World of Bluegrass is a major gathering that took place for a number of years in Nashville. This year the event moved to what some saw as an unlikely city, Raleigh, NC. Given Nashville's reputation as a major center for American music, Raleigh seemed possibly unprepared for the challenge of hosting such an event. But Raleigh came through with flying colors, the crowd spent millions and the International Bluegrass Music Association reported a variety of increases in positive stats. As a former resident of Raleigh before it became popular, this blogger is still a bit surprised at how far NC's new boomtown has come.
Raleigh Is Finally Embracing Its Downtown
I grew up in Raleigh and spent much of the 80s in the area after graduating from college and it's been a trip to watch a downtown that died after 5 pm on weekdays become a thriving center for city life including the Hopscotch Music Festival now joined by the World of Bluegrass festival.
In the 80s most people weren't interested in downtown Raleigh and the city was much more conservative than neighboring Chapel Hill and Durham. But indie/alternative rock and the arts in general were carving out their own space at local clubs and art galleries. Some of those efforts took root downtown helping spark a process of bringing it back to life.
A bookstore and arts center, The Paper Plant, was a key focus for arts activity in the 80s in downtown Raleigh. An open mic poetry and performance event sponsored by The Paper Plant was the first live entertainment at The Berkeley Cafe, one of the early clubs to set the stage for Raleigh's downtown renaissance.
So it's really amazing for me to be reading about Raleigh as the new home of the International Bluegrass Music Association's World of Bluegrass, at least for two more years. As noted in Music Row, World of Bluegrass:
"generated an estimated $10 million in direct visitor spending for Raleigh and Wake County, according to the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau (GRCVB). The $10 million estimate does not include local spending, nor does it include a multiplier of indirect or induced impacts."
Raleigh Proves Itself As Host of World of Bluegrass
Bringing World of Bluegrass to Raleigh, which took place September 24 to 27, was a major coup for the city and apparently a huge success. Nancy Cardwell, executive director of IBMA, stated:
"To say that Raleigh ‘rolled out the red carpet for us’ is a bit of an understatement. It’s probably more accurate to say that they rolled out the carpet, bought new furniture, and built a new home for us."
Some local media focused on comparisons with Nashville perhaps due, in part, to previous baiting on the part of Peter Cooper:
"music columnist for the Nashville Tennessean, [who] wrote a witheringly condescending column in which he called Raleigh 'a fine city,' noted its basketball virtues and concluded, 'What does that have to do with bluegrass? Well, nothing at all.'"
Sometimes an event simply fits another town better. California Bluegrass Association board member Montie Elston stated:
"I like it a lot better here...It’s a friendlier atmosphere than Nashville, and also economically more advantageous. Hotels and restaurants are cheaper here; you can walk to things. It’s been great here this week."
A Greensboro, NC bluegrass dj, Roy Moore, added, "It’s been great to be in a place for this where we’re wanted. Nashville never did anything."
And World of Bluegrass Did Well In Its New Home
Competition aside, Raleigh was apparently a good host and the event did very well:
"The IBMA conference had about 1,500 registrants, up from 1,118 in Nashville last year, and they filled all the downtown hotels. Thursday’s awards show at Memorial Auditorium drew a sellout crowd of around 2,200 – up from just over 2,000 in Nashville last year. And the 12,000 people attending the two Red Hat shows dwarfed the 8,000 that the IBMA’s 'Fan Festival' drew in Nashville last year."
"Another key statistic is IBMA membership, which got a bump from the buzz of this year's convention. Membership is up 25 percent this year, according to IBMA executive director Nancy Cardwell."
This news is great for Raleigh, which is becoming a much bigger small city. Of course, Nashville is making its own way and doing quite well, thank you very much.
Both cities have a lot to be proud of but, if this were basketball, Raleigh just won again.
Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch/@crowdfundingm) also blogs at Flux Research and Crowdfunding For Musicians. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.