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'World of Bluegrass' Returns To Raleigh This Weekend

The Sweet Lillies perform at The Pour House
One of the 30 acts selected for this year's Bluegrass Ramble showcases, The Sweet Lillies performed at The Pour House on Tuesday night. Julie Gussaroff, Becca Bisque, and Dustin Rohleder are the acoustic string-band trio with guitar, viola, and upright bass.

The International Bluegrass Music Association's World of Bluegrass is back in session in Raleigh.

The annual event is one of many that was canceled or altered last year due to the pandemic. This year's event is in-person and open to performers and fans who can prove vaccination against COVID-19.

Participants bring millions of dollars to the city in one of the biggest events of the year. Plus, Raleigh and the IBMA have just extended the agreement to keep the event in the Triangle for another three years.

David Brower is the Executive Director of PineCone, the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music which hosts the IBMA's.

Here are a few highlights from Brower's recent interview with WUNC:

This event includes a business conference, three days of showcase performances and the big award show. How are things shaping up in what is still a very strange year?

Brower: "Well, it is indeed a strange year. But it's really a fantastic time. It's been wonderful to see folks streaming in all week to downtown Raleigh. Every third person these days is carrying a banjo case or fiddle case or has a guitar slung over their shoulders. So, it's a really exciting time to be in downtown Raleigh. And just so wonderful to see people coming back in person."

What lead you to the decision to accept vaccinated people as opposed to those with a recent negative test?

  Musicians jamming in the Raleigh Convention Center on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021.
Musicians jamming in the Raleigh Convention Center on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021.

Brower: "Well, it was a decision that was voted unanimously by both the PineCone board and the IBMA board, who approved (the) vaccination-only policy. And that's really just in the interest of safety. At the time that we made the decision, it felt like that was the path forward to help keep the performing arts sustainable and to make for a safe environment for folks coming in. And again, this is only for the ticketed events. So, the award show — which is happening tonight — (and) the performances at the Red Hat Amphitheater, all of those require proof of vaccination. The street festival, which happens on Friday and Saturday throughout downtown Raleigh, is on public streets and those are unrestricted, and so, there's no gatekeepers there. And we encourage folks to become to be vaccinated to come downtown, but it's not required."

Do you have a story about an artist that made the decision to get vaccinated so that they could participate?

Brower: "When the IBMA board made the decision to require proof of vaccination to participate in the World of Bluegrass this year, I had already booked the festival. So, I had to go back in and basically rebook the event and go back and have these really personal conversations with about 250 different musicians that are all performing this weekend.

"And there were a number (of people) who were hesitant about the vaccine for one reason or another. There was one in particular though, who had kind of been on the fence. I mean, he wasn't vaccine resistant. He was more like, vaccine indifferent. He had survived a lot being a veteran of the Afghan war and was just tired, having recently returned from service overseas. And he was the only unvaccinated member of the band and his bandmates decided to use the festival as leverage to kind of just encourage him to get over that final hump. He made the decision to move forward and really it was just the desire to come back and play music with friends again and realizing that the vaccine was his ticket to play music again."

IBMA's World of Bluegrass is in full swing in downtown Raleigh. The awards show is Thursday night, and Bela Fleck, the Del McCoury Band, Jerry Douglas, the Steep Canyon Rangers and many others will perform live Friday and Saturday.

Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.
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