Bluegrass Hurricane on the Way to Raleigh

Wide Open Bluegrass 2015Take a mighty wind, lots of rain, dozens of bands and vendors and tens of thousands of music lovers in Raleigh for IBMA’s World of Bluegrass. What do you get?

A really big bluegrass tent, a huge party and, perhaps, the largest indoor bluegrass event to occur since Lester played his first G-run.

“This is going to be a historic hurricane party,” said William Lewis of Pinecone, an IBMA board member.

With Hurricane Joaquin bearing down on North Carolina, the IBMA board had already decided to move the Red Hat Amphitheater ticketed shows indoors to the convention center. Today, the board decided to move the rest of the weekend’s activities indoors, including five stages of free music featuring more than 100 bands.

“Everything will take place right here in this building,” Lewis said.

So, depending on how many folks brave the high winds and buckets of rain, the Raleigh Convention Center could end up hosting 10,000 to 20,000 folks each on Friday and Saturday. Maybe many more.

It promises to be one big party. Maybe one that will be talked about for years to come. “Remember the year of the hurricane?” may come to rival “remember the year Tony Rice talked?” in IBMA lore.

The logistics will no doubt cause some headaches for organizers, but the approaching storm is just what IBMA leaders had in mind when they were looking for a new home for the annual World of Bluegrass business conference and music festival when its contract for Nashville ran out. One of the chief selling points for Raleigh was its massive convention center.

With removable walls, the two downstairs ballrooms not in use as the exhibit hall match the capacity of the Red Hat – about 6,000 people each day. And there’s a built-in advantage. Fans who purchased lawn seating at the Red Hat will actually have seats indoors.

Other outdoor stages will be moved into various ballrooms on the upper floors of the center and vendors will be allocated space throughout.

There are potential problems, of course. Even if the category 5 storm weakens, high winds could knock out power and emergency generators would be hard pressed to operate air conditioning and sound systems.

But that’s out of human control, so in the meantime, in the grand tradition of the entertainment business, the show must go on.

Tim Stafford joked that his hurricane preparedness kit was in his guitar case. I didn’t ask, but assumed he was talking about his weather-resistant carbon-fiber guitar.

Terrific songwriter Milan Miller, invited by this reporter to write an imaginary song about the impending collision between bluegrass music and Mother Nature, immediately threw out an imaginative hook:

Hillbilly Hurricane.

And Danny “Hootenanny” Clark is planning to do pretty much what he would have done even if the weather was fine.

“I’m going to stay inside and play as many Flatt & Scruggs tunes as possible,” he said.  This weekend, though, Take Me In Your Lifeboat might carry some extra meaning.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing everybody in one place at one time,” he said. “It’s going to be like Nashville, but with people.”

Thousands and thousands of people.

In one place.

For one reason.

Let the Bluegrass Hurricane party begin.

Share this:

About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.