Editorials

Raleigh, bluegrass Mecca

Bluegrass Festival 2017: Raleigh’s streets and venues filled with record crowds and fabulous music

Drone footage and highlights from Raleigh’s Wide Open Bluegrass festival featuring clawhammer guitar by Molly Tuttle Saturday, September 30, 2017.
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Drone footage and highlights from Raleigh’s Wide Open Bluegrass festival featuring clawhammer guitar by Molly Tuttle Saturday, September 30, 2017.

Before the World of Bluegrass and the International Bluegrass Music Association convention returned to Raleigh for year five, the question was, how could it possibly get bigger and better? The answer is, nobody really knows, but it did. It’s expected that when the revenue totals are in, the 200,000-plus attendance from last year and the money spent will set new records. And that should be encouragement for the IBMA to extend its contract with Raleigh beyond next year, the final year of the agreement. It’s said that Kentucky is vying to lure the festival, but Raleigh has a track record and success rate far better than anything the association could have expected five years ago.

This year was simply spectacular. From smaller stages where kids played hot licks to the ones where people like Raleigh’s own Joe Newberry and his partner April Verch were joined in what appeared to be a spur-of-the-moment choice by Jens Kruger of the internationally famous Kruger Brothers, to the downtown taverns hosting the Bluegrass Ramble with local bands, this was a festival that reached out to all ages, all talents. The weather was great, and the superstars of the field such as Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Tim O’Brien and Balsam Range enjoyed thunderous receptions from the crowds.

It was an example of deft scheduling, with the Red Hat Amphitheater packed for two days and nights and building to the finale of North Carolina’s own Steep Canyon Rangers, now just about the biggest group in bluegrass, playing to a sellout. They were joined in the last act by their bandmate Steve Martin, the actor-comedian who plays with the Rangers often and seemed to enjoy himself thoroughly as he bantered with the crowd and played some fine banjo in all styles. Martin is no on-a-whim player; he knows what he’s doing.

And let it be said that Raleigh knows what it’s doing when it comes to this festival. The IBMA and World of Bluegrass would be wise to sign on long-term with the city, and that banjo could be left permanently in the arms of Sir Walter Raleigh downtown.

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