World of Bluegrass: How to Plan, Prepare, and Enjoy
The International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass and Wide Open Bluegrass will return to Raleigh, NC, for its fifth year from September 26 – 30, 2017. As always, it includes a business conference, the awards show, and a two-day free street festival called Wide Open Bluegrass. Here we go!
From the time you arrive in Raleigh during IBMA’s World of Bluegrass until you leave town, the action will almost entirely take place within the view you see above. The Duke Energy Center lies just off camera to the right, and across the street from the Convention Center, with its oak tree “shimmer wall,” is the Red Hat Amphitheater. You can see the Marriott hotel behind the Convention Center with the Sheraton to its left. Fayetteville Street runs from the Duke Energy Center to the State Capitol. City Market and Moore Square, surrounded by the venues for night action, are a few blocks further east. That’s it. You’ll be so busy and having so much fun, there won’t be time to go any further, yet the area is sufficiently compact to allow most people to walk between sites. This post is designed to help you make the most of your time and energy.
Raleigh Convention Center
Lobby of Raleigh Convention Center
The Business Conference
PLAN! PLAN! PLAN! The World of Bluegrass and Wide Open Bluegrass together offer five days of opportunities for you to have a wonderful experience or to come out the other side feeling you’ve wasted your time and money. Your first job in preparing to attend is to decide what your priorities are and then figure out how to meet them. Fortunately, IBMA has stepped up its game to provide you with plenty of resources to help you make decisions and to meet your needs.
Questions to ask yourself: “When I go to IBMA in Raleigh, do I want to …”
Learn more about my business?
Meet people who can help me grow my band?
Hear lots of new bands to consider booking them?
Connect with others in my constituency (broadcasting, media, promoters, agents, others)?
Do I want to learn more about the legal issues in music?
Do I want to stay up all night jamming and enjoying the party?
Whatever choices you make are completely up to you.
Online Schedule: Your most important resource is the World of Bluegrass Full Week Schedule, which permits you to view through a number of lenses the activities for each day and hour of the full event. You can choose to follow special interest tracks or take a more eclectic and broad approach to scheduling your activities, enabling you to arrive in Raleigh with a full schedule of events you wish to attend. REMEMBER: As you walk the halls of the Convention Center, you will run into people you know from all over the country. You have to decide if meeting and greeting, socializing, networking, and catching up is more important the hewing to your schedule. You can look at a specific event to determine what the topic covers and who the speakers are. You can click on the “Add to My Sched.” link to place the particular event in your schedule. In other words, you can arrive in Raleigh with every minute planned. Then it will all fall apart!
How to Build My Schedule: When you download the online schedule, you will see a link to “create a profile.” By building your own profile on this page (and perhaps adding a photo of yourself), you will be able to click on events on the schedule you wish to attend. They will then appear on your profile when you search yourself. The list you have generated can be sent to your mobile phone, print your schedule, or email it to yourself. By doing this during the next month as you study the schedule, you will be able to set goals and schedule yourself. The rest, i.e., keeping to your schedule, is up to you!
While you stay in the downtown area of Raleigh you can always be connected. The city provides free Wi-Fi with easy access. Between using that access and the walking setting on your phone’s GPS, there’s no reason not to be able to find your way around.
There are three other kinds of schedules available, each of which has its own usefulness. There are two cell phone apps, one for the World of Bluegrass and one for Wide Open Bluegrass. These are not yet available, but will be posted shortly before the event begins. Once you start, these will become your go-to tools, since you won’t be carrying your laptop. The apps are free and available through the usual outlets.
IBMA publishes a comprehensive program. This is large, contains lots of advertisements, maps, and the entire schedule. I usually give up on using it because it’s cumbersome, although it would be very useful to have as a planning document a couple of weeks before you arrive, or to keep in your hotel room for study about the next day.
Finally, two trifold guides with maps included are available all over the Convention Center; grab a few early and don’t lose them. They become scarce as WOB moves along, and they stand as one of the most useful “how-to-get-around” tools available.
However: Stuff keeps popping up, and you need to stay alert. Lots of new activities or late scheduled events get announced by email, social media, and people posting on bulletin boards and walls all over the Convention Center and in the hotels. Somehow, you need to keep track of this. I can’t determine, at this time, how many of these newly scheduled events make their way to the Official Full Week Schedule, but my guess is that not all of it does or can. I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important it is to download the schedule and register as an attendee.
IBMA’s World of Bluegrass contains three components that must be addressed separately, and within each component there are multiple options. The Business Conference runs from Tuesday through Thursday (Sept. 26 – 28), the Awards Show takes place on Thursday evening (Sept. 28), and Wide Open Bluegrass (Sept. 29 – 30) is a two-day bluegrass festival and street fair which is mostly free except for the ticketed events in the Red Hat Amphitheater featuring major acts from noon ’til 11 p.m. each day. As with most events, the best buys are available to people who purchase comprehensive tickets during early-bird periods. Early bird is long past, but full registration for the Business Conference is your best buy, as it includes several banquet style meals as well as admission to all Bluegrass Ramble showcases. Here’s a link to the ticketing options.
Where to Stay
Convention Hotels: The Raleigh Marriott City Center and the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel stand directly across the street from the Convention Center and convenient to the Red Hat Amphitheater and the Duke Energy Center. They both offer special IBMA prices, but were fully booked early in the ticket buying process. HOWEVER, there are always unforeseen cancellations, so it won’t hurt to give them a call.
Airbnb in Raleigh: Airbnb accommodations have become popular recently. Here’s a list of Airbnb accomodations available in Raleigh for the dates of IBMA as of the end of August.
Hotels Near Raleigh Convention Center: While the two official hotels for IBMA are the Marriott and the Sheraton across the street from the Convention Center, there are a number of other hotels and motels nearby, including a new Residence Inn right next door. Here’s a map and list of convenient hotels that might be worth checking.
Camping: The North Carolina State Fairgrounds offer a large, full hook-up campground with free Wi-Fi just a 15-minute drive from the Convention Center, where there is plenty of parking available. During the event, a shuttle runs regularly. Several hot shower locations are a short drive from the site if you don’t use your own rig. Here’s information about reservations and the check-in process. Campus security will come to you to collect your fees. Last year a block of 100 sites was set aside for World of Bluegrass.
State Fair Campground
Leaving Our Site for the Day
Note: North Carolina State Parks close their gates at 9 p.m., requiring you to park outside and walk to your site. I do NOT recommend staying at a state park near Raleigh if you expect to get in at night. While the North Carolina State Parks don’t emphasize this feature, here’s a quotation from the “make a reservation” section of the State’s web site: “Park gates are closed/locked at posted closing times for your protection. (In case of emergency, contact park ranger or camp host at the posted phone number or dial 911).”
The Business Conference
Early Morning Registration
The registration desk is open on Monday afternoon, so those arriving early and wanting to get their credentials in order before the lines begin to lengthen can come to registration then. Remember, if you’re staying for Wide Open Bluegrass, you’ll need to register again on Friday.
Meeting & Greeting Starts at Registration in the Lobby
Raymond McClain & Bill Knowlton Visit with the Price Sisters
There are three major tracks in the Business Conference: The Talent Buyer Track, The Songwriter Track, and the Continuing Legal Education Track (lawyers get credit from the bar for attending these sessions). But none of these elements are exclusive. For instance, The Gig Fair (speed dating for bands and events) is a crucial event for many young bands seeking to make face-to-face contact with representatives of festivals, arts centers, concert series and more. Important: If you’re interested in participating in the Gig Fair, you must sign up in advance. Keep an eye on the Gig Fair page for sign-up materials. You must be registered for the Business Conference and sign up to participate in the Gig Fair.
You may find interesting sessions and receptions in all the categories of tracks and special interests. Except where noted, these are all open, but you don’t want to find yourself walking up and down the Convention Center hallways with an hour of free time on Wednesday afternoon wondering which session you’d like to attend. That’s why you study the Schedule.
Preparing for Gig Fair: Bands planning on attending the Gig Fair should prepare a folder including their experience, a CD of their work, experience, pictures, and other relevant material. Some bands spend significant money to prepare their presentation, but a well-designed pocket folder with the necessary information is fine. Note: It’s very bad form to wander into the Gig Fair room and walk around delivering materials or interrupting the flow. You MUST register.
Conference Sessions: No one who attends this conference knows all there is to know. There’s always more to learn about your chosen profession. If you can’t go through the schedule and find sessions that will add to your ability to perform better, get more gigs, build a stronger band, write better songs, develop stronger personal relationships in the profession and much more, you’re not trying. Here are a few randomly chosen topics for this year: Social Media: Nuts and Bolts and Current Trends, Promoting Yourself: The Promoter’s View, Sponsorships & Endorsements, The Essence of Good Songwriting. And these three just suggest the breadth of offerings.
Showcases: Each year a committee chooses up to 30 bands for official showcasing. In order to be selected they must meet certain criteria. The 30 artists chosen are guaranteed at least two appearances at showcases in the Convention Center plus additional shows at the venues on the Bluegrass Ramble. The Ramble takes place at convenient venues, within easy reach on the route of the free R-Line bus or within a few minutes’ walk.
There are three kinds of showcases featured at World of Bluegrass. The 30 selected bands present Official Showcases. Searching the schedule by band name will yield you the location of each of these performances. You can stay in the Convention Center and catch all the Official Showcase bands or go out to the Bluegrass Ramble venues to see them in a variety of more realistic performance venues. Sponsored Showcases are scheduled by recording companies, radio stations, regional bluegrass associations, and others. There are also after-hours showcases in the hotels, the Convention Center, and Ramble locations. These will include performances by the showcase bands as well as many established performers sponsors wish to highlight.
Such events occur during the Business Conference. They offer excellent opportunities for fans to see many top touring bands and require conference registration to attend. Organizations like the California Bluegrass Association sponsor “private” showcases in their suite at the Marriott. These are extremely popular events, too.
This year’s Keynote Address will be delivered at the Keynote Address and Reception (including a buffet supper) by Rhiannon Giddens, who will speak on the conference theme “Community and Connection.” Giddens, a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, is a winner of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass as well as a powerful singer across several genres. Her keynote will set the tone for the remainder of the conference.
Luncheons are provided on Wednesday and Thursday at 11 a.m. The Momentum Awards luncheon puts the spotlight on emerging artists, bands, industry involvement, mentorship, and individuals who merit notice. There are always some interesting surprises at this newest set of IBMA awards as well as fine performances. The Special Awards Luncheon highlights industry recognition for many behind the scenes and crucial functions including songwriters, events, liner notes, graphic design, print/media, and, perhaps the most heartily enjoyed by the membership, the Distinguished Achievement Awards. Here’s a list of nominees for each banquet.
While Thursday feels like a part of the Awards element of World of Bluegrass, it remains a full business day with panels, workshops, and meetings. Days at World of Bluegrass are long and demanding, but always worthwhile. Nevertheless, for many who watch from within the organization, across the country, and around the world, Thursday is the Big Day.
IBMA Awards Show
The Duke Energy Center is the home of the signature event of IBMA, The Awards Show, broadcast live on Sirius/XM radio and featured in all the places where people encounter bluegrass. Here’s a list of this year’s nominees for awards at the 2017 show. While premium seats are probably long gone, plenty of tickets are still available if you wish to attend this event.
As a well produced, highly anticipated celebration of bluegrass’s brightest lights, the Awards Show stands as the centerpiece of the week in both time and attention. Here are a few highlights of the show. This year’s show will be hosted by Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck.
2016 Entertainers of the Year The Earls of Leicester Perform
Roland White Accepting Hall of Fame Induction
for His Brother Clarence White
Roland White will be inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame at this year’s Awards ceremony.
Sierra Hull Wins Mandolin Player of the Year
Wide Open Bluegrass
Wide Open Bluegrass is a two-day free street festival and a major ticketed event at the Red Hat Amphitheater produced by the City of Raleigh in cooperation with IBMA and support of major sponsors including PNC Bank. Last year it attracted approximately 208,000 people to downtown Raleigh, according Bluegrass Today. People attending the Thursday night awards show will emerge to see the entire length of Fayettville Street changing its look. At noon on Friday, when the Exhibit Hall opens, they’ll also discover that it has been almost completely changed to accommodate fans rather than bluegrass professionals. Dozens of bands play at stages on the side streets that cross Fayetteville Street, which is closed to traffic from the Duke Energy Center to the State Capitol. Exhibitors and food vendors fill the main thoroughfare, and people stroll up and down, stop to hear the bands, buy all sorts of interesting foods, and have a great time. Meanwhile, in the Red Hat Amphitheater, ticket holders can enjoy two days of the broadest range of bluegrass music to be found at just about any festival in the world. Here’s the lineup:
The Youth Room begins with a kick-off party in room 203 of the Convention Center on Wednesday at 5 p.m. The Youth Room will be open through the next four days and a Kids on Bluegrass show will be prepared for the Plaza Stage. There is also a Youth Stage on Fayetteville Steet where young bands play. Almost anywhere you go in the hotels and around the Convention Center, you’re likely to find groups of talented kids jamming. The committee in charge of youth activities will be announcing their whole program soon.
The Street Fair: Let’s take a walk down Fayetteville Street on Friday or Saturday to sample the activities. It’s a jumpin’ place where you can eat, drink, sample local crafts, try out barbecue sauces, and hear local, regional, and national bands play at one of the seven free stages along the street.
Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass
The Exhibit Hall
During both the Business Conference and Wide Open Bluegrass, the Exhibit Hall, located on a cavernous space below ground level in the Convention Center, offers the broadest possible range of commercial efforts to reach out to bluegrass musicians, support personnel, and fans. Instrument makers, gear companies, publishers, organizations, broadcasters, and individual bands have booths displaying their wares. For pickers, the Exhibit Hall is paradise, as they can play instruments of every level of quality. It’s not unusual to find jams breaking out, as novice pickers to national icons can be seen playing or wandering the aisles. The changeover that takes place during the Awards Show and early the next morning means that multiple visits are necessary. On the other hand, if you have tasks to accomplish, the exhibitions can be seductive, taking you away from your other plans. Here’s a small look:
Don’t miss the Exhibition Hall!
The Red Hat Amphitheater: During Wide Open Bluegrass on Friday and Saturday, performances by a series of top bands you might never see together at any other single festival take place in the only ticketed event during Wide Open, with proceed providing major support for IBMA’s Bluegrass Trust Fund.
Here’s a link to the main stage schedule. Try to beat it anywhere! Here’s information about ticketing. While most prime seats have long been taken, there’s plenty of tickets for the lawn and in the back sections of seats. During the day, you can move forward into any empty seat. If the owner of that seat shows up, it’s the bluegrass way for you to move. Otherwise, help yourself. Meanwhile, here’s a teaser from last year:
I’ve tried to present a post that would help both registrants for the various events and people who attend in other ways with a guide to planning and enjoying IBMA’s World of Bluegrass this year. You still have time to prepare. IBMA’s own website is still the “go-to” source for information. The website is many-layered and often dense. I’ve tried to link to highlights there that will help you through. The week is huge and all consuming. Don’t forget that you’re there to learn AND to enjoy yourself. I hope to meet many of you as the week goes along. Please stop me to introduce yourself. I may not remember you, but I treasure the chance to turn names into people.