Raleigh Sets the Stage to Become a World-Class Venue for Music

By Karlie Justus Marlowe

When the International Bluegrass Music Association moved its annual World of Bluegrass festival to Raleigh in 2013, there was a big question mark if its burgeoning downtown could support a celebration of that size, especially one that had spent previous years in Nashville, Tennessee, Music City USA.
    Fast-forward three years later, and the late September festival, together with the critically hailed alt-music Hopscotch Music Festival, has catapulted Raleigh into a new level on the national music scene – even prompting its own song by Raleigh bluegrass band Chatham County Line, “Living in Raleigh Now.”

“So we’re all glad you came, and rambled ‘round our town
And we hope your ear picked up a little bit of that sound
It’ll live on forever, if the fates allow
What was born in Kentucky, and moved off to Nashville
Is living in Raleigh now”

Even before the IBMA arrived, the City of Raleigh and VisitRaleigh visitors bureau had their eyes on making Raleigh a destination for more than just basketball and barbeque.
    “In 2012 we had gleaned from research that music wasn’t a reason people were traveling to Raleigh, and we wanted to create an incentive to elevate the story about our music scene,” said Derek Allman, a local musician and senior marketing manager at VisitRaleigh. “We thought, if we’re going to promote music in our city, then we want to include music leaders in the room to hear their voices. We knew that insider industry information would help the campaign.”
    They created a 15-person Live Music Advisory Committee to figure out the best way to communicate that message to visitors and locals alike, gathering representatives from the Pinecone Piedmont Council, Hopscotch Music Festival, and venues such as Irregardless Café and Red Hat Amphitheater to discuss how to make Raleigh a destination for musicians to play and for fans to enjoy live music events.
    “We want to identify what works here and is authentic to Raleigh,” said Damien Graham, communications director at The City of Raleigh. “We’ve found that everyone at SXSW in Austin knows about IBMA and Hopscotch, these are world-class events in a four-week window. A huge number of people come out to hear a variety of music. The council and city have taken steps to support and showcase music.”

Before the set lists are finalized and the shows even start, here are three ways Raleigh is making it even easier to jam out.

Launched in January 2015, this site is the single biggest live music calendar in Raleigh and an asset for tourists and locals alike. Powered by VisitRaleigh, it was born out of a brainstorm session by local music industry leaders and includes venue listings, show dates, and video interviews with bands.

Oak City Sessions
This new monthly music series focuses on popular local musicians and premieres each month on Raleigh Television Network channel 11 and the city’s official YouTube channel. Produced by the City of Raleigh and Deep South Entertainment, the series features local artists performing a 30-minute set of five to six original songs. All of the artists have some connection to the city, whether they’re from here, live here, or tour here regularly.

Musician loading zones
This pilot program, inspired by music hotspot Austin, Texas, created temporary loading zones that allows venues and musicians a space to load equipment in and out between 5pm and 3am without getting a ticket. Spot them outside venues including The Pour House, Slim’s Downtown, Kings and Lincoln Theater.

These Raleigh artists are making waves outside of North Carolina, in genres from rap and hip-hop to bluegrass and Americana. 

King Mez
The rapper grew up in southeast Raleigh, and has since gone on to work with fellow North Carolinian J. Cole and Dr. Dre, who recruited King Mez to write the bulk of his 2015 album Compton.

BJ Barham
The American Aquarium frontman released solo album Rockingham this summer and embarked on a one-man tour. The singer-songwriter wrote most of the album while on tour abroad with American Aquarium, a long-time Raleigh favorite, soon after the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. 

The NC State University alumna and Snow Hill, NC native started out as part of Raleigh hip-hop group Kooley High, and has since worked with of-the-moment hip-hop greats Common, 9th Wonder and Kendrick Lamar. Just this summer, she was signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation label.

Chatham County Line
Although the band will be absent from the World of Bluegrass stages for the first time since the festival moved to Raleigh, it’s busy touring in support of its new record Autumn, out now on local label Yep Roc Records. 

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