DESIGNED BY JESSE WOOD
April 19, 2012. WILKESBORO — Preparations are well underway for MerleFest 25, presented by Lowe’s, which officially begins next Thursday, April 26, and runs through Sunday, April 29, on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. For many diehard MerleFest fans, the activity begins in the days leading up to Thursday as musicians gather at the Pickin’ Place, hosted by the Wilkes Acoustic Folk Society, on the front lawn of the college to share music, moments and memories.
As in previous years, the list of performers fits the “traditional plus” definition offered by the festival’s host, Doc Watson. Watson coined this term to describe the unique mix of music found at MerleFest: traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock “plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play,” he explained.
The award-winning lineup represents a group of artists who have collectively earned 102 Grammy Awards – with seven of those belonging to Doc Watson himself. Additionally, the American music icon was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988; received the National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton in 1997; and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences at the 2004 Grammy Awards show.
Fans at MerleFest can expect the unexpected with special surprises, spontaneous jam sessions and one-of-a-kind musical collaborations. The complete lineup and stage schedules are posted at www.merlefest.org, and festival updates are delivered via Twitter and Facebook.
Thursday, April 26, will feature performances by artists including Vince Gill, Dailey & Vincent, Donna the Buffalo with Jim Lauderdale, The Boxcars, Lost Bayou Ramblers, The Deep Dark Woods, The Steel Wheels, Jubal’s Kin and others. That afternoon, participants in Pete Wernick’s MerleFest Bluegrass Jam Camp will perform on the Cabin Stage. A rare opportunity for Thursday festival attendees is the chance to pick or sing during “open mic” sessions with legendary Dobro player Tut Taylor and the Local Boys. There also will be a special musical tribute to the late Bill Young, an early and longtime supporter of the festival, as well as a personal friend of Doc Watson. Thursday is also a day for community outreach, with several MerleFest artists visiting and performing at local schools.
The schedule on Friday, April 27, includes performances by Los Lobos, Sam Bush, Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, the Original Lineup, Patrick Simmons, Darrell Scott & John Cowan, Steep Canyon Rangers, Donna the Buffalo, Peter Rowan & The Free Mexican Airforce, Wylie & The Wild West, Jonathan Scales Fourchestra, Claire Lynch Band, The Kruger Brothers, Enter the Haggis and others. The culmination of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest takes place on Friday; after contest chairperson Jim Lauderdale announces the winners, the songwriters perform the winning entries on the Cabin Stage.
The annual Doc Watson Guitar Championship is held on Friday; this year’s judges include Jack Lawrence and Roy Book Binder, as well as last year’s contest winner, Eric Hardin. The annual Merle Watson Bluegrass Banjo Contest is also held this day; this year’s judges include Pete Wernick, Mark Schatz and Eric Ellis, as well as last year’s contest winner, Weston Stewart.
Special performances on Friday include a set of old-time music from Doc Watson and David Holt in the Traditional Tent and a special performance at the Walker Center from “Frosty Morn,” featuring Doc Watson, Richard Watson, T. Michael Coleman, Bob Hill, Jeff Little, Cliff Miller and Joe Smothers.
The lineup for Saturday, April 28, includes performances by Tedeschi Trucks Band, Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile, Gibson Brothers, Assembly of Dust, Tony Rice Unit, Jeffery Broussard & the Creole Cowboys, Sierra Hull & Highway 111, among others. The ever-popular Hillside Album Hour, hosted by The Waybacks, will have Sarah Dugas as one of their special guests. The highly-anticipated Midnight Jam will take place in the Walker Center (separate ticket required and available for purchase by 4-day ticket holders and Saturday-only ticket holders). This year’s Jam is hosted by Casey Driessen, with the opening act by the Jonathan Scales Fourchestra. Special performances on Saturday include “Mando Mania” at the Creekside Stage with Sam Bush, Sierra Hull, Chris Thile, Joe Walsh, Tony Williamson and others; “Flexigrass Jam” with Pete & Joan Wernick and friends; and “My Friend Merle,” hosted by Mitch Greenhill and featuring Doc Watson, Richard Watson, Sam Bush, T. Michael Coleman, Bob Hill, David Holt, Jeff Little, Cliff Miller and Joe Smothers.
Sunday, April 29, will feature performances by Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Dougie MacLean, Scythian, The Benedict College Gospel Choir, Jeff Little & Wayne Henderson, Darin & Brooke Aldridge and The Kickin’ Grass Band, among others. There will be a “Sunday Morning Blues” set with Roy Book Binder; a “Women Who Sing Traditional Music” session with Carol Rifkin, Gaye Johnson, Brooke Buckner, Laura Boosinger, Joan Wernick, Tara Nevins, Kim McWhirter and Gailanne Amundsen; and a “Spirit of Sunday” set with Doc Watson and the Nashville Bluegrass Band.
Throughout the four-day festival, the Dance Tent will feature various workshops and dance instruction with plenty of opportunities for festival attendees to cut loose with some stellar music performers. Additionally, Mayes Pit/Cohn Auditorium in Thompson Hall at MerleFest is devoted to a wide variety of workshops and demonstrations on Friday and Saturday, where world-class performers share their expertise with attendees. The Songwriter Coffeehouse will once again showcase the art of the song on Friday. On Saturday, blues lovers will want to check out the “Greatest Acoustic Blues Show on Earth” at the Austin Stage in Alumni Hall. For those attendees who like to do a little performing themselves, there is a continuous “open mic” at the Plaza Stage.
In addition to music, MerleFest offers special activities and shopping, all in a family-friendly atmosphere. The Shoppes at MerleFest is a centrally-located shopping village featuring demonstrating artisans, vendors, convenience foods, official MerleFest memorabilia and services such as first aid, lost and found, and Internet access. The Little Pickers area offers children’s activities, crafts and entertainment, with the MerleFest Youth Showcase, hosted by Andy May, at the Little Pickers Stage. Nature walks of the gardens and forest on the WCC campus will be offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“For those wanting an affordable weekend getaway, MerleFest 25 provides a true value to its customers,” said festival director Ted Hagaman. “The admission prices are extremely reasonable – especially considering that we feature over 90 artists on 14 stages. Also, there are no hidden charges. We provide free parking, a free shuttle that will deliver you to the entrance, a free program guide as you enter, and all children 12 and under are admitted free with a paid adult. In addition, our Little Pickers Family Area for children offers each child the opportunity to make crafts and participate in several interactive exhibits – all free of charge.”
Ticket purchases can be made on the web at www.merlefest.org, by calling 1-800-343-7857, or at the gate. Gates open on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:00 a.m.
MerleFest 25 is presented by Lowe’s. MerleFest is grateful to 85+ sponsors for their support in making the event possible, including: Charlotte and Greensboro area Burger King restaurants, G&B Energy, Pepsi, RaysWeather.com, Smoky Mountain Living, Tyson, WBRF 98.1 Classic Country, WBT AM/FM Charlotte’s News/Talk, Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority, Winston-Salem Journal, WKRR Rock 92, WLNK 107.9 The Link, WNCW 88.7 Public Radio, WPAQ 740 AM, WSMW 98.7 Simon, WTQR Q104-1 New Country, WXII 12, and Yes! Weekly. A complete listing of all MerleFest sponsors and additional information about all aspects of the festival can be found at http://www.merlefest.org.
MerleFest, considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, is held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson and is a celebration of what Doc Watson calls “traditional plus” music, a unique mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock and many other styles. The annual festival has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.
Press release courtesy of MerleFest.