Overalls and hay. Toothless hicks and whiny vocals. Simple country music for simple, country folk. All things that may come to one’s mind when presented with the idea of Bluegrass. This past week, however, thousands of people came together in Downtown Raleigh to prove that Bluegrass can unite music-lovers of all tastes and ages.
IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) ticket-requiring performances officially began on Tuesday, Sept. 24. Although the real action didn’t begin until Friday, when five stages and over one hundred food trucks and artisan vendors nestled themselves in the corners of Hargett, Wilmington, Martin and Salisbury Streets–all along a pedestrian-only Fayetteville St.
Arriving Saturday morning, I was immediately hit with the comforting smell of autumn air and funnel cakes. The sky was brilliant, and the soft tune of a banjo soon filled my ears. Before I could reach the music, I was distracted by the array of downtown shops. Vintage trinkets and ironic T-shirts tempted my purse strings, but the real treasures lay in the many white-tent vendors selling homemade paintings, BBQ, candy, candles, clothes, jewelry, records and CD’s.
There wasn’t a turn I could make without hearing a new band or seeing a Martin guitar. Families, couples, old and young occupied the streets of Raleigh with gentle chatter and laughter. I was able to not only hear multiple traditional bluegrass bands like the Henhouse Prowlers and Samantha Casey & The Bluegrass Jam, but I square-danced my heart out at the Dance Tent with The Carolina Catbirds, and caller Connie Carringer.
The best part of the afternoon came when I sat down at the Center Stage to watch Kids on Bluegrass. They are a group of young pickers from across the country ages 3-18 who come together and in a day are ready to perform. Their maturity and skill level was astounding, with many of the lead performers under eleven.
My day was ended on an timeless note, with Jim Lauderdale taking the stage, bringing the audience home to North Carolina. Lauderdale was born in North Carolina and attended the North Carolina School of Arts in Winston-Salem.
With an ease that Bluegrass music often brings, the day was one of peaceful excitement. The IBMA is returning to Raleigh next year and will again bring an old tradition to a modern, young downtown.