The amazing event story that unfolded in Raleigh, North Carolina, last week deserves the attention of meeting planners. For the third consecutive year, Raleigh hosted the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) annual convention and followed that up with two days of concerts on six stages. When Hurricane Joaquin showed up on the radar, it became clear that an outdoor street festival and sold-out shows at the downtown Red Hat amphitheater were likely going to get washed out.
Although Raleigh always had a contingency plan to move the street festival and concert stages inside the Raleigh Convention Center, they didn’t have to rely on Plan B the first two years. Things changed dramatically just before thousands of musicians and bluegrass lovers descended on North Carolina’s state capital last week.
“I knew we could do it based on our partnerships,” said Loren Gold, executive vice president of Visit Raleigh. “People come together to solve things. That’s the basis of our community.”
Raleigh’s downtown convention center campus is pretty awesome for citywides, including two hotels (Sheraton Raleigh Hotel and Raleigh Marriott City Center), the amphitheater and Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The IBMA business meetings were already scheduled for the convention center and the award show took place at the performing arts center on Thursday night, so neither was impacted by the inclement weather.
Outdoor to Indoor Game Plan
But when it came to the street festival and six outdoor stages, that’s where the scrambling skills were needed. For starters, organizers moved the ticketed shows scheduled for the amphitheater inside exhibition halls A and B, marking the first time they had been used for live music. Besides setting up seating for more than 5,000, audio experts worked around the clock to make sure the concerts were unaffected sound-wise by the venue change. There were even two big screens set up (compared to one in the amphitheater) so concert goers could see the pickin’ and grinnin’ as easily as possible.
Next up came the task of where to put the other five concert stages, which offered eight to 10 live performances each day on Friday and Saturday. Two stages were created on the ground level of the convention center, where North Carolina vendors, a beer garden and IBMA merchandise also were located. Then on the ballroom level, three more stages were created, plus a food court.
The only outside event space was in front of the convention center, where a dance tent was covered. (The wooden floor was perfect for clogging.) A dozen or so food trucks also braved the rainy weather outdoors.
It’s pretty spectacular how organizers were able to set up six stages and maintain the same concert schedules that would have been showcased outdoors. They even used the same street locations to name the indoor stages, so attendees who had already decided which acts they wanted to hear could easily move from level to level and room to room inside the convention center.
Musician after musician praised event organizers for the great sound systems that were quickly erected and helped maintained the integrity of the event. And since North Carolina had already received several weeks of rainy weather, attendees welcomed a dry place to enjoy some bluegrass music, taste a little barbecue and explore the trendy convention center, which opened in 2008.
“We look for solutions constantly in Raleigh,” Gold said. “They’re finding cures for diseases here. I knew we had the brain power to come together. This is a city of passionate minds.”
If Raleigh can move its largest downtown event of the year from outdoors to indoors in a matter of days, just think what Visit Raleigh can do for your next event. It’s easy to sing the praises of Visit Raleigh after seeing the city showcase its flexibility and passion to ensure that the shows did indeed go on.