Raleigh is in the middle of the World of Bluegrass festival. Craig Havighurst returns to talk with WUNC's Eric Hodge about the event. Havighurst is a music journalist who has contributed to NPR and the Wall Street Jounral. He produces a music roots show in Nashville and is a Triangle native. He's also a board member of the International Bluegrass Music Association, which puts on the festival.
ERIC HODGE: One of the events this week is the Bluegrass Ramble. What can we expect to see and hear across the city?
CRIAG HAVIGHURST: It's the biggest change in the formula for World of Bluegrass that's gone on for all these years in various cities, but when the organization decided to move to Raleigh, the thought was, 'Let's get the showcases for the bands that are trying to be seen by promoters and talent bookers, let's get them out of a convention center environment and put them in clubs, bars and venues of the type that they're used to playing in, so as many as seven venues simultaneously have live bluegrass from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. It's pretty remarkable.
HODGE: Can you give me a couple of highlights of who you personally will be wanting to see?
HAVIGHURST: Well, the Thursday night lineups that stand out; I see the Gibson Brothers and the Del McCoury Band back-to-back at the Lincoln Theater, starting at midnight, and both of those are Entertainer of the Year award winners at IBMA.
I see Blue Highway on the list, a band that is kind of in my mind one of my favorite bands for what I might call the new contemporary bluegrass sound. They have a lot of tradition in them, but they have a little bit of a polish and beautiful vocal approach. They're just tremendous musicians all around.
HODGE: Let's talk about a superstar and a superstar of the banjo, if there is one, is Bela Fleck. He did a performance with the North Carolina symphony, right?
HAVIGHURST: That's right. I attended that show. It was interesting to start my week of live music in a symphony hall rather than the Bluegrass Ramble bars, but I do really love Bela's musical freedom and his track record. This is Bela's - he formed his banjo concerto. It's his first work for solo banjo and orchestra. It's a very sophisticated piece, and yet in the midst of what sounds like contemporary 20th century, 21st century classical music, he will slip in references to the Earl Scruggs style and to bluegrass passages, and it's so fun to hear those pop out.
HODGE: Before you go, Craig, can you give us a preview of tonight's award ceremony?
HAVIGHURST: The awards are, in some way, the highlight of this event, at least the one that people get most dressed up for. The IBMA, every year, gives a slate of awards to an Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year, Vocal Group and Instrumental Group, and then one interesting feature that is unique to bluegrass as far as I've ever seen: it's the only music awards where they actually break down and give awards to specific instrumentalists. There is, every year, a banjo player of the year, a mandolin player of the year, a bass player of the year, and it shows the respect that the bluegrass community has for the pickers within the bands and their unique voices.
HODGE: Any predictions for tonight?
HAVIGHURST: I wouldn't dare.
HODGE: Craig Havighurst is a music journalist guiding us through the World of Bluegrass festival this week in Raleigh, and making no predictions. It continues through Saturday, and Craig will join us again tomorrow. Thanks for being here, Craig.
HAVIGHURST: It's a pleasure, Eric. Thank you.
You can hear a live broadcast from the World of Bluegrass at noon Thursday and Friday on the State of Things.