Note: Authored by David Menconi, this piece has been produced in partnership with Raleigh Arts. Menconi's latest book, "Oh, Didn't They Ramble: Rounder Records and the Transformation of American Roots Music," was published in the fall of 2023 by University of North Carolina Press. His podcast, Carolina Calling, explores the history of the Tar Heel State through music.



Even though we’re just now jumping into the summer months, it’s not too early to start planning for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual World of Bluegrass shindig—the 12th and final one in Raleigh, where the event has drawn more than a million attendees to downtown Raleigh to enjoy banjos, beer and barbecue since debuting in 2013.

"The most important week in bluegrass" will take place Sept. 24-28 this year, with the IBMA business convention, Bluegrass Ramble nightclub showcases, the 35th annual IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards show filling up the first half of the week, and the free IBMA Bluegrass Live! powered by PNC outdoor street festival taking place over the weekend, with headlining artists performing at Red Hat Amphitheater.

Topline names for the Red Hat shows will include Steep Canyon Rangers, Chatham County Line, Sierra Hull, Rhonda Vincent, Danny Paisley, Amythyst Kiah and perennial favorite Sam Bush.

The street festival lineup features North Carolina's favorite sons (and two-time IBMA Entertainer of the Year winner) Balsam Range, Barefoot Movement, Gospel Jubilators, Jim Lauderdale, Hank, Pattie & the Current and scores more artists.

 

World of Bluegrass has set records during its decade-plus run in Raleigh, annually drawing six-figures crowds to the street festival. So it came as a surprise to some when IBMA announced that 2024 would be its final act in the City of Oaks. The organization has yet to announce where it will go in 2025 and beyond. 

The fact that 2024 will be the swansong for IBMA in Raleigh gives this year's event a bittersweet feel. Is this really it?

“That depends on what you mean by ‘it,’” says David Brower, executive director of Bluegrass Live! producer PineCone (Piedmont Council of Traditional Music). “Yes, it’s the end of an era in some ways. It’s been a great partnership with a lot of wonderful things. It’s shown there’s a significant audience for bluegrass and roots music in Raleigh. Because of that, we’re excited that [a new, locally produced] festival will continue in 2025 and beyond.”

 

To that end, plans are already afoot for Raleigh to host a similarly themed music festival starting in 2025. It will most likely feature a lineup broader than just bluegrass, likely taking place in the same timeframe—around the beginning of October.

“While our IBMA friends will not be coming en masse anymore, the sea of humanity that comes downtown with fiddles and banjos each fall will remain,” says Brower. “We’ll do everything we can to keep all the elements that everyone loves. It will have different branding but the same feel, broader than just the industry definition of bluegrass.”

One change for 2024 from recent years is that the Red Hat Amphitheater shows will no longer offer a limited amount of free admission. The entire venue is now ticketed, with seats in the general-admission area bargain-priced at $10.

 

This year’s World of Bluegrass Raleigh finale will have some retrospective aspects, including a festival stage paying tribute to 2024’s 100-year anniversary of the Union Grove Old Time Fiddler’s Convention—a legendary festival in Iredell County “where the hippies and hillbillies used to get together,” says Brower.

There will also be a slate of “Raised in Raleigh” programming, focused on many of the notable young musicians—Sierra Hull, Molly Tuttle, Crying Uncle and Tray Wellington and others—who have come of age during the decade-plus of the Raleigh IBMA era.

“We’re on for 2024 and it will be a banger of a year, with another banger for 2025,” says Brower. “This decade-plus run with IBMA proved something many of us here already knew, that bluegrass has a home in Raleigh. It’s been rooted here since Bill and Charlie Monroe were playing live on WPTF, and the festival that came out of IBMA’s participation proved that. We’re looking forward to what’s ahead. It’s been fun. All sides would tell you it’s been a great experience. We’ve learned a lot that will serve music and our communities well.”

Tickets for the Main Stage acts during Bluegrass Live!—plus the business conference, Bluegrass Ramble showcase and Bluegrass Music Awards—are on sale now.

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