Travel

World of Bluegrass Festival Showcases Raleigh’s Pleasantly Urban Side

BY Tribune News Service TIMESeptember 20, 2022 PRINT

By Myscha Theriault
From Tribune News Service

With a museum scene that’s earned the nickname Smithsonian of the South, a notable restaurant repertoire and a boast-worthy beer scene, an unassuming North Carolina town has an abundance of built-in reasons to brag.

Simply put, Raleigh is pretty dope.

While a number of events throughout the year add to the overall destination value, there’s one in particular that offers an exceptional bang for your getaway buck. World of Bluegrass, the urban music festival that takes place in the city every year, provides abundant entertainment with a weekend’s worth of free musical performances by some of the top names in the industry.

The first time I attended, I had never been to a bluegrass performance. I was expecting the thrill of a live event, to be sure. What I wasn’t expecting was having my mind completely blown with the level of vocal and instrumental technical ability being displayed. Performance after performance. After performance. In addition to a toe-tapping good time, the festival offers an elevated level of accessibility for music lovers of all abilities, including a mobile quiet room for attendees with sensory processing needs.

Financial accessibility is built into the festival equation as well. While tickets are available for prime seating locations for specific performances, they are not required to access the performances scheduled throughout the two-day event. Everything from larger main stage events to sidewalk performances throughout the designated downtown area are essentially free. Be sure to bring a sarong or an easy-to-carry folding chair so you’ll be able to stop at will to enjoy your artist of choice.

This year’s event runs Sept. 30 through Oct. 1, with everything from main stage concerts and street singing to off-schedule hotel performances for travelers in the know. Following are my top tips for experiencing the city during this annual world-class event.

Arrival

While air and auto are certainly viable options for attending, one of the most convenient ways to access the event is by train. Travelers packing light are able to exit Union Station directly into Raleigh’s industrial chic Warehouse District, home to a number of nifty food and beverage establishments, a contemporary art museum and even an artisanal denim retailer where they make the jeans on site. It’s one of the coolest corners of the city, and a great way to kick off your visit. Not to be missed is the Videri Chocolate Factory, a decadent establishment offering free samples of their confectioneries, tons of atmosphere and a quiet little spot to catch your breath once you get off the train. More in the mood for a beer? Crank Arm Brewing offers a stylish spot to do just that before you make your way into the heart of the music action.

Location

Making the most of any city-scale festival often depends largely on where you choose to rest your head. In this case, easy access on foot to restaurants, sidewalk performances and main stage events can mean the difference between maximizing your musical enjoyment and spending an unnecessary amount of time in cabs. There are a couple of hotels in town that offer logistical efficiency along with a few extra festival perks.

The Residence Inn Raleigh Downtown is located near a great deal of the foot traffic action, and it offers suites with kitchenettes, a sophisticated rooftop bar and other amenities. While rates during the festival can run around $300 per night, the walkability and time saved for actual festival participation still put this one firmly in the value column. In addition to being across the street from the awards ceremony venue with a view of the comings and goings, it’s also the place where a number of acts participating in the awards ceremony regularly book a room, due to the proximity to the theater. I’ve run into a few of them myself in both the bar and elevator, including a very gracious Marty Stuart. After a drink too many on the roof, I recognized his face but couldn’t pull his name from memory. He took my tipsy behavior in stride, and even posed for a selfie. My bad, Marty. Thanks for being a sport.

Raleigh Marriott City Center is a slightly more upscale venue with a similar level of walkability to the outdoor events. They are also the hotel known for an annual World of Bluegrass tradition. Jam floors. Each year, certain floors are designated for after-hours jam sessions featuring acts who are also scheduled for public outdoor performances. Staying at the hotel, and still ready to rock out after the outdoor events shut down for the day? No tickets are necessary to stroll on down to one of the jam floors and see who’s strumming a tune or two.

Appetite

If you’re going for a Zen-like atmosphere with great grub, Bida Manda is worth a stop. Serving Laotian food with a modern twist, they offer full-flavored offerings that both satisfy and entertain. Notable menu items include the crispy rice lettuce wraps, crispy pork belly soup and lemongrass sausage. Nearby is Brewery Bhavana, which features elevated dim sum, great brews and an unexpected atmosphere. How many breweries have you seen that include a flower shop and book store? Just saying. Make sure to check out the fig beer and edamame dumplings.

Rather kick it old school? Head to Poole’s Diner. A fun local favorite with a vintage vibe, the venue boasts an elevated menu of comfort food. Most of the items change on a regular basis to keep things fresh for regular patrons, but their mac and cheese is both a constant and a long-standing culinary tradition for city residents.

Extras

If time permits and you want to explore something further afield, consider catching a Lyft ride to Dock 1053. An industrial space redeveloped for creative co-working types, it boasts a distillery, brewery, a rad neon art studio and more. Wanna grab a bite while you’re there? Hummingbird offers a full range of food choices for vegetarians and carnivores alike. Everything from garam masala chicken wings and charred oysters to spicy chaat and ratatouille pizza is on the menu, and you can easily grab a pint at the brewery before hopping a ride back to your hotel.

Another great way to maximize your trip value for World of Bluegrass is to arrive a day early and snag tickets for the music awards ceremony on Thursday night. Complete with decked-out celebs, live performances and tickets starting as low as 50 bucks, it’s an affordable add-on to a weekend of entertainment by some of the most approachable artists in the industry. If that doesn’t suit, hanging out at the rooftop bar at the Residence Inn Raleigh Downtown provides a chance to celeb watch for the cost of a cocktail.

I first arrived in Raleigh expecting to find a generally pleasant city with a hidden gem or two. What I found instead was a highly developed tourism destination that can hold its own against the big dogs. Factor in their festival schedule, direct flights and streamlined train access, and it’s easy to see why this North Carolina city needs to be on your vacation short list.

Lifestyle and travel expert @MyschaTheriault blends thrift and luxury to live well for less around the world.
©2022 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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