the country. It’s coming together. We have ace teams in place, and we’re mostly working on details like seating and ticketing.”
As he spoke, Lewis was in a group escorting Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane to check on how preparations were coming. Midafternoon, the stage was under construction, and workers were starting to put out rows of chairs.
“We’re gonna do it; don’t you worry,” promised Laurie Okun, director of sales and marketing for the Raleigh Convention Center. “We’ll be working all night.”
Elsewhere in the convention center, various acts, artists and vendors from the free street festival will be placed in various ballrooms, conference rooms, hallways and mezzanine spaces. Most of the preparations were to begin in earnest Thursday evening.
“Come Sunday, I think we’ll be asking ourselves, ‘What the hell did we just do?’ A world-record bluegrass hurricane party,” Lewis said.
If it all comes together, the convention center will become a veritable bluegrass hive. One can imagine it being a really cool experience, or a total mess. But at least one local musician was optimistic.
“I think this will be the one that people are going to remember,” Joe Newberry said. “It will be memorable and bring a great sense of community.”