World of Bluegrass in Raleigh – to jam or not to jam

This is the second installment in our series on Raleigh, NC as the site for the IBMA’s World of Bluegrass events for 2013-15.

raleighWhen the International Bluegrass Music Association announced in 2011 that it would be required to find a new home for its signature events in 2013, there was some consternation in the bluegrass world. The closing of the Nashville Convention Center for major renovations reignited disputes about the wisdom of having moved to Nashville 7 years earlier, and a vocal contingent urged the association to consider a return to Kentucky.

One of the chief complaints voiced by pickers when the convention moved from Louisville was that areas where jamming was permitted seemed to be far fewer. Part of this was intentional, with a desire to remake World of Bluegrass into a more professional business meeting event, and part had to do with the layout of the facilities and the fact that other groups often hosted events in the hotel while IBMA was there.

But the impression that jammers weren’t welcome, combined with the notably higher costs in Music City, drove a major component of formerly regular attendees away year over year.

The organization found itself in an awkward position. Since their first World Of Bluegrass in Nashville in 2005 which had been a great success, attendance and revenue from the convention and Fan Fest had been dwindling, and the IBMA leadership appeared to face some hard choices. Should they look for a new location in town, or broaden the search to other cities?

Actually, discussions about alternate sites had been occurring long before the announcement was made, and like any organization with its ear to the ground, IBMA had been considering proposals from rival sites for some time.

IBMA members will recall detailed surveys in 2011 that were distributed to collect the insights of the membership – not about specific potential sites, but concerning the sort of options that should be considered in choosing a new one. Many of the changes we are seeing for 2013, like a shortened convention and an outdoor setting for Fan Fest, were among the topics broached in those surveys, and it would appear that these were both amenable to the professional members.

Former Executive Director Dan Hays and the IBMA board examined a number of proposals – most notably from Louisville, KY and Raleigh, NC, both of whom had new convention facilities – and ultimately chose Raleigh for the new site.

During our visit there in March, we had the opportunity to tour the many venues where WOB events will be held. In a previous report, we discussed the lengths that the folks in Raleigh went to secure World of Bluegrass, and ensure its success. Today we’ll take a quick look at some of those venues, and what they will offer attendees in September.

Like the Nashville Convention Center, Raleigh is connected to a major downtown hotel, in this case a Marriott, which allows for direct access through an underground tunnel beneath Salisbury Street, a main traffic artery bringing people in from I-40. A Sheraton property is located adjacent to the Marriott which, while having no direct connector to the convention center, has a main entrance on Salisbury just catty-cornered from the center’s plaza.

[UPDATE 11:57 a.m.] IBMA Board member Dwight Worden informs us in a comment below that the Sheraton does have underground access to the convention center.

Both of these are offering room nights at a notably lower cost than the primary Nashville hotels, with both jamming and non-jamming floors set aside during World of Bluegrass for $139/night. They each have a full-service restaurant and bar on the premises, with meeting rooms that could be available for overflow IBMA functions, or sponsored events.

Less than a mile away is a Clarion property, changing into a Holiday Inn this summer, with rooms offered at $85/night. The Clarion is on the R-Line, a free downtown shuttle bus that runs from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, and 7:00 a.m. to 2:15 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. A number of other options exist for accommodations within 5 miles of downtown, with ample parking near the convention center campus.

We had the chance to speak with hotel management at both the Sheraton and Marriott, and they are well-aware of the bluegrass frenzy set to descend upon them. Kevin Johnson, Director of Sales & Marketing at the Sheraton, and Ashley Woodlief, a Sales Manager with Marriott, had both attended WOB in Nashville and said that they welcome wide open jamming throughout their facilities, other than the non-jamming floors set aside for sleeping. Their spacious lobbies and hallways, other than front desk areas necessary to provide customer service, plan to accommodate pickers and singers, with only such restrictions as are necessary to allow hotel staff to conduct their duties.

The Marriott also has an outdoor courtyard along the end of Fayetteville Street where there is no vehicular access, and jamming can be undertaken there as well, weather permitting.

The convention center itself has a very large outdoor plaza, a huge lobby off the main entrance, and smaller lobbies on each of its four floors, all suitable for jamming, mashing, scrubbing, or however you may describe your favorite type of impromptu performance.

Nancy Cardwell, Executive Director of the IBMA, says jammers should feel welcome during their big week in Raleigh.

Nancy Cardwell“We encourage jamming at World of Bluegrass!

It’s a great part of the bluegrass community (read: fun), and also a part of the way we network and do business.

We may have some areas in the convention center directly outside the door of a seminar or a town hall membership meeting, for example, where we will ask folks not to jam (while those meetings are going on). But there will be many great places to jam inside and outside the convention center all week long.

The Sheraton has a number of great nooks and crannies that are perfect for jam sessions. And at most of the hotels in our block there are lounges, patio areas, fire pits, etc. which they all told me they’d love to make available for jam sessions.”

As Nancy suggests, all of these jam spots will continue to be open during the weekend Wide Open Bluegrass Festival, formerly known as Fan Fest. And with a city-sponsored street festival going on at the same time in the several blocks containing the hotels and convention center, it shouldn’t be hard to draw an audience.

For anyone who had gotten the impression that public jamming had become more restricted at World of Bluegrass, the IBMA and downtown Raleigh want you to know that it simply won’t be the case this year.

Next: how the Raleigh facilities will affect exhibitors and showcase artists.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.