A Guide to the World of Bluegrass Festival, Raleigh (Sept 29 & 30, 2023)

Are you ready for one of the biggest events in Raleigh and the largest free urban bluegrass festival in the world? Grab your banjos and dancing toes for two-days of music across multiple stages on Fayetteville Street in Downtown Raleigh, NC.

Lady and man playing a banjo and bluegrass instruments
Fun times at the Raleigh Bluegrass festival

If I were to use a phrase to sum up the Raleigh Bluegrass festival, it would be what the Irish call “a good craic,” slang for a fun time with great company and lively experiences – usually dancing, music, and conversation.

If you understand “craic,” you now understand the vibe of the festival. If you know this Bluegrass festival, you now understand “craic” (How were my interpreting skills?)

People watching an outdoor Bluegrass concert in Raleigh
Downtown Raleigh offers a great setting

After years of always being out of town, Craig and I finally attended the Bluegrass festival last year (2021). We had a blast, even though we didn’t know many of the artists and aren’t devout bluegrass fans, but certainly love live music and for the fun time it brings.

We enjoyed wandering the streets, getting into the festive spirit, discovering new music, and dancing to the headline acts in Red Hat Amphitheater with new friends. I look forward to many more years of bluegrass memories in Raleigh!

What is the IMBA World of Bluegrass Festival?

People watching an outdoor Bluegrass concert in Raleigh
One of several stages in downtown!

This annual “Most Important Week in Bluegrass” festival includes the IBMA Business Conference, the IBMA Bluegrass Ramble showcase series 33rd Annual IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards (all ticketed events).

The IBMA Bluegrass Live! festival closes out the week – FREE to attend the street performances on Fayetteville Street and at Red Hat Amphitheater, but you can ensure a seat at Red Hat performances with tickets in case it fills up!

In 20223 it will be held September 26 – 30 with the Bluegrass festival happening on the weekend of Sept 29 & 30. See schedule here.

Events for the five-day festival are held in Raleigh Convention Center, the Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts, Red Hat Amphitheater, and at various venues in town.

Hundreds of amazing musicians perform in the clubs, bars, and on the streets over the course of the week.

What is the IBMA?

IBMA – the International Bluegrass Music Association – is the non-profit music association that connects, educates, and empowers bluegrass professionals and enthusiasts, honoring tradition and encouraging innovation in the bluegrass community worldwide. 

The IBMA Bluegrass Live! Sept 29 – 20, 2023

People enjoying an outdoor street festival in Raleigh
Great atmosphere on Fayetteville St

The IBMA event that is relevant to most of the general public is the two-day IBMA Bluegrass Live! festival powered by PNC. In 2021 around 100,000 people attended the event. 2023 was a little atypical as a hurricane blew through and moved everything indoors (including a few people deciding to stay in their own homes!)

PineCone, (Piedmont Council of Traditional Music), a Raleigh-based nonprofit, is the local host and festival producer. It was founded in 1984 by a group of friends looking to preserve, present and promote music and dance that’s rooted in the Piedmont. 

People watching an outdoor Bluegrass concert in Raleigh
Stage on Fayetteville Street

The festival features the best performers and musicians in the national and international bluegrass scene each year. Streets are blocked off and you’ll find free music all over the city in addition to the main stage at Red Hat Amphitheater.

The event also includes an amazing street festival complete with delicious food, a dance tent, a BBQ cook-off, an arts & crafts market and many other activities for all ages.

Red Hat Amphitheater Main Stage

Aerial view of an outdoor ampitheater in downtown Raleigh
Red Hat Amphitheater is a great venue!

As mentioned, it is a free event but if you’re a devout bluegrass fan, I highly recommend getting tickets for the Friday and Saturday performances at Red Hat Amphitheater in case the free seats fill up and you miss out.

It’s an incredible experience and where you’ll see the main headliners. When we visited in 2021, we saw Steep Canyon Rangers and Yonder Mountain String Band. Both were phenomenal.

We had perfect temperatures, clear skies, and plenty of room for dancing at the side near the bars.

People watching an outdoor Bluegrass concert at Red Hat Ampitheater in Raleigh
Red Hat Amphitheater

Red Hat is truly a beautiful outdoor music venue in Raleigh, especially with the backdrop of the giant shimmer wall, a reflective LED oak tree mural on the side of the Raleigh Convention Center made up of 79,464 light and dark aluminum squares that change shape and color.

People watching a concert with city skyline in background
Oak tree shimmer wall

Headline acts include The Del MCoury Band, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, Mighty Poplar, Kruger Brothers play Doc Watson with special guest Jerry Douglas.

This year, they are bringing back a limited number of free general admission tickets. You can also purchase single-day tickets and two-day passes starting at $50 per night. Tickets are available here.

Sections 1, 2, 3 and 7 will be ticketed, and all other seating will be free.

FREE Street Festival

People watching an outdoor street festival in Raleigh
Fayetteville Street, Raleigh

For those who want to experience a rich diversity of bluegrass artists from young to old, and up-and-coming artists and bluegrass legends, the FREE Street Festival is where it’s at!

There are usually 70 artists performed free concerts on various stages during the Bluegrass festival in Raleigh.

A main stage was in the parking lot in front of the Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts, and at the Capitol Building end of Fayetteville Street as well as a small stage on Davie St, and the Youth Stage at City Plaza. The Courthouse steps also had smaller bands playing throughout the day.

band playing on courthouse steps

This year, the format will be similar, with the addition of a gospel stage – with a bluegrass twist.

All the stages are connected along five blocks of Fayetteville Street by a strip of food trucks, beer tents, arts and crafts and sponsor booths.

Just walk (or dance) up and down to the beat of the bluegrass bass and fiddle and see what you discover! The Street Fest is a little rowdier than the Red Hat vibe – when we attended, most people sat down to listen to the music.

People watching a band play at a street festival
Stage in City Plaza

One of my favorite bluegrass experiences last year was listening to the band Square Deal in City Plaza, Fayetteville St. They were young and talented. Singer and multi-instrumentalist, Hubby Jenkins was also a great discovery tucked away on Davie St and the rockabilly vibe of the Jackob’s Ferry Stragglers was also a lot of fun.

People watching an outdoor Bluegrass concert in Raleigh
Square Deal in City Plaza

Music is scheduled from 12pm – 11pm on both days, and artists have sets ranging from 45 – 90 minutes. At the end of the night, every stage will have a high-energy band to dance around to!

Artsplosure Art Market

People enjoying an outdoor street festival in Raleigh

The Raleigh Arts Festival by Artsplosure is another Raleigh annual event we recommend you attend. This nonprofit art and cultural event production studio also supports Wide Open Bluegrass with an art market!

The Bluegrass Live! Art Market recognizes our talented arts community and will feature stalls from unique artisans from across the United State selling their works.

I always love seeing the work of our local artisans through Artsplosure and other art festivals in Wake County like Spring and Lazy Days Festivals in Cary.

Wander round in between sets and grab a memento to brighten up your home and remind you of fun times at the Bluegrass Festival. See more of the biggest festivals and events in Raleigh.

Food + Beverages

Hand holding up a cup of bourbon whiskey

I left Craig for an hour or so at the event to shuttle Savannah home from a friend’s party. I returned to a very happy Craig who had found the Jim Beam tasting tent and a few friends. Some of you may have even seen his dancing moves late that night in Red Hat!

photo of a couple smiling at a concert
He enjoyed those Jim Beams (and music)

There are plenty of local food trucks at the festival from fish and chips to ice-cream! We enjoyed a plate of BBQ from Fat Boys BBQ food truck.

Catch Some Bluegrass Jamming

It’s pretty common for bluegrass jams to pop-up in various places during bluegrass-week. Always be prepared with your fiddle, as it’s pretty informal and will just happen when it happens.

There may be some set places so stay updated with the event to find out where they are.

Other World of Bluegrass Events

Street sign displaying a Bluesfest festival

If the Bluegrass Live! two-day festival is not enough bluegrass for you, the festival has other events across the five days you may want to attend:

  • The IBMA Business Conference: Learn more about the business of bluegrass with networking opportunities, professional development sessions, keynote addresses, showcases, exhibit hall, and special events all aimed to help you succeed.
  • The IBMA Bluegrass Ramble: IBMA’s official showcase series is the premier platform for introducing talent and new material to the bluegrass community. Thousands of bluegrass fans fill six venues throughout Downtown Raleigh over three nights to catch the newest in bluegrass music!
  • IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards: The biggest night in bluegrass featuring once-in-a-lifetime moments and outstanding performances by the best in bluegrass.

Is the Bluegrass event Accessible?

People enjoying live music outdoors at a street festival

All Bluegrass fans are welcome! Read this ADA section on the Bluegrass website to learn more about drop-off points, accessible viewing areas around stages, mobility options, quiet spaces, sighted guides, restrooms, public transportation, and parking, and more!

Accessibility information for all IBMA World of Bluegrass events will also be available at the Welcome Kiosk in the Raleigh Convention Center.

Parking for the Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh

There is street parking and parking garages all over downtown, (free on weekends), but may be difficult to find a spot. Remember Fayetteville St will be closed (and possibly others). There are lots of paid parking garages around downtown Raleigh. You may be better parking a little further away than downtown and walking in.

Accommodation in Raleigh for the Bluegrass Festival?

Residence Inn is right downtown!

Accommodation could book up quickly for this popular festival, especially in Downtown Raleigh. It will be the best place to stay with easy walking distance to the event and nearby Raleigh restaurants and other things to do.

Here are a couple of our favorite hotels in Raleigh:

If you are visiting from out of town and have a few extra days, here are some guides to help you plan out your days exploring Raleigh:

Do you plan on attending the Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh? Share in the comments which act you are most looking forward to?

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