Where to find bluegrass at World of Bluegrass

Since the International Bluegrass Music Association moved their pinnacle event, World of Bluegrass, to Raleigh, NC, we’ve heard plenty of complaints from the die-hard Blue Grass (as in Monroe) loving attendees saying “Where’s the bluegrass?” It’s certainly not gone away, but it is relatively safe to say that the IBMA’s big tent approach is stretching the definition (which they purposefully haven’t even defined) of bluegrass music. However, if you just dig into the schedule a little bit, it’s easy to see that there are still plenty of artists and activities for those traditionally-minded folks out there. If you prefer your grass in suits and ties – or at least without a drum kit most of the time – here are a few people and places you might want to check out.

Bluegrass Ramble

It’s hard to satisfy everyone, and plenty of folks have had something to say about the Bluegrass Ramble. Bars aren’t the best venue for bluegrass, especially with regular customers milling about. Sound systems and acoustics aren’t great. The venues are too far apart. The bands are too progressive. However, with free transportation between most venues thanks to the city of Raleigh, the addition of showcases in the Raleigh Convention Center, and a lineup this year that includes several groups that range from hardcore grass to country-leaning modern traditional, most fans should find something to enjoy.

Here’s who to look for:

  • Newtown – fresh band from central Kentucky with strong original songs and an ear toward tradition
  • Deer Creek Boys – Headed up in part by Jason Tomlin, formerly of Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, this group epitomizes the mashgrass style
  • Mile Twelve – a great up-and-coming group based in New England who play straightforward bluegrass with skill and finesse
  • Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road – established band out of North Carolina with a few new members and interesting recent country collaborations
  • Sideline – smooth modern traditional group founded as a side project by banjo man Steve Dilling several years back
  • Jeff Brown & Still Lonesome – hard-working southwest Virginia group led by a former member of Larry Sparks’ Lonesome Ramblers.

Main Stage at the Red Hat Amphitheater

While the shows at the Red Hat are touted for the unique collaborations that take place, sometimes between bluegrass bands and artists of other genres, there is still plenty of hard-driving to be heard. If you’re looking for a full-fledged concert experience, tried and true bands like Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, the Lonesome River Band, and Bluegrass 45 will be at the Red Hat, along with female supergroup Sister Sadie.

Streetfest

If you don’t feel like shelling out the big bucks for tickets to the Red Hat main stage concerts but still want to feel like you’ve been to a bluegrass festival, take a stroll through the free streetfest that takes place along Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh. Seven stages will be set up, including one specifically for dancing, one for young musicians, and one sponsored by the youth music program Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM). Some of the stages have small bleachers set up in front of them, while others welcome camping/folding chairs. Fair warning, one stage last year was right in the midst of the beer tasting event; it was pretty hard to hear David Parmley & Cardinal Tradition over the microbrewery love.

You might want to stop by and see these bands:

  • City Plaza Stage – Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass, Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, The Gibson Brothers, Flashback
  • Davie Street Stage – Alan Bibey & Grasstowne, Mark Kuykendall, Bobby Hicks, & Asheville Bluegrass, Terry Baucom’s Dukes of Drive
  • Hargett Street Stage – Dave Adkins Band, Volume Five, The Grass Cats

Make sure to stop by the youth stages, as well; plenty of these youngsters love the Stanleys and Monroe just as much as you!

Be sure to check out the IBMA World of Bluegrass schedule online at ibma.org/world-of-bluegrass for a full lineup, locations, and performance times. This isn’t an exhaustive list of traditionally-based groups performing at the festival, just highlights! 

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About the Author

John Curtis Goad

John Goad is a graduate of the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass, Old Time & Country Music program, with a Masters degree in both History and Appalachian Studies from ETSU.

  • Jon Weisberger

    Nice guide that highlights some fine artists that I hope everyone checks out. With respect to the observation that “bars aren’t the best venue for bluegrass, especially with regular customers milling about,” the historian in me wants to note that bars have, from a historical point of view, been important venues for bluegrass for a long time. From conversations with Del McCoury, I know they were a main locale for bluegrass artists in Baltimore back in the day, and from my own experience I know how important they’ve been in places like Cincinnati and Nashville. I completely understand and sympathize with those who want to see bluegrass artists outside of a club setting – and I think the Ramble does a good job in accomodating their wishes – but I equally feel it’s important to acknowledge that clubs have, for many decades, been among the most significant venues for bluegrass music.

  • Jim Beaver

    You left out at least three of the most traditional bands on the Ramble. High Fidelity, Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, and Travers Chandler and Avery County. Those bands will deliver a huge dose of traditional bluegrass music.