The Red Hat shows at Raleigh’s Bluegrass Festival will be free for the first time

Inching ever closer to its name Wide Open Bluegrass, the annual bluegrass festival in downtown Raleigh will offer free admission to its main stage shows at Red Hat Amphitheater for the first time.

The International Bluegrass Music Association has held its annual music festival, conference and awards ceremony in Raleigh since 2013. Much of the festival is free, with dozens of acts performing on multiple stages throughout downtown Raleigh.

But this fall, Red Hat shows also will be free to attend, the IBMA announced Tuesday in a press release.

The aim, the organization said, is to make the festival’s most sought-after shows more accessible.

“We are constantly looking for ways to improve that experience,” IBMA executive director Paul Schiminger said in an email interview with The News & Observer. “With this change, the Main Stage in the Red Hat Amphitheater and the StreetFest portion of our Wide Open Bluegrass Festival better complement each other.”

Red Hat typically hosts the festival’s top acts for ticketed shows, including newly minted IBMA winners and artists like Rhiannon Giddens, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Alison Krauss, Steve Martin and Bela Fleck. The tickets are sold as day passes or weekend passes, rather than tickets for individual acts.

There still will be ticketed sections for the shows: $70 and $60 each night for non-IBMA members and $60 and $50 each night for members.

Free general admission seats — more than half the tickets at the Red Hat venue — will be available on a limited basis and cannot be reserved, the IBMA said.

Removing costs for the festival’s biggest acts connects the main stage performers to the larger StreetFest, Schiminger said.

“This year, we felt opening up the Red Hat Amphitheater with more than half of the seats for free would create a more seamless way for everyone to hear terrific artists on the StreetFest stages as well as the headliners on our Main Stage, while still giving those who like a guaranteed reserved seat the opportunity to purchase those at a discount from prior years,” he said.

Another change this year is a later start date for the Red Hat shows. Six-hour blocks will begin at 5 p.m. Music often has started earlier in the afternoon.

This year’s Wide Open Bluegrass is Sept. 24-28. The event is one of the Triangle’s biggest and has set attendance and economic development records every year since it moved from Nashville.

It will remain in Raleigh through at least 2021.

Last year, more than 223,000 people attended the sixth annual event, according to figures from Visit Raleigh, The News & Observer reported in October.

Visitor spending reached $12.7 million, which represented a $1 million increase over 2017.

In addition to concerts, IBMA hosts a business convention, awards show and Bluegrass Ramble nightclub performances.

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