10 Artists To Discover at MerleFest 2016

Published Wednesday, March 16, 2016 at 3:50 pm

MerleFest, presented by Window World and slated for April 28-May 1, 2016, has a reputation for discovering new talent in American roots music. From Old Crow Medicine Show to Gillian Welch, the Avett Brothers to Tift Merritt, artists have been discovered at MerleFest in its 29 years, helping careers blossom right from the festival’s stages. The 2016 MerleFest lineup continues this trend, bringing together over 100 bands and artists in a curated lineup designed to highlight MerleFest’s legacy as the largest roots and Americana festival in the nation. MerleFest has discovered ten powerful and innovative artists to watch for at MerleFest 2016.


Kacy & Clayton, from Wood Mountain Uplands, Saskatchewan, is Kacy Anderson (vocals, violin) and Clayton Linthicum (guitar, melodeon, vocals). The duo interprets and composes music inspired by traditional music from Southern Appalachia and the British Isles. As children they were surrounded by rural music, absorbing the knowledge of Kacy’s grandfather (Clayton’s great-uncle) Carl Anderson. Although the second cousins are young in age, they have been playing music together for over a decade and have created a distinct and cohesive sound. Kacy’s completely unforced vocals are always in her own distinct and natural timbre. Clayton’s instrumental talents serve every song with modesty; he reserves his virtuosity for only those few transitions that require elaborate expression. The production values of their recordings are consistent and simple. Kacy & Clayton shun studio trickery and gimmicks, pursuing mixes that recall the natural warmth of 1970s British folk LPs. In fact, much of their repertoire could easily be mistaken for hidden gems of decades past. Their return to form is no mere retro affectation; it is a respectful bearing of the torch passed on from their deep and studied musical heritage. Get a preview at www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBj48Gfp2gw.


Gospel, soul, and R&B infused artist Liz Vice is from Portland, Oregon. With a love of storytelling, she has found herself going from working behind the scenes in the film and video world to behind the mic. Her songs feature dynamic, soulful vocals, with lyrics that are classically influenced enough to feel timeless and reference her deep-rooted spirituality. When Vice was a little girl, the middle of five children raised by their mother, she would hide out in the basement dancing and lip syncing to songs from the radio and soundtracks from her favorite films. Vice vividly remembers her mother singing “rise and shine and give God the glory, glory” every morning to awaken the children. Now, Vice has gained prominence as a performing artist. No matter how large the venue, her genuine approach to her artistry and playful interaction with the audience makes everyone feel like they are sitting at home watching a friend sing her heart out. Get a preview at www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR1MoY3DCu8.


Shinyribs is the continuation of Kevin Russell’s musical journey that began in Beaumont, Texas, when, at 14, he found his father’s guitar under his bed, along with a sewing machine, a billy club and a box of comic books. Luckily he chose the guitar. Following his family’s oil boom and bust migratory path, he landed in Shreveport, La., where he formed his first band. Russell then went to Austin and formed The Gourds. That storied band of pumpkins came to an end after 18 years of good times and hard travelin’, and Russell headed back to Austin. From that time Russell has been riding high on the Shinyribs, a river of country-soul, swamp-funk and tickle. A Shinyribs show is a hip shaking, belly laughing, soul-singing, song-slinging, down-home house party. All styles of American music are likely to be touched on, squeezed on and kissed on by this world-class band. Whether on his 6-string Uke or his Electric guitar or singing a cappella, Russell will entertain you like no one else. Get a preview at Http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iD6O9k_ItOQ.


Incendiary American roots musician Billy Strings, who is based in Nashville, taps into the vein of the earliest bluegrass music, back when bluegrass was a rough-and-tumble art form pouring out of the Appalachian Mountains. Drenched in sweat, grimacing like a banshee, howling like a bluegrass berserker, and picking with such ferocity that he has been known to break three strings in one song, 22-year-old guitarist and singer Billy Strings could have tumbled out of coal country in the old mountains, but he actually hails from Michigan. No matter his origins, listen to Strings’ cover of “Little Maggie” on his recent album “Fiddle Tune X,” and you can hear that backwoods howl that first electrified a nation through the early music of Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs. Mountain music was never made to be safe; this was music born out of hard-working, hard-hit lives, from people whose voice was systematically suppressed. Bluegrass started off with a howl to be heard, and this same spirit is alive and well today in Billy Strings. Get a preview at www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4CaLA1MOII.


Penny & Sparrow is American singer-songwriter duo of Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke out of Austin, Texas. Formed in 2011 after living as roommates at the University of Texas, the duo began their musical endeavor as a hobby and creative outlet. Their first tune, “Creature,” was recorded in a small apartment behind an orphanage with one microphone and a laptop. “If you listen closely, you can hear kids screaming and laughing in the background of each song,” says Baxter. “After just one song, we knew writing and recording was something we didn’t want to stop doing.” Through the years, Penny & Sparrow has steadily grown both in discography and audience. While the instrumentation in each of the three released albums – “Creature” (2011), “Tenboom” (2013), and “Struggle Pretty” (2014) – may differ, Penny & Sparrow has garnered a reputation of blending sincere lyrics with haunting melodies and harmonies in every song. The raw and emotive quality of their songs has been known to push crowds to near silence for an entire set. Get a preview at www.youtube.com/watch?v=eefTDGwHxzw.


Jeff Scroggins & Colorado is a high-energy five-piece bluegrass band from Denver, Colorado. Their distinctive sound showcases an eclectic range of influences that marry second and third generation bluegrass, delivering a unique experience that captivates audiences. It’s a powerful, high mountain “bluegrass explosion” that features world-class banjo and mandolin playing, incredible vocals, a solid and energetic rhythm, and an easy stage banter that has delighted listeners all over the world. Fronted by two-time National Banjo Champion Jeff Scroggins, the band also features Jeff’s son Tristan (mandolin). At only 20 years old, he is an award-winning instrumentalist and accomplished songwriter. To round out the experience, West Virginia native Greg Blake provides powerful bluegrass vocals steeped in country heritage, bringing a truly authentic sound developed from a lifetime of singing bluegrass, gospel and country. Get a preview at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwx_Yf0TM0Y.


Their fans keep time with chopsticks, bounce around an inflated alligator, and shout the words to “The Scout.” The band shimmies to the stage floor in rhythm, brings out a friend to sing “White Rabbit,” and generally creates joyous mayhem. The Brothers Comatose, from San Francisco, are tearing up the West and moving out nationally in rapid style. Ben and Alex Morrison (guitar, banjo, lead vocals) front this rocking string band that has become a West Coast headliner and national touring act in a mere five years. With stellar accompanists Phil Brezina (fiddle), Ryan Avellone (mandolin) and founding member Gio Benedetti (upright bass, harmony vocals), their high energy, audience engaging shows have caught fire with a quickly growing fan base. See The Brothers Comatose, and you might go home singing “Pie for Breakfast.” Get a preview at www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLQVvyk5nt4.


With roots in northern bluegrass and southern troubadour country, Brennen Leigh, Beth Chrisman, and Noel McKay each come to their Austin-based band High Plains Jamboree with a distinct flavor to their writing and singing. Simon Flory anchors this new string band on bass and is more country than all of the one hundred people who move to Austin every day combined. The members of High Plains Jamboree are making their own jukebox memories, playing decades-old favorites (theirs, not necessarily everyone else’s) and songs they wrote, together and all by their lonesome. Get a preview at www.youtube.comwatch?v=yjSZYYEi7MQ.


Blazing hot Michigan roots ensemble Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys is touring in support of its new release, “Ionia,” named for the band’s hometown. Leading the group, Lindsay Lou has the kind of voice you can get lost in. One part jazz singer, effortlessly transitioning octaves; one part blues shouter, soaring over the band like a clarion call; and one part folk singer, rousing them all together in song. The instruments and the bedrock of the band may come from bluegrass, but the music that Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys presents can best be described as Americana. This is music that is caught between the pull of the past and the push of the beckoning future, ready to leap forward bursting with new ideas and youthful energy. Get a preview at www.youtube.comwatch?v=FwD51vKWask.


Over the past 10 years, Seth Walker has become recognized as one of the most revered modern roots artists in the country – a three-dimensional talent comprised of a gift for combining melody and lyric within a song; a rich, Gospel-drenched, Southern-inflected voice; and a knack for getting around on the guitar. On his latest studio album, “Sky Still Blue,” Walker delivers a masterwork that further expands upon this reputation. Walker grew up on a commune in rural North Carolina, the son of classically trained musicians. He has released seven albums, breaking into the Top 20 of the Americana charts and receiving praise from NPR, American Songwriter, No Depression and Blues Revue, among others. Perhaps Country Standard Time said it best: “If you subscribe to the Big Tent theory of Americana, then Seth Walker – with his blend of blues, gospel, pop, R&B, rock and a dash country – just might be your poster boy.” Get a preview at www.youtube.comwatch?v=XlMoAZ7mczE.


MerleFest also recommends catching a performance by The Slocan Ramblers from Toronto, Ontario. The Slocan Ramblers are Canada’s young bluegrass band to watch. Rooted in the tradition, fearlessly creative and possessing a bold, dynamic sound, The Slocans have quickly become a leading light of Canada’s roots music scene, built on their reputation for energetic live shows and impeccable musicianship. On their sophomore album, “Coffee Creek,” The Slocan Ramblers blend lightning fast and devilishly intricate instrumentals with the sawdust-thick vocals of Frank Evans. “Toronto audiences don’t respond to a clean, polished Nashville sound,” tune composer Adrian Gross explains. “They dig a lot of energy in their music, a rowdy bar vibe. They’re hard to win over.” But The Slocan Ramblers have won them over, moving from a young ensemble of bluegrass pickers to one of the best known Canadian roots bands. They have done this by staying true to the roots of the music, not seeking to revive anything but rather to tap the rough and rowdy heart of the music. Get a preview at www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iYhreDGElQ.

The current lineup for MerleFest 2016 is at http://merlefest.org/lp-v4.

MerleFest takes place on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in the heart of Appalachia. The 2016 lineup will feature over 100 artists, including John Prine, Old Crow Medicine Show, Jason Isbell, Dave Rawlings Machine, Brandi Carlile, The Wood Brothers, Steep Canyon Rangers, Tim O’Brien, Tommy Emmanuel, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Alison Brown, Doug Seegers, Jim Lauderdale and more! The four-day event, the largest roots and Americana music festival in the nation, takes place on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in the heart of Appalachia. MerleFest continues the legacy of Doc Watson and is a benefit for the college. This homecoming of roots music artists and fans draws nearly 80,000 participants every year.

MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the son of the late American music legend Doc Watson, renowned guitarist Eddy Merle Watson. MerleFest is a celebration of “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 festival hosts a diverse mix of artists on its 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.

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