Supergroups and hall of famers headline this year’s Raleigh bluegrass festival

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Over the past six years, the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival has been one of downtown Raleigh’s largest events, packing the city streets and concert venues with hundreds of thousands of concert-goers.

For this year’s festival, tickets to the top shows will be free for the first time, expanding the audience will file into Red Hat Amphitheater for the stars of bluegrass.

On Wednesday, the International Bluegrass Music Association announced the headliners for the 2019 festival. They include I’m With Her, a supergroup trio of Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan; Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver; Balsam Range; Sister Sadie and Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen. The newly announced acts join Del McCoury and Molly Tuttle as main stage acts.

The IBMA moved its annual Wide Open Bluegrass festival from Nashville to downtown Raleigh in 2013, kicking off a tradition that packs the streets with music every September. Most of the festival is free to attend, with a handful of stages scattered around downtown, attracting dozens of bluegrass and Americana acts from across the country. The only ticketed shows are for festival headliners at Red Hat Amphitheater, which has attracted acts like Rhiannon Giddens, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Alison Krauss, Steve Martin and Bela Fleck.

This year, about half the tickets to the main stage acts will be available for free, with premium seating available for purchase. Those tickets are $70 and $60 each night for non-IBMA members and $60 and $50 each night for members. The free seats will be offered on a first-come basis and cannot be reserved.

The 2019 headliners include a range of award-winning and legendary bluegrass acts. I’m With Her was named this year’s Artist of the Year at the International Folk Music Awards. Doyle Lawson is in his sixth decade as a performer and has been inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. Balsam Range has played Raleigh many times on the bill of the festival’s free Streetfest and is now on the main stage, carrying last year’s IBMA’s Entertainer of the Year award.

“When it is all said and done, bluegrass fans will get to enjoy artists ranging from hall of famers to award winning rising stars to special collaborations with amazing guests,” said IBMA executive director Paul Schiminger in a release. “This stage is the festival’s crescendo each day, and this year we are so pleased to offer free and open admission for more than half of the seats, while still giving the most devoted fans a chance to reserve prime seating both days.”

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. Last year, nearly a quarter million people attended the festival, according to data released by Visit Raleigh.

It will remain in Raleigh through at least 2021.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.