Bluegrass is for old people, right? You have to have a five-string banjo and sound just like Earl Scruggs, right? When IBMA says “big tent,” they just mean when folks like the Lonesome River Band and Doyle Lawson use drums, right? No, no, definitely not, no. As anyone who has been to the World of Bluegrass festivities in Raleigh over the past few years knows, you can see everything from bluegrass to newgrass to jazz to folk to who knows what on the many stages of the festival. With diversity seminars and ever-growing numbers of female and minority artists performing, as well as bands from all across the United States and world, it’s likely that IBMA’s World of Bluegrass truly has something to offer every kind of bluegrass fan. For those who prefer the more progressive side of bluegrass, or fans of similar genres who are looking to get into bluegrass, here are some bands you might want to add to your schedule for the last weekend of September.
The Bluegrass Ramble has been a jumping-off point for several edge-of-grass bands in recent years, helping them make the leap from regional performances to national tours and wide radio exposure. Many of the groups here are what I’ve heard described as “acoustigrass” or “acousticana,” adding elements of bluegrass to an Americana/folk/singer-songwriter sound. Others toss jazz, blues, pop, and more into their music, creating unique, intricate compositions.
- Fireside Collective – “Bluegrass, newgrass, perhaps progressive folk,” is the how the band describes itself on its website; the Asheville, NC-based group offers energetic original songs.
- Forlorn Strangers – radio-friendly folk-pop with lots of gentle melodies and breezy, smooth vocals
- Charm City Junction – Bluegrass, old time, Celtic, and roots music converge in this ultra-talented group that calls Baltimore home
- The Lonely Heartstring Band – Melodic progressive bluegrass from the 2015 IBMA Momentum Award Band of the Year.
- Missy Raines & the New Hip – One of the most talented bass players in the bluegrass realm offers up jazzy, country, folky music with an acoustic ensemble
- Front Country – San Francisco-based group known for their roots-pop sound and the lead vocals and songwriting of 2016 IBMA Momentum Vocalist of the Year Melody Walker
Main Stage at the Red Hat Amphitheater
The Red Hat is where most of the weekend’s “big” acts can be found; previous years have featured everyone from Alison Krauss to Steve Martin. Many of these acts are chosen in part for their ability to draw big crowds composed of people who aren’t strictly bluegrass fans. If you’re looking for intriguing melodies and new interpretations of bluegrass, make sure to stop in during sets by acts like multi-IBMA award nominee Molly Tuttle, Mark O’Connor featuring the O’Connor Band, IBMA awards hosts Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, The Kruger Brothers & Kontras Quartet, The Infamous Stringdusters, and Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Steve Martin.
If you prefer your bluegrass with a dose of arts, crafts, food, local produce, and bbq, you might want to stroll through the Wide Open Streetfest, Raleigh’s free festival during Wide Open Bluegrass. Located along downtown’s Fayetteville Street, hundreds of vendors set up offering everything from deep fried Oreos to Indian food to exquisite artwork to time in a bouncy house. There are also seven stages set up at various points along the intersecting streets, each offering a mixture of progressive and traditional artists. One stage is specifically for dancing, while another features youth musicians. It’s free – why not stop in on artists like the ones below?
- City Plaza Stage – Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, Adam Aijala, Ben Kaufmann & Friends, Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley, Chatham County Line
- Hargett Street Stage – Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys, Hank, Pattie, & the Current, Slocan Ramblers
- Capitol Stage – FY5, The Honey Dewdrops, Scythian
Be sure to visit the World of Bluegrass web site at for a full schedule and to see times and locations for each of these bands. This isn’t an exhaustive list of progressive bands, just some highlights!