In 2012, the International Bluegrass Music Association announced that Raleigh would be the new host city for its massive World of Bluegrass, an annual trade show, business conference, and music festival. The original agreement extended for three years, with room for renegotiation. The City of Raleigh rolled out the red carpet for IBMA, accommodating the organization and augmenting its celebrations with a free street festival. In May of 2014, well before the second World of Bluegrass convocation in Raleigh, IBMA announced that it would stay in the city through at least 2018.
Last year's Wide Open Bluegrass music festival got a bit more complicated when storms from Hurricane Joaquin threatened to undo the carefully planned affair, but the city once again pulled through. Organizers moved the entire outdoor operation—music, vendor booths, and more—into the Raleigh Convention Center. All of the performances at Red Hat Amphitheater were moved into the hangar-like exhibit hall on the center's bottom level—not an ideal setting for acoustic music, but the show went on nonetheless. And while the overall turnout for Wide Open Bluegrass may have been a bit lower, the convention center stayed packed with fans for the entire weekend. What could have been an unmitigated disaster ended up as a well-organized success, proving that Raleigh could handle just about anything the festival could throw at it.
This year, the weekend forecast looks to be clear of any natural catastrophes. Some of the big headliners at Red Hat Amphitheater push a little further beyond traditional bluegrass, like the glittery, honky-tonk-inspired Marty Stuart and His Superlatives, or the retrospective country-rock of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Taking the stage Friday night will be the Soggy Bottom Boys, a not-quite-real band brought to life by the Coen brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which unexpectedly recharged folk music for the twenty-first century—a phenomenon we explore in these pages. We also caught up with Kaia Kater, a young Canadian banjo player who brings social justice messages to the banjo, and picked a few more acts that you can't miss this year. Twang on, y'all.