After Florence, Bluegrass Festival and Art of Cool keep an eye on the forecast

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It’s the hurricane season nightmare of every fall festival organizer in North Carolina: After months, or even years, of planning, a storm forces you to cancel.

That’s what happened to the Dreamville Festival, the inaugural hip-hop festival from Fayetteville rap star J. Cole that was scheduled Sept. 15 at Raleigh’s Dix Park.

With thousands expected, including many from across the country, Hurricane Florence forced organizers to cancel the event. Other outdoor shows and events were canceled or postponed, from the Zac Brown Band and Niall Horan concerts to downtown Raleigh’s SPARKcon arts festival.

“From one promoter to another, it’s tough to see that happen to anybody,” said Sulaiman Mausi, the new owner of Durham’s Art of Cool Festival. “You want to see everybody do well. But when safety’s on the line, all that’s out the window.”

Fall is a time for major events all over the Triangle with some of the biggest ones still to come. Capital City Bikefest is this weekend with events at the Raleigh Convention Center and the Tobacco Road Harley-Davidson dealership south of downtown. La Fiesta del Pueblo will take over five blocks of Fayetteville Street Sept. 23.

The local organizing committee for World of Bluegrass is also keeping track of the weather. The sixth annual bluegrass festival kicks off next week, including a convention, awards show and outdoor concerts on stages across downtown. Last year’s World of Bluegrass events drew an estimated attendance of more than 221,000.

“We’ve been watching the news, and it looks like no large storms are coming our way,” said William Lewis, director of Wide Open Bluegrass producer PineCone.

Preliminary long-range forecasts call for a chance of thunderstorms for Sept. 28-29.

“Pop-up showers are always possible,” Lewis said. “Fortunately, if it gets drastic and nasty, we have a backup plan most outdoor events don’t.”

True, and it’s a plan that has been put to the test. In 2015, Tropical Storm Joaquin moved through the Triangle during the Wide Open Bluegrass outdoor program. The entire event was transported inside the Raleigh Convention Center.

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The ticketed shows at Red Hat Amphitheater, with crowds of 6,000 per night, moved into the convention center’s basement exhibition area. The street-festival shows were set up in every nook and cranny of the rest of the building, from ballrooms down to small conference rooms.


From left, Patricia Oldfield and husband David Oldfield, both visiting from England and family friend Lauren Jones of Raleigh had to put up their umbrellas as they left the Raleigh Convention Center October 2, 2015. Heavy rain forced most of the 2015 Wide Open Bluegrass Festival outdoor venues to move inside.

Harry Lynch

It wasn’t perfect, especially the acoustics downstairs, but it worked. Even the artisans and vendors were able to come inside to avoid the bad weather. And while 2015’s World of Bluegrass total attendance of 98,000 was about half of the festival’s peak years, the fact that it happened at all was a coup.

“If there’s any benefit to a storm like that, it’s large enough to see coming and that gives you time,” said Lewis. “And since the event is tied to the convention center, we had the space. Still, there a lot of logistics and moving parts. Moving it in took a couple of round-the-clock days.”

Loren Gold, vice president of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau, adds: “Overcast is fine, no rain is better and sunshine would be ideal. We’re looking forward to this year’s event.”

Meanwhile, Mausi is anxiously watching the weather in advance of Art of Cool, set for Sept. 28-29 at Durham Bulls Ballpark. Art of Cool traditionally has been held in the spring, another season prone for showers. It will be in the fall for the first time and has a lineup featuring Erykah Badu, Nas , Sangoand Anthony Hamilton. It will go on rain or shine, provided the wind or rain doesn’t reach dangerous levels.

There’s been no word from Dreamville Festival organizers about whether the high-profile event will be rescheduled.