Greg Behr and his team at GBW Strategies, a Raleigh-based communications firm, was asked last year to helping develop a public relations strategy for the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival. The multi-day music event and street festival was moving from Nashville, Tenn., to Raleigh, and Behr didn’t know quite what to expect.
“We thought we’d have 60,000 to 80,000 people come out over two days,” says Behr, who graduated from NC State in 2006 with an English degree. “We were shocked when we had 140,000 come out over two days.”
That’s quite a mark for a festival of any sort to set in its first year. So as Wide Open is back in Raleigh for its sophomore year today and Saturday, Behr welcomes the opportunity for Raleigh to once again show it can help grow the festival and the International Bluegrass Music Association.
“The band Chatham County Line wrote a song about the IBMA coming and living in Raleigh now,” Behr says. “Raleigh is a fantastic place to be. We’ll put people in the seats. We’ll make it so you can continue to grow your organization in a new home.”
Behr is familiar with getting the word out about events in downtown Raleigh. GBW Strategies has worked with the city and Raleigh Convention Center on various events, including Raleigh Wide Open, the Cherry Bounce Festival and the NHL All-Star Game in 2011.
“We’ve been working the big downtown festivals during Raleigh’s renaissance,” he says. “We knew Raleigh could put on parties. Those models are what helped us work with the convention center, [which] led the way in getting Wide Open here.”
So Behr has spent time this week spreading the gospels of the mandolin and banjo as the festival has grown in scope to more stages and acts. He realizes he can’t simply depend on word of mouth to bring out a crowd, but he also admits that bluegrass fans in North Carolina do give the event a distinct advantage.
“It’s such a dedicated audience. It’s cool to come down to the festival and you get all these hardliners coming to the venue. They can tell you who’s picking with who. But then you have a family just looking for things to do.”
The Wide Open Bluegrass Festival takes place today and Saturday in downtown Raleigh, with more than 85 bands performing along Fayetteville Street. There are both ticketed events and a free street festival.