Wednesday, October 14, 2015

IBMA 2015 - Wide Open Bluegrass - Review

When Raleigh, NC decided to put in a bid to host the annual IBMA Business Conference/Awards Show/Festival that had been hosted by a nonchalant Nashville for six years, the city came on strong with a proposal that included hosting the business conference in the spacioous and flexible Raleigh Convention Center, the Awards Show in the massive Duke Energy Center, and a two-day musical extravaganza which included an outdoor ticketed event in the 6,000 seat Red Hat Amphitheater and an ambitious free street festival along Fayetteville Street, running from Duke Energy Center six blocks to the State Capital at the other end. The first and second years were hugely successful, attracting a renewed membership attendance to the Business Conference and an estimated 140,000 people to Wide Open Bluegrass in the first year with 180,000 in the second. Then came tropical storm Joaquin, dumping a solid week of heavy rain on the region, and causing serious flooding in nearby South Carolina.

Vendors Set Up Inside the RCC

One of the criteria of the move to Raleigh was that, in case of rain, the outdoor component could be moved into the Raleigh Convention Center. When the contract was signed, everyone knew that, at some point, significant rainfall lay in the future. 2015 became the year. And the miracle of Raleigh occurred. The move required forty-eight hours notice. The new IBMA Executive Director Paul Schiminger, the IBMA Board, and the Raleigh Convention Center made the call, and the massive move began. On Friday morning, when we arrived at the Convention Center, the footprint had been duplicated in a below street level space inadequately called Exhibit Hall A&B, an indoor space large enough to re-create the nearly 6,000 seat Red Hat Amphitheater footprint indoors with space left over over a VIP providing food and drink for those designated.

The Raleigh Convention Center Lobby 
at 9:00 AM on Friday

Early Morning Crowd at the Masters Workshop Stage

The Line to Grab Seats at the Underground
Red Hat Amphitheater

As 11:00 AM approached, the line for entry into the Red Hat Amphitheater, which had been moved into Hall A & B, began to grow. There was a little grumbling about ticket exchange and scanning, but mostly pretty patient waiting. When the doors opened, the line quickly moved along, and the initial rush ended after twenty minutes or so. Late arrivals would have no problem getting their tickets scanned on their way into the space, and there were plenty of seats.

Red Hat Indoors & Underground

Aunt Molly Begor, Shannon Gibson an Katy Daley

A relatively small glitch became apparent as reserved seats were only kept for the first dozen or so rows, and seat numbers were not maintained, making it relatively easy for non-reserve ticket seat holders to trespass into the reserve seat area. By Saturday, this problem would be eliminated by carefully counting the seat numbers and providing for more security....problem solved. Throughout this massive move, it's important for me to point out that volunteers were consistently polite and helpful while the Raleigh Convention Center's professional staff accommodated, made quick, accurate changes, and worked ceaselessly to see that performers', vendors', and attendees' needs were met with alacrity and good humor. Meanwhile, a steady rain outdoors confirmed that the right call had been made. Raleigh Convention Center, Visitors' Bureau, and IBMA staff all appeared tired and somewhat frazzled, but relations between and amongst the three were cooperative and whatever stresses might have arisen never reached the ears of those affected...results were what counted.

Emcee Cindy Baucom

Cindy Baucom, radio host of the syndicated Knee Deep in Bluegrass acted as emcee for the entire two days of shows in the Red Hat Amphitheater. Check this link to see whether Cindy's show is syndicated in your listening area or tune in on the Web. She introduced Blue Highway to kick off the Red Hat Amphitheater show at noon on Friday. The switch had been made.

Blue Highway
Wayne Taylor, Tim Stafford, Rob Ickes

Shawn Lane

Exploded Map of the Raleigh Convention Center
As can be seen from the exploded map, above, each cross street along Fayetville Street, the sites of outdoor stages as well as the Plaza Stage had been relocated into a large meeting room within the Raleigh Convention Center. The Plaza Stage itself was moved into a large ballroom area. Vendors were placed in the hallways between the doors to the rooms as well as in one of the ballrooms and in the grand concourse at the front entrance of the Center. New signage was also printed to delineate room numbers associated with the street names where stages had been scheduled. If you were looking to see a particular band perform, it was relatively easy to make your way through the Convention Center to designated room. The rooms were all crowded, but then, the streets had been packed during the last two years. The crowd seemed pleased to be out of the rain and cold, patient with whatever inconviences there might be while enjoying this long anticipated event. 

New Signage Identifies Performance Area

 Crowds Move Into Hall A&B

Bands Perform in Meeting Rooms


Beard Guitars in the Exhibit Hall

The Dance Stage, which had stood at the foot of Fayetteville Street, just in front of the State Capital building, was the only stage remaining outdoors. Bands continued to rotate through and people went outside to join the fun. There was plenty of dancing going on. Unfortunately, since the Raleigh Convention Center is a successfully smoke free zone, smokers created a significant cloud between the front door of the Center and the dance stage. There was square, round, and two step dancing to formal callers and Cajun bands, among others. Lots of folk dancing in various guises.

The Dance Stage

Some Remaining Food Vendors Lined the Street

Meanwhile - Back at the Red Hat
The Gibson Brothers

Eric Gibson

Leigh Gibson

Mike Barber

Clayton Campbell

Jesse Brock
IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year

Balsam Range
Buddy Melton & Darrin Nicholson

Darrin Nicholson

Tim Surrett
IBMA Bass Player of the Year
Chairman of the IBMA Board

Caleb Smith

Steep Canyon Rangers

Woody Platt

Graham Sharpe & Mike Guggino

Nicky Sanders

Alison Krauss & Union Station

Dan Tyminski

AKUS on the JumboTron

Line to Enter the Red Hat

By Saturday, the audience was pretty much calmed down, the line less pressured, and some of the interlopers into the reserve seat area had disappeared. Security had it all in hand, with a smile on their faces and a good deal of backbone shown to those who tried to bully their way in...all with smiles on their faces. Remarkable!

Cindy Baucom Kicking off Saturday

Flatt Lonesome

Buddy Robertson

Paul Harigill

In the Hallway

The Grass Cats Performing

In the Exhibit Hall
North Country Public Radio's Barb Heller
Tries Out an Eastman Guitar

University of Georgia Bluegrass Band
On Its Way to Kazakhstan

Mark O'Connor (The O'Connor Family)

The Band of Ruhks

Ronnie Bowman

Don Rigsby

Kenny Smith

John Meyer

Master's Workshop Stage

Kids on Bluegrass

Kids on Bluegrass is always one of my favorite elements of what's become Wide Open Bluegrass. Talented kids are chosen from across the nation to come to IBMA to rehearse, learn together, jam, work with top professional performers, and perform themselves on Saturday. Here's a sample. (Note: Many of these photos are affected by adverse provision for appropriate lighting and space considerations.)

Joshua Horton

If you had been at one of the early Kids on Bluegrass performances at Fan Fest, you would have seen Mike Cleveland, Chris Thile, Cody Kilby, and many other now prominent bluegrass musicians playing. Many people attend these performances to be able to say, a few years hence, "I saw this kids when he was eleven years old."

Always Draws a Crowd

Master Chorale on the Main Stairs

The Kruger Brothers & the Kontras Quartet
Special Guest Branford Marsalis

Walking back through the audience as the Kruger Brothers & Kontras Quartet played Jens Kruger's Concerto for string quartet and bluegrass band, we noticed a change in the audience. The same people were behaving like a concert going audience rather than a festival one. They were rapt with attention and rapturous with their applause. When Branford Marsalis joined the group for several songs the quality of attention and response increased to an even higher level. Why is it that the same people, given more conventional bluegrass music tend to chatter and talk?

The Kontras Quartet

Joel Landsburg

Use Kruger

Jens Kruger

Branford Marsalis

Darin & Brooke Aldridge

Darin & Brooke with Carley Arrowood

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers

Jeanette & Johnny Williams

Anyone who says there's no traditional bluegrass at IBMA should have been here.

Johnny Williams

Jeanette Williams

 The Earls of Leicester
IBMA Entertainer of the Year

Sean Camp
IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year

Johnny Warren

Barry Bales

Charlie Cushman

Jerry Douglas 
IBMA Dobro Player of the Year

Jamming Everywhere

The Sam Bush Band

We hadn't seen the Sam Bush Band do its own show in several years. Great Band...Great Entertainer....Great Show!!!! 

Sam Bush

Stephen Mougin

Scott Vestal

Bruce Brown

Todd Parks

Sam Bush

Alan Bibey & Grasstowne

Grasstowne has been reconstructed, and Alan Bibey remains one of the best mandolin stylists there is. It's always a pleasure to see the player that convinced us that bluegrass was the music for us.

Alan Bibey

And so another year at IBMA's World of Bluegrass and the Wide Open Bluegrass festival ends with a bang. Once again we heard new bands, reconnected with friends we'd seen not often enough on the road, learned a lot, and were reminded of how much belonging to and contributing to this community we've come to love as a family, with all a good family's strengths and flaws, means to us. We're already looking forward to next year, but now we're headed home for a rest and a chance to further reflect on this wonderful week, the gifts that the City of Raleigh has given us, and the organization we're proud to be a part of.