World Of Bluegrass goes virtual for 2020

The bluegrass world, already reeling from cancelled festivals and delayed recording plans, suffered another blow today when IBMA announced that the World of Bluegrass business conference and music festival would not be held in-person this fall in Raleigh because of the coronavirus.

Instead, IBMA Executive Director Paul Schiminger said, the association’s signature event, billed as “the most important week in bluegrass,” will be held online.

“While we all would love to gather in Raleigh this year for IBMA World of Bluegrass, the extraordinary circumstances made this decision necessary,” he said. “Maintaining the health and safety of the large crowd we enjoy each year would be such an enormous, uncertain, and risky proposition.”

But, he added, the digital approach provides “an opportunity to reimagine every aspect of IBMA World of Bluegrass so we can still connect, educate, showcase, and perform in fun an engaging ways.”

The decision, in line with those made by many other major musical events and festivals, could not have been an easy one. Bluegrass musicians, along with those in other genres, have been hard hit by cancelled festivals and concerts, and some pickers were looking at World of Bluegrass to help their bottom line late in the truncated touring season.

But health and safety questions have lingered in North Carolina and elsewhere. There were also questions about whether bands and fans would have the money for an event where it isn’t uncommon to spend well over $1,000, depending on the length of hotel stay, plane flights, etc. Some major players and supporters told me as recently as a week ago that they would not attend the event this year if it was held, some for safety reasons, some owing to economic considerations.

As part of the digital experience, fans will have live-stream and on-demand access to official showcases, the 31st annual awards show and weekend live performances sponsored by PNC.

There will be a steeply discounted registration fee for the start-of-the-week business conference that includes seminars, gig fair, the keynote address, and other events.

“We will be working hard to make this year work, and plan to use what we learn about building an online audience to expand the audience for when we’re back on Fayetteville Street,” said David Brower, executive director of Pine Cone, the Raleigh-based music non-profit that produces the festival that caps off the week. “We hope that this experience will allow people to participate who haven’t been able to travel to Raleigh before, and that this will also inspire them to make plans to join us in Raleigh in 2021.”

The eight-year marriage between IBMA and Raleigh has been highly successful, both financially and musically, and both parties are optimistic that the arrangement can continue beyond its scheduled expiration next year. In its announcement, IBMA said talks to extend the contract are already underway. A new three-year extension would keep IBMA in Raleigh through 2024.

Over the last seven years, the event has attracted more than 1.2 million attendees and contributed more than $80 million in direct economic impact to Wake County, according to the Visit Raleigh tourism bureau. Last year alone, 218,000 people attended, generating nearly $18.7 million in direct economic impact.

IBMA also announced some key dates for developments related to the digital conference and shows.

Nominees for the association’s major awards will be announced earlier than usual, on Friday, June 26. SiriusXM’s Bluegrass Junction will carry the announcement live at 11:00 a.m. (EDT).

Also, IBMA will announce the final round of official Showcase artists on June 18.

Additional information is included in this video prepared by IBMA.


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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.