10 Years of Fun ‘Beyond Our Wildest Dreams’

People in Raleigh get downright giddy talking about IBMA’s World of Bluegrass. When WOB22 happens September 26 – October 1st it will be the event’s 10th year in Raleigh. “I’m deliriously happy with how it worked out,” says Ron Raxter.

Ron is one of the founding members of PineCone and was on the Board of Directors when folks from the city asked for help recruiting IBMA to Raleigh. “We helped them put together a proposal that had the things that bluegrassers would like.”

As Ron remembers it, Raleigh had been trying for a couple of years to get the attention of the International Bluegrass Music Association. The city was home to a brand-new convention center and was looking for marquee events that could take advantage of the state-of-the-art facility and adjacent 5,900 seat amphitheater.  But Ron says the IBMA took some convincing. “There was a huge contingent in Nashville that, even though they weren’t doing well, didn’t want to leave.”

PineCone went all in and has been a part of the leadership team that’s organized the gathering for the last decade. PineCone’s Executive Director is one of three chairs leading the Local Organizing Committee for World of Bluegrass in Raleigh. We are also the producer of the weekend festival. Part of that means we book all the bands that play in the Red Hat Amphitheater and on the free stages up and down Fayetteville Street. 

IBMA’s World of Bluegrass is the focal point of the year for PineCone. “It’s our chance to both serve the city and the music,” says Jamie Dawson, the current President of PineCone’s Board of Directors. “For many, the festival is their first exposure to bluegrass. We get to be a part of helping them understand its roots and all of the cool branches that have grown out of that sound.” Jamie was in the band Kickin’ Grass and has fond memories of playing the festival in Raleigh.

A big part of World of Bluegrass since it’s been in Raleigh is the jamming, both spontaneous and planned. It happens all over downtown all week. “I think a lot of the bluegrass world was surprised at how many good pickers there are within 100 miles of Raleigh,” says Ron Raxter. “And they all come down for World of Bluegrass.”

That’s what caught local music journalist David Menconi’s eye at the first festival. He wrote about it in his book Step It Up and Go published by UNC Press. “I have a vivid memory of walking down Raleigh’s Fayetteville Street main drag during that 2013 festival and coming upon a young group playing on the sidewalk in front of the old Hudson Belk building with a large throng of listeners in a semicircle. The musicians looked like they weren’t much older than teenagers as they played guitars, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and even an improvised milk-crate drum kit. Whether it was an actual band or just a pickup jam, the kids could play, and they were tight as they blazed through that old-time mill-town chestnut ‘Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues.’ A good chunk of the crowd knew the words, too, and they sang along with gusto.”

WOB22 will feature more opportunities for everyone to play and sing at the festival. Festival artists will be leading pickers at two “Wide Open Jam Tents.” They’re designed to be welcoming and open to pickers at all levels.

The pickers came out that first year and so did the crowds. The 2013 festival in Raleigh was five times larger than what it was the year before in Nashville. Ron Raxter remembers that first festival in Raleigh vividly. He says he was standing on Fayetteville Street with Margaret and Wayne Martin, two of the other founding members of PineCone. There was a sea of people around them and they could hear fiddle tunes ringing from around the corner. “I turned and said to them, when we started this did you think anything like this was possible? It succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”