Thanks to the inclement weather, setting another attendance record was not in the cards for World of Bluegrass in its third year in Raleigh. But the 2015 edition still drew solid numbers.
Figures released Tuesday put overall attendance at more than 98,000 for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s convention and events during World of Bluegrass from Sept. 29 to Oct. 3. More than 41,000 came from outside Wake County and generated $5.6 million in visitor spending, according to estimates from the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Last year, perfect fall weather resulted in huge crowds for the free outdoor street festival, spurring total attendance past the 180,000 mark and visitor spending to just short of $11 million. This year, rainy weather and the threat of a hurricane forced organizers to move everything inside the 500,000-square-foot Raleigh Convention Center.
While that was less than ideal and imposed some limitations on crowd size, it was far better than canceling the event.
“It’s pretty miraculous, what the Raleigh team was able to put together,” IBMA executive director Paul J. Schiminger said. “The way they moved everything inside in 48 hours was incredible. We were very happy with how it turned out. Not that we want to replicate it if we don’t have to. Next year, we’d rather be back outside where we can get 180,000 people coming.”
One troubling metric was attendance to the IBMA business conference, which drew about 1,200 registrants this year – a decline of more than 20 percent from last year. And after selling out 2,200-seat Memorial Auditorium in 2013, attendance for this year’s IBMA Awards show was less than 1,800.
But chances are still good that the IBMA will keep the festival in Raleigh beyond 2018, when its contract with the city runs out.
“It’s probably time to start thinking about 2019 and beyond,” Schiminger said. “I can’t say what the board will want to do, but Raleigh made a very strong case this year for having it remain there for some time.”
World of Bluegrass
by the numbers
Estimated attendance (from outside Wake)
2013: 140,000 (84,000)
2014: 180,000 (88,000)
2015: 98,000 (41,700)
Estimated visitor spending
2013: $9.28 million
2014: $10.8 million
2015: $5.6 million
IBMA business-conference registrations
Hotel room nights
Source: IBMA, Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau