10th Anniversary of Raleigh hosting ‘The Most Important Week in Bluegrass’

This is PineCone’s 10th year as local host for IBMA’s World of Bluegrass. The banjos, fiddles, guitars and all the people that come along with it have found a home in Raleigh. PineCone is looking forward to welcoming the World of Bluegrass back to our city September 27 – October 1st.

We like to call it “the most important week in bluegrass” and that’s for good reason. It’s a time when the music community comes together to reflect on our traditions and look to the future. Bluegrass is an innovative genre at its core. Bill Monroe, often called the father of bluegrass, was the original innovator. He pulled from church music, country dances and from fellow travelling musicians like Arnold Schultz and created a space for acoustic string bands to experiment and evolve. That’s sometimes forgotten at festivals across the country, but not in Raleigh. Here we celebrate bluegrass as a living tradition with roots, branches and new blossoms sprouting each Fall.

Banjo great Bela Fleck reflected on the interconnectedness of innovation and tradition in his 2014 keynote address that opened World of Bluegrass in Raleigh. “You need to safeguard the essence of the music, yet you must not imitate the past or create museum music. If you want to see this music thrive first you must truly understand the elements that make bluegrass, bluegrass. Then you can reach out to the people of today and hit them in their hearts, guts and brains with modern music that expresses your point of view all the while you are protecting this precious cargo, the future of bluegrass music.”

Jamey Dailey is a musician widely associated with “traditional” bluegrass through his work with Doyle Lawson and his seminal group Dailey & Vincent. He’s won 13 awards from the IBMA and a staggering 23 awards from The Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America. Nonetheless he used his time at the podium in Raleigh to call for more innovation in the music. Dailey delivered the keynote address in 2018. “Without a doubt, it is absolutely 100% good and admirable for bluegrass bands to play traditional bluegrass music. At the same time, I believe it’s equally important to push the boundaries. And, foremost be an artist and a promoter. Be an ambassador for the music we love and let your heart and the music shine and let it take you where it will.”

There are few things in American culture that bring people with divergent viewpoints together. Music has the potential to bridge divides.  Bluegrass is no exception which is why we work hard to build a festival that is inclusive at every level. Alison Brown, founder of Compass Records, spoke of this desire in her address to World of Bluegrass in Raleigh in 2019. Brown said that now more than ever the bluegrass world should recognize “…the need for inclusivity and the need to embrace both musical and demographic diversity. I believe as a community we can be an example to the world at large. If we can come together, like we do in the bluegrass world, certainly understanding can grow from there. “

Rhiannon Giddens took that thought a step further in her now legendary keynote address in 2017. “Music has a power to bring us together in ways books, lectures, and indoctrination don’t. So the question becomes – are we going to let bluegrass, as an art form, recognize the fullness of its history? Are we going to acknowledge that the question is not, how do we get diversity into bluegrass, but how do we get diversity BACK into bluegrass? How do we reframe the narrative so that it is seen to be welcoming to all – that the impact of Arnold Shultz, for example, on Bill Monroe is not a footnote, but rather recognized as being part of the main narrative of the story?.”

As this event enters its 10th year in Raleigh we want to celebrate the music and its ability to reflect the community that kept it thriving in our city. IBMA’s World of Bluegrass is downtown Raleigh’s largest annual event with significant economic impact. It’s also become a moment for the entire community to come together and feel good. The pandemic has taught us that’s something we should never take for granted.

IBMA 2022 will feature some familiar names and some new ones. There will be legends and young lions just coming up. As Sarah Jarosz said in her 2020 address for the all virtual IBMA gathering that emanated from Raleigh, “You can still be true to bluegrass while widening your scope. And I believe that the music only stands to benefit from that shift. Hold it up, keep it fresh and share it with the world.”