Random notes from World of Bluegrass 2018

IBMA’s love affair with Raleigh continues. Crowds seem bigger this year. Exhibitors report brisk business – one merchant sold two high-end banjos in an hour. And there’s more jamming per square inch than I remember seeing in Nashville.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine IBMA and Raleigh not being together. But if the growth in World of Bluegrass continues, you can expect both parties to work on another extension before the recently renewed agreement runs out in 2021.

City officials are so pleased with the influx of business and cash from the festival that they are actively recruiting other acoustic music festivals to relocate.

Not everyone is happy with Raleigh, of course. Some musicians who live in Nashville haven’t participated since WOB left there. And some traditionalists still long for a return to Kentucky.

But Raleigh is serviced by an airport and Amtrak, is less expensive than Nashville and seems to really want bluegrassers to be here. In Nashville, IBMA was just another music event. In Raleigh, bluegrass commands center stage.

One of the biggest advocates of diversity in bluegrass, Justin Hiltner, had to miss the diversity showcases that bookended the week. 

Hiltner had minor surgery Thursday and he begins chemotherapy Monday to treat colon cancer. He’s been accepted in a trial program that uses an experimental immunotherapy drug.

Though he missed World of Bluegrass, he’s optimistic about the treatment and eager to get back to the banjo. And while he wasn’t in Raleigh, he certainly wasn’t forgotten. For instance, he received a shoutout during the Songwriter Showcase, in which he was supposed to participate. Hiltner was one of 10 writers who made the cut to showcase original material. He also received warm applause during Wednesday’s Momentum Awards luncheon when he was announced as one of the nominees for the industry involvement award.

Those who want to follow Justin’s journey through treatment can go his Caring Bridge page.

The annual IBMA town hall meeting, at which World of Bluegrass attendees can meet board members and ask whatever’s on their minds, seems to have outgrown its current format. 

The hour-long event, which over the years has been sparsely attended, has seen bigger crowds the last few years in Raleigh. But opening remarks by board chairman Joe Mullins, an update from executive director Paul Schiminger and introductions of board members took up about a third of the allotted time, so only a handful of questions were addressed.

As Ken Irwin of Rounder Records said, it’s time to schedule a longer session.

As a broadcaster and band leader, Joe Mullins has to be fast on his feet. That trait served him well during the town hall meeting, when he accidentally said he was looking ahead to IBMA 2016 next year. 

Quickly realizing his mistake, he said, “I’ve been here since Sunday, married 32 years, raised two kids. Give me a break.”

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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.