The International Bluegrass Music Association and the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau have released some numbers from last month’s World of Bluegrass week in Raleigh, NC. They show strong participation by both locals and visitors to the area, with an estimated economic impact of $11.5 million from out-of-towners alone.
IBMA reports a total of 1449 attendees in 2016, a big jump over last year’s count of roughly 1200, itself surely affected by the hurricane that was bearing down on World of Bluegrass in ’15. Still, that’s a healthy increase of over 15%, and with full registrations running close to $300, a substantial cash flow injection into the organization’s coffers. Traffic in the exhibit area was also up dramatically, with 12,000 people counted entering the hall as compared to less than 10,000 last year.
Actual participation at the various events under the IBMA umbrella is a bit harder to measure, as they occur at a number of sites in downtown Raleigh. The business conference was held in the Raleigh Convention Center, while many of the evening showcase performances took place at different entertainment venues throughout downtown. The Thursday night awards show was hosted at the Duke Energy Performance Arts Center, while the weekend’s Wide Open Bluegrass festival was in the adjacent Red Hat Amphitheater, both separately ticketed events.
IBMA’s official count of attendance at these various functions Tuesday through Saturday came to 8,470. Of course that involves the 1449 registrants entering different venues repeatedly through the week, and at Thursday night’s awards show. But the impact of their presence certainly wasn’t lost on the city.
Raleigh is estimating that more than 208,000 people visited downtown for the Wide Open Bluegrass festival over the weekend, counting both the ticketed festival and the free street festival hosted by the city. Weather was close to perfect by that portion of the week (9/30-10/1), and you could see people flocking in both Friday and Saturday. Every restaurant was packed, and the food vendors along the festival route were slinging their wares all day without a break.
Other numbers of interest include 21,200 hotel room nights associated with the convention, and an estimated 92,000 visitors to Raleigh that week from outside of Wake County. Those are big numbers for tourism, partly why IBMA Executive Director Paul Schiminger sees the local authorities as such eager partners.
“Raleigh continues to embrace the IBMA and World of Bluegrass as well as the entire bluegrass community. The City of Raleigh, Raleigh Convention Center and the entire Local Organizing Committee are wonderful partners, working together to create a business conference, band showcases, the Bluegrass Ramble, exhibit hall and two-day festival – an unparalleled week devoted to bluegrass music. This year’s big jump in business conference, Wide Open festival, and exhibit hall attendance numbers are proof that the genre continues to grow at both professional and fan levels. The IBMA looks forward to being in Raleigh through 2018 and hopefully well beyond.”
These are sentiments which ere quickly echoed by Loren Gold, Executive Director of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau, and tri-chair of Raleigh’s Local Organizing Committee.
“There’s no question that the multitude of events that make up World of Bluegrass have a positive impact on Raleigh’s economy. The festival not only boosts the destination’s economy and supports local businesses, but also garners national media coverage, welcomes thousands of visitors and solidifies Raleigh’s reputation as the state’s leading live music destination.”
It remains true that this partnership has been valuable for both IBMA and the city of Raleigh. One imagines it will be quite difficult to break it apart when their contract is concluded after two more years. Anyone who has attended IBMA events over the years in Owensboro, Louisville, Nashville, and now Raleigh will be hard-pressed to find a better host city than they have at present.