If you attended World of Bluegrass earlier this month and thought the crowds in downtown Raleigh were noticeably bigger than last year, you weren’t imagining it.
The overall five-day attendance for the 2014 International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass festival came to more than 180,000 people.
That’s nearly 29 percent more than last year’s total of 140,000, and the biggest crowd Raleigh has ever seen – bigger by far than the 138,000 drawn by the 2011 NHL All-Star Game and fan festival. While the hockey game’s events generated more direct visitor spending ($11.4 million), this year’s World of Bluegrass topped it in almost every other measure.
“With 180,000 total combined attendance, this was absolutely the biggest thing in the history of downtown Raleigh events,” said Loren Gold, executive vice president of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.
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Among the economic measures from this year’s World of Bluegrass:
• The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates $10.8 million in direct visitor spending, up 16 percent from $9.28 million in 2013.
• Area hotel room nights were up 15 percent to 23,000.
• IBMA business-conference registrations were up 8 percent to 1,549.
• Estimated attendance from outside Wake County was up almost 5 percent, to 88,000.
“We’re absolutely satisfied with the overall numbers, very happy about that,” said Jon Weisberger, the IBMA board chairman. “It was a great year.”
While overall attendance spiked, it was not a clean sweep because a few of the component events actually dropped a bit in 2014.
After the 2013 IBMA Awards show drew a capacity crowd to 2,200-seat Memorial Auditorium, this year’s event fell just short of a sellout. And only one of this year’s Red Hat Amphitheater shows sold out, compared to two sellouts last year.
The IBMA board is also concerned about the business conference and hopes to bolster its attendance next year and beyond.
“We would like to make sure attendance at the business conference continues to grow at a more rapid pace,” said Weisberger. “So we’ll be paying a lot of attention to that next year.”
Next year’s IBMA World of Bluegrass is scheduled for Sept. 29 through Oct. 3 in Raleigh.