Years of planning and months of courting by the City culminated Wednesday with the announcement that the International Bluegrass Music Association's awards show, conference and festival will come to Raleigh in 2013.
With North Carolina's own The Grass Cats setting the mood, Mayor Nancy McFarlane took the stage on the Astroturf area adjacent to City Plaza to announce what she called a "major cultural event."
That event is the IBMA's World of Bluegrass, a week-long event that includes a four-day business conference, the International Bluegrass Music Awards and a three-day Bluegrass Fan Fest that features performance from more than 60 bluegrass bands.
The event is currently hosted in Nashville, Tenn., but will relocate to Raleigh Sept. 23-29, 2013. The City will also host the event Sept. 24 through Oct. 5, 2014, and Sept. 28 through Oct. 4, 2015.
"This is a monumental moment for Raleigh, Wake County and North Carolina," said Denny Edwards, president and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau. "This event really is the Super Bowl of bluegrass music, and we look forward to showcasing our area's musical and cultural heritage to the thousands of fans, musicians and industry leaders coming to North Carolina's capital city."
IBMA board member and Kneedeep in Bluegrass radio host Cindy Baucom says Raleigh was a logical choice for the World of Bluegrass because of North Carolina's bluegrass heritage that reaches far beyond the contemporary bluegrass music of the Steep Canyon Rangers, the Grass Cats, Jim Mills and David Holt.
"Some argue Bill Monroe might not have made it to the Opry to unveil this new genre of music had it not been for Raleigh, N.C.," Baucom said. "That's the place where he and his brother Charlie famously parted ways in 1938, which started a chain of events that would lead the younger brother, Bill Monroe, to form the Blue Grass Boys."
She added, "My husband Terry Baucom and I are so proud to call North Carolina home, and we cannot wait to welcome our bluegrass friends from all over the world to enjoy IBMA World of Bluegrass in our beautiful capital city of Raleigh."
As for the beautiful capital city, Jon Weisberger, vice chair of the IBMA board of directors, says the area surrounding the Raleigh Convention Center is the perfect venue for the IBMA's events, saying it "looks like it was designed specifically for us to meet our needs."
"If someone had designed a venue perfect for our events, the city of Raleigh could not have done a better job," Chair Stan Zdonik said.
Weisberger, who served on the site selection committee, says he visited several cities and locations, including the World of Bluegrass's current home in Nashville, but he says Raleigh's Convention Center, the Performing Arts Center and "this meeting campus" seemed tailored fit for the IBMA's needs.
The selection committee made its way to Raleigh in March, where a reception for the IBMA was hosted at the Marriott City Center with banjo player Jim Mills, mandolin player Tony Williamson, and Sugar Hill Records founders Barry Poss and Dave Freeman. But Edwards says plans to bring the IBMA to Raleigh date prior to the convention center's opening in 2008.
"Our sales team has been working diligently on bringing this World of Bluegrass festival here to Raleigh for over five years," Edwards pointed out. "We knew we had the perfect campus to host the event with the opening of the Raleigh Convention Center, the Raleigh Amphitheatre, City Plaza, [and] Fayetteville Street, along with the compliment of the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts."
He added, "Combine our campus with North Carolina's rich history of bluegrass music along with the strong support of our community, and we knew Raleigh was the ideal home of the World of Bluegrass festival and we're thrilled the IBMA leadership agreed with us."
When World of Bluegrass makes it way to Raleigh in 2013, Edwards says it is expected it will generate a direct economic impact of more than $9.9 million per year in Wake County. Along with that, he says the event will bring more 16,000 visitors to Raleigh, with more 8,500 from out of town.
"IBMA currently has blocked eight hotels just for the convention delegates alone, which will generate over 5,900 total room nights per year," Edwards said.
In addition to highlighting the City and the accomplishments of former mayor Charles Meeker, McFarlane says the event will be an opportunity to showcase the arts and culture of the region.
"The rest of the world is going to start to discover what an incredible local music scene we have," McFarlane said. "We have so much richness in arts and culture here, and so much of that is organic."
IBMA Interim Executive Director Nancy Cardwell says the World of Bluegrass's move to downtown Raleigh does not mean a complete move from Nashville. "The IBMA offices will continue to be located in Nashville, Tenn.," she said.
Piedmont Council of Traditional Music Executive Director William Lewis was appointed to the IMBA Board of Directors during its spring 2012 meeting in Nashville. PineCone's offices are located in downtown Raleigh, though its programs extend to more than 22 counties in the region.
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