RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Most years, downtown Raleigh would be packed with music fans for the weeklong International Bluegrass Music Assocation (IBMA) Bluegrass Live! Powered by PNC event.
In 2019, the seventh year the World of Bluegrass festival was held in Raleigh, nearly 218,301 people attended, making an $18.65 million direct impact on the local economy. VisitRaleigh added that total is the tourism economic impact only, and does not account for locals' spending.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to move the festival fully online in 2020.
For band Steep Canyon Rangers and their guitarist Woody Platt, the festival is a chance to come home. Steep Canyon Rangers is one of this year's headliners.
"That show at the Red Hat Amphitheatre has become one of our favorite shows of the year, if not the favorite. It feels like a homecoming. It's an audience that's built of bluegrass fans and fans of the band. So for us, it's this sort of perfect scenario of a great show And the setting downtown, open-air, large crowd, we were really excited about this year. I know many, many people were. And World of Bluegrass and IBMA has been such an incredible thing in Raleigh, and Raleigh has been so great for the event. I've seen the event all over the country, and Raleigh has been a really wonderful home for it," Platt said.
The band formed as students at UNC-Chapel Hill and have been performing for the past two decades.
"We were in the middle of a big tour in Dublin, Ireland with Steve Martin and Martin Short. And then we got the call, and it's been lights out ever since. It's been startling. We're the kind of band that does 125 shows a year, and we sort of make our living and get our creativity by being together," said Platt.
While they won't be performing live, they did come back to Raleigh last month to tape a performance for the festival, set to air Saturday night.
"We're just on a roof top next to Red Hat Amphitheatre," Platt said.
Despite missing the crowds, he's excited that the event will continue.
"I think they've done an amazing job being creative--PineCone, IBMA, the City of Raleigh, PNC. Everybody's pulled together and I think they've been really focused, and they didn't just take a swing. It's going to be great," said Platt.
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Festival organizers said they didn't want to give up on the event entirely.
"We decided because we are an association that is here for the bluegrass community, for the professionals, and for advancing the music worldwide, that we owed it to the community and for our bluegrass professionals to hold the event in some way, and that meant going virtual," said IBMA executive Paul Schiminger.
The inability for bands to tour and the struggles with recording and releasing albums also present financial challenges for musicians and the IBMA as an organization. Schiminger said the IBMA has a trust set up to provide economic assistance to musicians.
"We've seen about ten times the number of applications in a few months versus an entire year normally for applications for assistance," Schiminger said.
The organization is already looking forward to 2021, which as of now is the final year of its contract with the City of Raleigh.
"Usually when you hold a convention or you hold an event like this, you're a customer (or) a client. With Raleigh, we're a partner. The city wants it to be successful just as we want it to be successful. They have an investment in it. We have an investment in it. So it's in our mutual interest to make this work together. So we have a very close relationship with the city through it all," said Schiminger.
Schiminger said discussions on an extension were taking place prior to the pandemic, and he is confident both sides will be able to come to an agreement.
"The intention is that we will begin those discussions again as we get through this. We do love the partnership. I don't anticipate any issues. We've done a lot of great work in our last extension that we can build on," Schiminger said.
Fans can watch musical performances for free here; however, organizers encourage donations.
Steep Canyon Rangers is set to release their latest album, Arm in Arm, on Oct. 16.
World of Bluegrass music festival, one of Raleigh's largest events, continues online with free music for fans