Stretching Strings: The International Bluegrass Music Association Looks at Year Five in Raleigh | Music Feature | Indy Week
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Stretching Strings: The International Bluegrass Music Association Looks at Year Five in Raleigh 

Joe Newberry and his guitar, who he named The Big Boy.

Photo by Justin Cook

Joe Newberry and his guitar, who he named The Big Boy.

Since 2013, the International Bluegrass Music Association has called Raleigh home for its annual World of Bluegrass convocation. The event includes a trade conference for professional and amateur musicians, promoters, instrument makers, label representatives, journalists, and dedicated fans. The city has rolled out the red carpet for IBMA every year, with a free street festival that helps draw in the general public to a generous helping of twang.

There's also the annual Thursday night award show, which honors the genre's best musicians, songwriters, and more; honorees include Durham's own Alice Gerrard, who will be inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame with her former songwriting partner, Hazel Dickens, who passed away in 2011. This year, the awards also feature the institution's first female nominee for best guitarist: twenty-four-year-old Molly Tuttle.

The festival is still largely settled in its ways, with acts like Steep Canyon Rangers and Steve Martin, The Travelin' McCourys, Hot Rize, Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn all making reliable, triumphant returns to the Red Hat Amphitheater stage for the two-day ticketed music festival. (One extra special treat, however, is a rare appearance by Bluegrass 45, a Japanese ensemble whose members helped create a presence for bluegrass in their home country in the sixties.) We've criticized the festival for booking too many of the same bands and relying too heavily on older, white audiences for past iterations, but that seems to be a little different this year. Happily, the festival has been expanding its diversity efforts to be more of an active presence, with a special diversity-focused showcase that features Gerrard, members of Bluegrass 45, and the black string band The Ebony Hillbillies.

As you wander the streets of downtown, the banjo rolls and guitar runs might start to bleed together, but keep an ear out for the finer differences between the music that's wafting around: there's the creaky wheeze of old-time music, the laser-like clarity of pure bluegrass, and bluegrass-rooted blends that reach a little toward rock. For an even bigger challenge, see if you can keep count of "Wagon Wheel" covers while you're at it.

Off Main: Our Picks for IBMA Week

Molly Tuttle Is IBMA's First Female Nominee for Guitarist of the Year—And She’s Not Stopping There

Shouting, Shining, and Showing Pride at IBMA 2017

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