Hoping for banjos and blue skies

Lorraine Jordan sings with Carolina Road during the Wide Open Bluegrass festival on Fayetteville Street last year.
Lorraine Jordan sings with Carolina Road during the Wide Open Bluegrass festival on Fayetteville Street last year. cliddy@newsobserver.com

When Alison Krauss and Union Station take the stage in Raleigh Friday night there will be calls for many songs, but here’s one all in the audience likely will want to hear – “Rain Please Go Away.”

Unrelenting rainy weather and the approach of Hurricane Joaquin have driven most events indoors for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass festival that runs through Saturday. But gray weather won’t dampen the fun nor mute the bright tunes of days and nights full of banjos, fiddles and high, keening harmonies. The heavy weather may even give this third version of the festival in Raleigh a cozy, indoor feel.

The cautionary tale over the next few days in downtown Raleigh will be: Dodge the rain and watch for headstocks. For the uninitiated, headstocks are the things at the end of banjo and guitar and mandolin and fiddle necks where the strings are connected. And over the next few days in Raleigh, people are going to encounter raindrops and instruments as they walk through the streets of downtown and see bluegrass groups gathered under tents and awnings.

One of those bands out among the fans along Fayetteville and other streets might be the Kruger brothers. After growing up in Europe, they’re now stars who decided to settle in Wilkesboro because that’s close to where the late Doc Watson was. Along the way, they also made the acquaintance of the late Earl Scruggs, a hero.

Bluegrass does that to people, brings them together, and for the next few days Raleigh is the center of the bluegrass universe. From the Raleigh Convention Center to the Lincoln Theater to restaurants all over town, bluegrass will rule, and banjo players, guitarists and fiddlers will assemble in groups small and large, including in the hallways of hotels late at night. Big-time players like Krauss will be here, but the truth is, you don’t need a ticket to get your fill of good bands during the Capital City’s third year of hosting the IBMA.

The event moved here after long residence in Nashville, where country is king and bluegrass was feeling a little neglected. In that respect, the music festival is as much about Raleigh as it is about bluegrass. It’s a compliment that the event chose the Capital City, but the honor has to be earned every year. For that, Raleigh will have to perform on the streets and in its shops, hotels, restaurants and bars as well as the musicians do on stage and street corners.

Chatham County Line, a fine and now famous band from these parts, actually penned a song about Raleigh’s triumph in getting the IBMA, called “Living in Raleigh Now.” Last year, they played it on stages all over town to great ovations. “What was born in Kentucky is living in Raleigh now,” goes the chorus.

Raleigh’s IBMA crowds have exceeded 150,000, wildly beyond what the organization’s officials expected, and thus the city’s contract to host was extended after the first year.

The gathering’s crowds have been enthusiastic, civil, welcoming and appreciative of this most American music. Which is living in Raleigh now.