Friday initiated the free, street-fair portion of World of Bluegrass, with numerous stages and rows of bluegrass record labels and vendors. Many of the record labels had performances at their booths, too. Without a formal schedule of all performances stretching between the ticketed, non-ticketed and vendor zones, the best strategy might’ve been to wander around a bit, walk up upon someone picking, and hang out and listen.
Indeed, the most pleasant surprise of my Friday came in catching 9-time IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year, Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, at the Gibson tent. He ran through several fast, driving fiddle tunes. As the crowd became larger and larger, people hooted and hollered as Cleveland began to shred his bow at speeds that I didn’t think could get faster. They, of course, would slow it down at times to feature the members of Flamekeeper, but it was clearly Cleveland’s show.
Meanwhile, The Kruger Brothers—the Swiss transplants now living in North Carolina—had a huge audience on the City Plaza stage. The crowd even included Mayor Nancy McFarlane. Running through a number of slower ballads, Jens Kruger’s delicate banjo playing soared overtop of Uwe Krueger’s plaintive singing. They spoke of their love for North Carolina—their love for the mountains, the flat lands and the coast. And as they explain in the song below, they learned from Doc Watson how to turn their favorite numbers into bluegrass music with a contemporary feel.
Ending the night were Western North Carolina natives Balsam Range, nominated in seven categories during the IBMA Awards earlier this week. When they played the Martin Street stage, they nearly filled the entire block. The group closed out the evening with a cover of the Allman Brothers “One Way Out,” and the reaction to the first few notes was incredible. Some people hopped up to shout, swinging their children in the air. As with The Kruger Brothers, taking a favorite song and fitting into the bluegrass style is a common theme in this music—and it worked well in Raleigh in front of large, unsuspecting crowds out to see some free music.