Wide Open Bluegrass draws huge crowd, makes big economic impact on Raleigh

Michael Perchick Image
Saturday, September 29, 2018

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Thousands of people packed Fayetteville Street on Friday for the first day of Wide Open Bluegrass, one of Raleigh's most popular events.

"We very much as an organization and a city use it as kind of a calling card to the overall destination brand. Come and get immersed to the music, the food," said Loren Gold, the Executive Vice President for the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.

While financial numbers for this year's event won't be available until weeks after it wraps up, Gold said it has had about $48 million in direct economic impact during the past five years, bringing in about 856,000 attendees. He added it's grown year-over-year, with organizers striving to add wrinkles to keep the event fresh.

"Great music. The fact that they have four or five stages, is amazing. It's all free. They have a bunch of fun kids stuff to do," said Carlin Slusher, who has attended for years.

Up and down Fayetteville Street, businesses, food trucks, and beer tents are set up to take advantage of the large crowds.

"This is our second year. Last year was probably one of the best events we've ever done. So far, it's tracking to be on pace of last year," said Blake Stewart, the co-owner of Raleigh-based Hail Mary Mix.

Outside the direct sales, it provides businesses with an opportunity to meet face-to-face with consumers.

"Everyone can try it, which is really what helps with our product specifically. And we can educate people on what makes us different," said Kelly Stewart, who co-owns the business with Blake.

A couple of tents down, the creators of LazerEdge are splitting their focus this weekend.

"My parents are being team players. We're setting up in Vaughn Towers, we're going to have a booth up there simultaneously. I'm going to have Mom and Pop holding it down here, and they're going to be selling here during the first half of the day," explained Spencer Coffin, who helped start the company when he was still a student at NC State.

Outside of Wide Open Bluegrass, Coffin is hoping to capitalize at the Virginia at NC State game, which kicks off at 12:20 p.m. Saturday.

Gold says they're targeting a larger international audience for future festivals, adding they've had staff travel overseas to other music events in an effort to promote Wide Open Bluegrass.

The city has signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Bluegrass Music Association to keep the conference and festival in Raleigh through 2021.