Wide Open Bluegrass 2019
Photo: Shannon Kelly/Recording Academy
Wide Open Bluegrass Celebrates Past, Present & Future In Raleigh, N.C.
It is a fascinating change of groove when the business side of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) World of Bluegrass Conference ends and the public begins to arrive and fill the streets of downtown Raleigh, NC, for the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival that follows.
HUGE NEWS! The Wide Open Bluegrass Main Stage will be FREE to the public in 2019! A limited number of tickets will be available for those wanting guaranteed access and a reserved seat.
Read the full press release here!https://t.co/XU0lVWzkN0 pic.twitter.com/3DUduVfjI2
— IBMA (@IntlBluegrass) March 12, 2019
For three days, the bluegrass music industry has met in Raleigh to showcase new and up-and-coming talent, hold various workshops focusing on what it takes to successfully run a band and succeed in the genre, to connect concert promoters from around the country with bands ready to put a tour together and to honor the top musicians in the bluegrass world with the 30th annual IBMA Awards Show.
Then, early Friday morning, the city of Raleigh shuts down almost seven blocks of prime downtown streets to set up the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival. Billed as the “The largest free urban bluegrass festival in the world,” the thoroughfares slowly become inhabited, surging by noon as folks get off work early on Friday to take in the live music offered on multiple stages.
The Recording Academy was on-the-ground for this year’s Wide Open Bluegrass Festival Sept. 27 and 28, walking the streets of Raleigh and taking in what should be considered an amazing accomplishment by this state capitol city.
About eight years ago, Raleigh presented an impressive plan to the IBMA that was, at first, hard to believe. If the organization would consider moving their convention week to North Carolina from Nashville, the city of Raleigh and the local Pinecone Traditional Music Association would provide the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts for the IBMA Awards Show, they would offer the wonderful 5,500-seat Red Hat Amphitheater for a weekend of special performances and they would shut down a wide swath of their downtown district and hand it over to live bluegrass music. Seven years into the change, the event is as strong and popular as ever.
It is noon on Friday of Wide Open Bluegrass, and the streets of Raleigh begin to swell with festival goers as live bluegrass music fills the nine official outdoor stages stretching from the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts to the Capitol Building. There are many other stages to choose from as well, including the impromptu jams found at the various music industry booths in the convention center as well as unofficial stages that have sprouted up along the avenues.
On the City Plaza Stage, we caught up with the band Fireside Collective. This is a group that has successfully taken advantage of the IBMA Convention and its late night Bluegrass Ramble showcases and the Wide Open Bluegrass Street Fest. Just a short few years ago, the group was working hard just to get noticed. Now, they recently signed with the Mountain Home Music record label and just released their new single “She Was An Angel” from their new album that will drop in the coming months.
Photo: Shannon Kelly/Recording Academy
Fireside Collective’s Jesse Iaquinto takes a moment to talk about the band's journey just before they are about to play in the high profile 5 p.m. slot.on the City Plaza Stage after Sierra Hull's set and before the Gibson Brothers show.
“The very first year we came to the IBMA, we were relatively obscure, and we kind of just played the fringes of the convention and had our Raleigh friends come out and support us,” said Iaquinto. “Back then, it was a nice yet small and intimate view from the outside. In the next year, we were a showcase band and we played 15 shows that week. We played eight shows in one day starting at 11 a.m. and ending at 2 a.m. I think I lost my voice on the last note that night. But, it was totally worth it as we made so many connections here with festivals around the country and other venues and bands. This convention is such an amazing opportunity for bluegrass musicians. Today, to play this prime time show on the Plaza, it is an honor to feel accepted into the whole IBMA community.”
As Fireside Collective completes their show in front of a packed crowd, GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter extraordinaire Jim Lauderdale congratulates them on a great set and says hello.
Just the night before, Lauderdale co-hosted the IBMA Awards Show with Hall of Famer Del McCoury. Lauderdale began as a bluegrass artist before branching out to make country music. But, over the last two decades, he has come back to the genre, releasing both country and bluegrass albums along the way.
We'll see you all at the 30th Annual International Bluegrass Music Awards tonight in Raleigh. Get ready for the biggest night in bluegrass!
Get tickets at the Duke Energy Center box office or before the show online:https://t.co/aQNKCJFhRa pic.twitter.com/To90AbjS5T
— IBMA (@IntlBluegrass) September 26, 2019
Some of the highlights from the 2019 IBMA Awards Show include Billy Strings winning the Guitar Player of the Year award, Alan Bibey winning his first-ever Mandolin Player of the Year award, and Sister Sadie, who we profiled at last year’s IBMA Convention, becoming the first female artists to ever win the Vocal Group of the Year Award.
A day later, however, Lauderdale has other things on his mind. Three days earlier on Sept. 23, acclaimed Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter died at 78. Not only did Hunter write many of the most well-known Grateful Dead lyrics, he also wrote more than two album’s worth of songs with Lauderdale.
“I lost a good friend of mine in Robert Hunter this week, and we wrote a couple of bluegrass albums together,” said Lauderdale. “When I first started working with him, it was because I was going to work with Ralph Stanley, and that is how he became interested. Robert and I branched off from that and we wrote a lot of other, different kinds of songs together. I have recorded about 87 of the songs I wrote with Robert, and we co-wrote about 100 songs in total. He would either give me lyrics or I would give him melodies, both long distance and while together. He was an incredible man and it really hit me hard this week.”
At one point, Lauderdale and musician and former Nashville journalist Peter Cooper were able to take Robert Hunter backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, which thrilled Hunter. Later on, after Lauderdale recorded the albums that he co-wrote with the renowned late lyricist, he was able to bring out Hunter to perform on the Grand Ole Opry stage.
“About four years ago, I was playing on the Opry and I took Robert and I got him and (IBMA Hall of Famer) Jesse McReynolds to sit in with me to play a song that Robert and I wrote called ‘Headed For The Hills,’” said Lauderdale. “That really meant a lot to me to have Robert onstage at the Grand Ole Opry. He wasn’t a very demonstrative person, but he was very kind and let me know he really enjoyed it and appreciated it.”
The key to the modern success of bluegrass music is the effort put into cultivating and encouraging young musicians. Those who visit either the IBMA Convention or the Wide Open Bluegrass Street Fest are always blown away by the amount of young players that are walking around and showcasing their incredible ability to sing or play an instrument. In fact, there are two stages set up at the Wide Open Bluegrass Street Fest that are dedicated to younger musicians. The first one is the IBMA Youth Stage, which featured performances by the Burnett Sisters, the all-star group Kids On Bluegrass, the Shiloh Creek Girls and more.
The IBMA Youth Stage also showcased many bands from the colleges that now offer a bluegrass music degree. Some of the groups featured included the Eastern Tennessee State University Bluegrass Pride Band, the Mountain Music Ambassadors from Morehead State University, the High Lonesome Senate band from Walters State Community College, the Tigertown Roots band from Clemson University, the Warren Wilson College Bluegrass Band, the Glenville State College Bluegrass Band, the Carolina Bluegrass Band from the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, The Ruta Beggars band from the Berklee College of Music, the Eastern Kentucky University Bluegrass Band, the Pellissippi State Bluegrass Band, the Bob Jones University Bluegrass and the Denison University Bluegrass Band.
— IBMA (@IntlBluegrass) September 28, 2019
A mile or so away on Martin Street is the very popular Junior Appalachian Musician Stage. The Junior Appalachian Musician (JAM) program is an amazing entity that sets up weekly classes and music lessons for kids in over 40 rural towns and cities in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
At the side of the JAM Stage is the organization’s Director Brett Morris, who brings the best of the musicians involved in the organization to perform on the streets of Raleigh.
“We had a really good crowd on both days, especially during the evening time,” said Morris. “It was pretty impressive. ShadowGrass and Cane Mill Road were the last two bands on Friday night and the crowd stretched all of the way to the main street. ShadowGrass features guitar great Presley Barker, who is only a freshman in high school, and Cane Mill Road features 17 year old multi-instrumentalist Liam Purcell. Cane Mill Road just won the IBMA Momentum Band of the Year award on Wednesday and their banjo player Tray Wellington won the IBMA Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year award as well.”
There are a lot of other genres that could take bluegrass music’s lead when it comes to building up a new generation of artists.
“I mean, if you don’t like to watch kids that are totally killing it while playing music onstage, than there is something wrong with you,” said Morris. “We let Cane Mill Road play a little bit over their allotted stage time and they had this huge crowd eating out of their hands. And, what is cool is that there are a lot of even younger kids that are coming along right behind them.”