World of Bluegrass moving closer to new host city

When IBMA made the surprise announcement last fall that 2024 would be the last year for World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, members were told they would be asked for feedback about a potential move, and that a decision was likely by the end of 2023.

The IBMA board didn’t meet that self-imposed deadline, obviously. And now, it appears, the eventual move will come without giving association members a chance to weigh in, as promised.

“The board has selected a city, and we are negotiating an agreement with them,” IBMA Executive Director Ken White told me by email. “Once completed, we’ll be able to share that news, hopefully in a few weeks.”

That timetable suggests the announcement of a host city for World of Bluegrass 2025 should come just before registration opens next month for the last hurrah in Raleigh.

It also suggests that feedback is a moot point, since White said a city already has been selected. Bluegrass Today’s spot check with major bluegrass organizations found no suggestion that they, their leaders or members were contacted for feedback about the pending move.

White, board President Dan Boner, and members of the board are keeping details to themselves this time, after word of IBMA’s pending move from Nashville to Raleigh more than a decade ago was leaked prior to the official announcement. Boner did not respond to attempts to reach him for comment.

An announcement before registration opens for this fall will still give the board and the new city plenty of time to prepare to host what is billed as the biggest week in bluegrass. And it will allow plenty of time for members, bands, and fans to decide whether to attend.

No matter where World of Bluegrass lands, some folks are bound to be unhappy. That’s been the case in each of the organization’s prior moves, including the trek over the mountains to North Carolina from Nashville. A number of musicians and fans said they wouldn’t attend if World of Bluegrass wasn’t held in Nashville.

But, as the bluegrass world now knows, the long stay in Raleigh was very, very good for the organization, and for Raleigh. So good, in fact, that Raleigh is moving ahead with plans for a music festival and street fair in early fall even after IBMA leaves for the last time.

Raleigh’s compact downtown, large hotel capacity, outdoor arena, convention center, and auditorium was just about perfect for the weeklong celebration, and will be difficult to replicate elsewhere.

Plenty of cities boast the infrastructure to pull off World of Bluegrass. But when other considerations are added – affordability, nearby airports, reliable public transportation, and a connection to bluegrass – the list of potential suitors isn’t all that long.

A return to Nashville was ruled out last year when the announcement of the pending move was made. And Washington, DC, was deemed too expensive.

The only city under consideration that was commented on was Tulsa, OK, but that was only because someone specifically asked about Tulsa at the IBMA town hall meeting last fall.

Other possibilities that seem to meet all of the criteria include Cincinnati, Baltimore, and perhaps, Knoxville. Of the three, Cincinnati seems best suited in terms of transportation, hotel room inventory, and relative affordability. Southwest Ohio is also rich in bluegrass history and tradition. California was also likely to have one or more locations on the list for consideration, though affordability would be a negative. 

That’s all just speculation at this point. The final choice could be a city that’s not on anybody’s short list, just as Raleigh was something of a surprise when it was selected.

I’ll miss Raleigh, for sure. But I thought I’d miss Nashville, too. I didn’t. So I’m trying hard to keep an open mind about 2025 and beyond, wherever the powers that be decide to land, and whenever they decide to announce it.

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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.