Tray Wellington’s World of Bluegrass Picks

The award-winning musician shares his local and industry tips to make the most of the upcoming IBMA Bluegrass Live!
as told to Addie Ladner

The strummers, pickers and crooners are back! Our own City of Oaks hosts the largest urban bluegrass festival in the world, which celebrates the end of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual convention. And around the convention, there’s music galore at the IBMA Bluegrass Live! festival. 

For the inside scoop, we caught up with local musician and PineCone representative Tray Wellington (who is, by the way, is up for IBMA New Artist of the Year). “I’m super excited both from a musician standpoint and an IBMA standpoint,” says Wellington. “The festival does so much for the community — it introduces so many people to the music.” 

What’s your favorite part of IBMA?

For me, playing live is the best part. I love recording but performing live, it makes the music special. Also the conference is really awesome even if you’re not a bluegrass musician. It covers business ideation, music on the road, social issues, there’s a ton to learn from it.

What kind of music do you listen to?

The funny thing is that I probably listen to bluegrass less than anything else. I enjoy a lot of R&B and jazz, and hip-hop. That changes the way I think about writing music and inspires me.

How’d you get your start in bluegrass?

Growing up, I loved learning new things. I originally played electric guitar in middle school, but then I came across a tape of Doc Watson. I listened to him fly pick guitar and play the banjo and thought it was super cool, so I started playing banjo. Growing up in Western North Carolina, bluegrass was all around us in the mountains, we even had a club in middle school called the Mountain Music Club. Bluegrass is a style of music that anyone can enjoy, especially live, it’s so easy to listen to. I have been playing professionally since I was about 18, and my band Tray Wellington Band, with Josiah Nelson, Katelynn Bohn and Nick Weitzenfeld, has been together for about two years.  

Who are you excited to see at IBMA?

Molly Tuttle Golden Highway (playing Red Hat Saturday 10 – 11 p.m.) is really creating a buzz as a whole. Watch out for her. I also don’t want to shamefully self-promote but Jake Blount, Kaia Kater and I will be doing a show together (Saturday 6:10-6:55 p.m. at Red Hat) which will be really cool and different. AJ Lee and Blue Summit, (Friday at 5:55 p.m. at Red Hat) she’s an amazing talent. 

Where would you recommend people go for ood and drink downtown during the festival? 

For coffee and breakfast: Sir Walter Coffee, it’s awesome for breakfast or a light lunch or a good coffee. Also Black and White coffee at Videri Chocolate Factory, it’s out of this world coffee. Also definitely stop at Transfer Co. Food Hall. They’ll have activities throughout the week, concerts in their ballroom, and of course all the good food options. Burial Brew Co. is right next door for good beer.

How do you think people can get the most of the weekend?

Make a plan for which shows you want to catch, but also keep an open mind. The musicians aren’t always going to sound the same. If you’re not really into the first act you come across, maybe walk around and catch a different one and check out some of the other activities. There are so many other activities like the art market and food truck and dancing.There’s really something for everyone.

Favorite places to play?

IBMA for sure. I love festivals in general, and that’s probably my favorite. Theaters are also really cool. I love the App theater venue in Boone, and I played at the Raleigh Memorial theater that’s a very cool theater.

What do you have down the pipeline?

We just released a new single, “Moon in Motion 1,” which will be one in a three-part series. We have an album coming up early next year. And we’ll be playing at the Appalachian Theatre in Boone in October.

Experience World of Bluegrass Sept. 29 – 30 | Various times; Free or reserved seats from $25; downtown Raleigh;

This article was originally published on on September 21, 2023.