With IBMA’s World of Bluegrass now in its seventh year in Raleigh, where it continues through tonight with a bounty of free offerings at PNC, the frequency of returning bands filling the festival’s showcases has made it a bit of a challenge to seek out new artists. Keeping that in mind, my Wednesday evening ramble plans focused on seeking out new experiences.

Saskatchewan-based quartet The Dead South was new to me and, despite having to overcome the partially seated crowd at Kings, tore through a set of anthemic, energetic tunes that often had more in common with modern indie folk acts than much of the bluegrass to be found this week. With an abundance of local and regional talent on each year’s lineup, it’s can be easy to overlook the international contingent of IBMA. Discovering the varying lenses through which the genre is interpreted, though, consistently proves to be one of the festival’s great rewards. 

To that end, Kristy Cox’s performance in the Mountain Fever suite—replacing the sorely missed California Bluegrass Association suite—found the tender-voiced Australian guitarist, along with her traditional-leaning band, shining on a cover of Chris Stapleton’s “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” alongside a smattering of her own material.

A few of the usual suspects delivered in unusual settings, too:  Becky Buller, Laurie Lewis, and Irene Kelley’s songwriters in the round performance was stellar, particularly Lewis’ stories and singalongs. Playing for the first time with a brand new band, Dan Tyminski and crew tore through standards like “Mary Ann” and (of course) “Man of Constant Sorrow” with vigor. His self-deprecating banter added to the Lincoln Theatre’s surprisingly intimate vibe, heightened when Tyminski went solo for “Huckleberry” from his new EP. 

Nothing was more intimate, though, than dipping back into the Mountain Fever suite for former IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year Junior Sisk and his ultra-traditional band to find hiis mandolin player sliding by me into the kitchenette to retune his instrument mid-song, emerging just in time for a solo as I cracked open a beer. It’s those unexpected, singular moments that keep me coming back to World of Bluegrass every year—no matter how familiar it has become.