IBMA and Raleigh have been very good for each other since they started working together on World of Bluegrass in 2013, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that the relation is being extended for three years.
The conference’s move from Nashville was surrounded with uncertainty. The big question was, would fans and music professionals support WOB in its new home. While a relatively small number of Music City-based musicians haven’t come to Raleigh, the answer over the first five years of the IBMA-Raleigh marriage is a resounding yes.
More than 220,000 attended IBMA-related events in Raleigh last year and brought in $11.7 million in direct spending, according to estimates by the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau. Attendance, and the festival’s economic impact, have grown every year except one in Raleigh. The exception was in 2015, when rain and wind from Joaquin, the so-called Bluegrass Hurricane, dampened enthusiasm and drove the weekend of music indoors. But even that year demonstrated the ability of Raleigh and IBMA to handle adversity. Not many cities would have been able to move a major outdoor music event – stadium shows and a free street festival – indoors on short notice and with few hiccups.
This year’s event is virtually certain to push attendance over the 1 million mark for the first six years in Raleigh. Those numbers will help cement World of Bluegrass as North Carolina’s signature one-time event and strengthen the city’s case as it tries to convince Folk Alliance conference and the Americana festival to make Raleigh their future homes.
Staying in Raleigh was always IBMA’s first choice, but the organization did hold out for a bigger piece of the revenue pie, and their stance paid off in a big way.
Under the expiring contract, IBMA was given $100,000 in grants from the city’s business development program. That helped underwrite the cost of renting the entire convention center for IBMA’s annual business conference and fan fest.
Under the new arrangement, the grant from food, beverage and occupancy taxes will reach $175,000. Additional funds from the city and the visitors bureau will push IBMA’s total to more than $260,000. That doesn’t include the annual share of proceeds from the Red Hat Ampitheater shows that benefits the Bluegrass Trust Fund. (So far, according to IBMA, the fund has paid out $800,000 to professional bluegrassers in need since its inception.)
IBMA is committed to spend the new money locally, but the aid will free up other IBMA funds for other purposes.
The protracted negotiations, which began in earnest immediately after last fall’s conference, caused angst among some fans, and fueled the hopes of other cities that wanted a shot at hosting the lucrative event. But in the end the extension is a win for both sides. Raleigh gets to keep burnishing its reputation as a live music destination and benefits from the continually growing attendance and revenues. IBMA, in turn, benefits from the stability of not having to start over in another city and gets a bigger share of the money.