BY DAVID MENCONI
Mid-day Saturday, if you stood in just the right spot on the Raleigh Convention Center staircase, a landscape of 10 different picking circles were visible across the lobby. About that many were out of sight, but could be heard. The hum of it all continued long into the night.
World of Bluegrass is nothing if not a hands-on, interactive experience. This year’s model was another grassroots affair, and the convention center complex with the Marriott Hotel was the tuning fork at the center.
By the weekend, there was end-to-end music up and down Fayetteville Street outside. But all week, the music was going pretty much round-the-clock inside. All you had to do was bring an instrument and start playing to join in.
If the bluegrass community itself was the star of World of Bluegrass 2018, it was partly because this year didn’t have as many big-name celebrities — no Steve Martin or Alison Krauss. So it was somewhat of a more low-key experience, but more of the same is pretty great nevertheless.
This was the sixth year of World of Bluegrass in Raleigh. While overall attendance figures won’t be available for several weeks, by all appearances, this week’s International Bluegrass Music Association business conference and awards show, nightclub shows, trade show and Wide Open Bluegrass outdoor shows looked comparable to years past, thanks to gorgeous weather on the weekend when the free street festival brought droves of people downtown.
Last year, a record 221,000 people turned out for the full slate of events.
“The numbers look about the same as last year, plus or minus a few,” said IBMA executive director Paul Schiminger.
Keeping the festival going at this level had a lot to do with IBMA’s announcement in May that World of Bluegrass would be staying in Raleigh at least through 2021.
Diversification of bluegrass
Bluegrass week began with Monday night’s “Shout and Shine” diversity showcase, highlighting the style’s demographic range across ethnicity, gender and orientation. The star of the night was Che Apalache, who pretty much stole the show at every event they played all week, including Friday night’s “Bluegrass Pride” showcase.
Che Apalache, a “Latin-grass” quartet based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, has members from Mexico, Argentina and also Winston-Salem — Joe Troop, an out-and-proud fiddler unafraid to ask, “Where my queers at?”
Che Apalache is an unlikely polyglot combination of global influences from as far away as Japan, covering everything from Bach to nursery rhymes. They put a worldly spin on the Flatt & Scruggs standard “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” played Latino folk songs as if they were bluegrass and brought down the house with a politically charged gospel-styled a capella song called “The Wall.”