by William Lewis
The grass is bluer here in the Triangle. The International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual World of Bluegrass festival returns to Raleigh for the fourth time Sept. 27 – Oct. 1. It’s the who’s-who event in the banjo-pickin’ world, with live concerts, conferences and workshops, plus the IBMA awards show. William Lewis is the executive director of PineCone and the producer of Wide Open Bluegrass, the festival’s music extravaganza that closes out the week in downtown Raleigh. Below, he shares some thoughts on how to best enjoy the music he loves.
PineCone works year-round planning Wide Open Bluegrass with IBMA and our Raleigh partners at the Convention Center and Visitors Bureau. So, you can imagine our concern last fall when Hurricane Joaquin caused us to scrap those plans and start over – moving the entire festival indoors in a period of a few days. Although we are all very proud of the results, and now know that it can be done, we hope to never have to do it again. Bluegrass festivals are best enjoyed under blue skies.
Wide Open Bluegrass holds a special place in the hearts and minds of many in our city. While the event’s attendance and economic impact are impressive, I’m always overwhelmed by the pervasive and profound sense of community pride. For an entire week, the world joins us in celebrating one of North Carolina’s homegrown traditions – bluegrass music. And our folks turn out in droves to support it. Not only are they taking time to enjoy the music, dance, art, and food, but they are also going out of their way to welcome visitors to our city and our state. Raleigh’s hospitality ranks very high for attendees, according to post-event surveys.
After hosting one of the world’s largest indoor bluegrass hurricane parties last year, we are excited to return Wide Open Bluegrass to Fayetteville Street and to the Red Hat Amphitheater in 2016. The amphitheater will feature performances by a wide range of bluegrass all-stars, including Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, the Del McCoury Band, and Steep Canyon Rangers, among others. As always, we are planning lots of unique collaborations and special guests to preserve the event’s “must see” status. I’m particularly excited about the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band celebrating its 50th anniversary in Raleigh, and the rare performance by the Soggy Bottom Boys – famous for the soundtrack of the blockbuster film O Brother, Where Art Thou? And the perennial favorites the Kruger Brothers return to the festival, this time joined by a 14-piece orchestra to perform an original piece written by Jens Kruger.
It is a win-win for those purchasing tickets to Red Hat Amphitheater, because they are guaranteed world-class entertainment while also supporting a very important cause. A portion of proceeds from amphitheater ticket sales go to the IBMA-operated Bluegrass Trust Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to individuals in the bluegrass music community in times of emergency need.
As for the free StreetFest portion of Wide Open, we are expanding the footprint of the event south of City Plaza toward the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The wildly popular Dance Tent Stage will now be located there, along with the N.C. Whole Hog Barbecue Championship, a food truck rodeo, junior Appalachian musicians’ showcase, arts and food vendors, kids’ games, and other fun activities. This area has lots of trees for shade and open space with grass for picnic blankets.
Each year we try to tweak the event to make it a bit better than the last. We hope everyone will join us for what is sure to be another wide open bluegrass experience.
For a full schedule and to purchase tickets, visit ibma.org.