John McEuen accepts a Distinguished Achievement Award from Jerry Douglas at WOB 2022 – photo © Frank Baker
Another World of Bluegrass is in the books, the 10th held in Raleigh so far.
For the second time in IBMA’s visits to Raleigh, hurricanes pushed the weekend’s Wide Open Bluegrass festival indoors, to the Raleigh Convention Center and nearby Duke Energy Center. It’s not a perfect solution, and it doesn’t have all the energy of the usual street fair, but it was a workable and sensible alternative, both this year and in 2015.
As the last years of Raleigh’s current contract wind down, the city has started pushing for a renewal. Some IBMA members are agitating for a return to WOB’s former homes, in Owensboro or Louisville, KY, and Nashville. I get it. But realistically, Owensboro is too small and not easy to get to, and Nashville doesn’t cater to bluegrassers the way Raleigh does. In Nashville, IBMA is just another music event. In Raleigh, it’s the event of the year.
And I’m not aware of any affordable city that can offer what Raleigh does — the ability to transform a major outdoor street fair into a fun indoor event with just a day or two turnaround. And thanks to the tunnel connecting the Marriott and the Convention Center, many attendees were able to stay dry through two days of rain.
I don’t have inside information, but don’t be surprised if the contract between IBMA and Raleigh is extended once again.
Here are a couple of other items left in my notebook after last week’s annual event:
Knowing the audience When former radio host Katy Daley, now co-host of the Bluegrass Stories podcast, stopped by the Songs From The Road Band booth in the exhibit hall, the band was just getting ready to play a song. I’m not sure what they were intending to play, but after a quick huddle, the pickers launched into the bluegrass standard, Katy Daley. Katy sang along with the chorus, and was still talking about it the next day.
“I worried that it might seem a little hokey,” said bass player Charles Humphrey III. It wasn’t.
Breakfast with Doyle One morning, I was at the right place and the right time and had breakfast with Daley and Bluegrass Hall of Famer Doyle Lawson. Lawson, now retired from leading a band (Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver) looked relaxed but was, as always, a spiffy dresser. We talked about his passion for classic cars and instruments he wished he had kept, among other things.
Doyle isn’t totally gone from the music scene. He popped in for several performances by former members of Quicksilver, now billed as Authentic Unlimited, with Jesse Brock holding down the mandolin job. And he’s still active as a producer. Next up is the record he’s cutting on Billy Blue Records artist Donna Ulisse. And there are whispers that some new songs from him might be forthcoming.
Strong performances As a fan, songwriter and music reviewer, I try to stay on top of things of all things bluegrass. But two vocal performances came as big surprises.
The first was from Missy Raines. She has sung in the past, but with her new band, Missy Raines and Allegheny, her voice was better and more nuanced that I’ve heard before. So much so that after one showcase performance I complimented her voice and asked if had taken lessons. She had, she said, noting that she had worked with Dede Wyland.
The second surprise came from Greg Blake, the relatively new lead singer for Special Consensus. Blake told me he owed his improved voice to Special C founder Greg Cahill. No, Cahill isn’t a voice teacher, but he and the band have a busy schedule so Blake is singing regularly. It was no accident that Blake was nominated for male vocalist this year. It probably won’t be the last time.
Third time’s the charm? This was Executive Director Pat Morris’s second World of Bluegrass. Perhaps one of these years, he’ll have a normal one. Last year, with the retirement of his predecessor Paul Schiminger, Morris dealt with the first year back from the all-virtual Wolrd of Bluegrass during the COVID outbreak of 2020. This year, he had to deal with a looming hurricane and move the ever-popular street fair indoors.
Schiminger attended a number of events, including Monday night’s kickoff reception for Leadership Bluegrass alumni. When I told him he looked relaxed and without a worry in the world, he said that was because “I don’t have to answer your questions anymore.”
He was kidding.