When: Dec. 15-17 2016
It's not easy to bring high and lonesome down to sea level. A native of coastal Mann's Harbor, North Carolina, Corey Hemilright had bluegrass in his blood, passed down from his grandfather, Delbert Ambrose, who played the banjo at festivals on the Outer Banks when Hemilright was growing up. Hemilright left Mann's Harbor for Tennessee after high school, and, upon his return several years later, couldn't find much of a music scene. Thus, he decided to create his own, throwing the first Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival in Manteo in 2012. Held on Roanoke Island Festival Park, the festival hit its twelve-thousand-person capacity in just three years, and these days tickets to the annual event sell out shortly after it's announced.
Buoyed by his hometown success, Hemilright decided to extend the festival to Raleigh for the holiday season. The three-day affair features headliners Rhonda Vincent and Doyle Lawson, and western North Carolina's Balsam Range, winners of two International Bluegrass Music Association awards for entertainer and vocal group of the year in 2014, will host the festivities.
"We're excited about the young, vibrant music scene in Raleigh, new people discovering bluegrass," says Balsam Range mandolinist Darren Nicholson. "We looked at this as an opportunity to grow our music and do it in a great place."
Even though it's indoors, Hemilright tried to create a standard festival feel, offering rooms available exclusively for late-night jamming throughout the hotel.
"Bluegrass is the only genre of music I know where probably at least sixty percent of the people who are fans play at some level," Nicholson says. "From the early days of festivals, that's always been the culture. You not only go to see your favorite bluegrass stars, but you also get to pick and jam."
As with other bluegrass gatherings, Nicholson says there's a very good chance you'll see Balsam Range as well as some of Doyle Lawson's guys in the hotel picking, if you just wander through the halls and keep your ears open. —Grant Britt