The rain held off almost long enough for weatherman Al Roker to complete a series of “Today” appearances in downtown Raleigh on Friday morning.
Roker was in town for the Wide Open Bluegrass Streetfest and did live segments for NBC’s national morning show from downtown between 7 and10 a.m. Crowds gathered in front of the Capitol Stage on Fayetteville Street to hold up signs and cheer, and also listen to a little live bluegrass music.
The weather was cloudy but mostly nice until around 9:45, when a nasty thunderstorm rolled in.
The popular bluegrass group Jerry Douglas and the Earls of Leicester entertained fans from the stage – “We love you, Jerry!” was shouted from deep in the crowd – and the young bluegrass band Shadowgrass also played.
A group of cousins from Rutherford and Cleveland counties were front and center with signs touting their love for bluegrass, admitting that the Earls of Leicester were a slightly bigger draw for them than Roker and the “Today” cameras.
Madison Bridges, 21, of Shelby – “home of Earl Scruggs!” she exclaimed – attends N.C. State and plays guitar. “I may have skipped a class to be here,” she said. Andrew Bradshaw, 30, and his wife, Crystal, 30, drove in Thursday night. Andrew noted that he works in Boiling Springs, which also claims Scruggs.
Andrew and Crystal say they always come to the International Bluegrass Music Association’s festival in Raleigh, and they also attend MerleFest, an annual traditional music festival in Wilkesboro each spring.
“North Carolina is showing out with some amazing bluegrass,” Crystal said.
Roker also did a cooking segment late in the broadcast with Matthew Register of Southern Smoke Barbecue in Garland. Roker sampled the pork belly and sweet potato hash and quizzed Register on the difference between eastern and western North Carolina barbecue.
In between the live segments broadcast on “Today,” which airs locally on WRAL, Roker mingled with the crowd and took photos. His daughter graduated from Shaw University, so he’s been traveling to Raleigh for years and says he is familiar with the area. He applauded the city’s growth and development downtown.
But what does he think about bluegrass music? “I have to say, it’s not on my iPod,” Roker said. “But when you listen to bluegrass, you get a real sense of Americana. It’s another form of American music that I think you end up realizing, there’s a little bit of everything from America in each natural American idiom. There’s a little rhythm and blues, there’s a little country, there’s a little bluegrass almost in everything.”
Roker was scheduled to take a short banjo lesson on the show Friday morning, but he said that got bumped because there was so much serious news happening in the world.
Maybe next year? “You bet,” he said.