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Raleigh Throws Its Doors Wide Open

The city of Raleigh hosts the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival this weekend.
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Thousands of bluegrass fans will pour into downtown Raleigh this week for the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival. 

Hosting the festival is a big coup for the city, which transformed in recent decades from a small Southern town to an up-and-coming city with thriving communities in arts, business, and technology. 

“Raleigh is now getting not just national, but international recognition.  It’s a city that’s arrived,” said Mitchell Silver, the city of Raleigh’s chief planning and development officer, in an interview on The State of Things.

As of the 2010 Census, Raleigh’s population exceeded 400,000, with 70% of the residents under 45 years of age.  The relatively young city has driven the city of Raleigh to revitalize the downtown and offer more civic funds for the arts.

“We’ve long had a supportive city of the arts… We just had a bump in funding,” said Sarah Powers, executive director of Visual Art Exchange.

“I believe our leadership understands the value, the economic value, the place-making value, as well as the idea that this is a city that’s going be something,” Powers said. “And we can use this identity as a creative and innovative place in a broad variety of conversations.”

However, not everyone is happy with the change.  Raleigh’s rapid growth has alienated some older Raleigh natives.  

“I used to could [sic] walk down Federal Street… I would encounter half a dozen or a dozen I knew and have some relationships with.  Doesn’t happen now,” said Grady Jefferys, a veteran journalist and political consultant who has lived in Raleigh for almost 80 years.  “So when you live in a city that you knew so much about, and now so little about, it’s a strange feeling,”

This week’s Wide Open Bluegrass Festival will present an even newer version of Raleigh, as thousands of visitors pack the streets of downtown.  Organizers say bluegrass fans are coming in from as far as Croatia, Sweden, and Japan.

For people like Jefferys who long for Raleigh's small town past, there won't any reprieve soon.  It's no secret in North Carolina that Raleigh has experienced some of the fastest growth in the state.  Recently Forbe's named Raleigh one of the fastest growing cities in America.

Shawn Wen joined the staff of The State of Things in March 2012 and served as associate producer until February 2014.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.