Over the past two decades, hundreds of young musicians have taken part in the Acoustic Kids programming at MerleFest presented by Window World. This year—the showcase’s 20th anniversary—young musicians from the MerleFest audience will once again step on stage and perform in Andy May’s Acoustic Kids Showcases during the festival which takes place in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, on September 16-19. Some participants are just learning to play their instrument, some play just for the fun of it, and some go on to international renown. Young musicians must register online before August 4th to participate in Acoustic Kids. “Acoustic Kids looks forward to our 20th MerleFest this September!” said Lauren May, Acoustic Kids facilitator. “Each year, it is a joy to provide festival stage performance opportunities for young musicians attending the festival and support them in them sharing their talents with the MerleFest audience.”
This year, Acoustic Kids guidelines are a little different than usual in order to make up for MerleFest’s cancellation in 2020 and to accommodate the change in dates for 2021. Those who would have been age-eligible (16 or younger) for Acoustic Kids, MerleFest 2020, will be eligible for AK MerleFest 2021!
Their accompanists may be any age, and mixed-age groups are accepted—including family bands. Music teachers often accompany their students, using the program to give their students a real-life performance experience that is difficult to find elsewhere. No matter their skill level, Acoustic Kids celebrates young musicians’ achievements, and each year, a stream of young musicians heads to Merlefest to create their own “Music, Moments, and Memories” in Acoustic Kids Showcases. A festival wristband is required to participate, but there is no additional charge. Parents can find the registration page here. Please visit the Acoustic Kids website for further details and other important information concerning this year’s showcases.
Acoustic kids performers will be in good company on stage at MerleFest, joining a host of fellow MerleFest first-timers at the 2021 festival. Melissa Etheridge, Mavis Staples, Sturgill Simpson, Iron Horse Bluegrass, Creole Stomp, Charley Crockett, Joe Troop (of Che Apalache), Nefesh Mountain, Kelsey Waldon, Sierra Ferrell, One Fret Over, Amythyst Kiah, Chatham Rabbits, and Hogslop String Band will all be making their debut at MerleFest this year.
MerleFest wants to remind everyone that early bird ticket prices are still in effect until September 15th.
Finally, the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest judges have been announced. This year’s panel of music industry professionals includes Dolphus Ramseur, Amythyst Kiah, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, and The Milk Carton Kids. CASC is one of the most acclaimed songwriting contests in roots and Americana music and has a reputation for launching careers as well as drawing attention to important new talent. The contest is split into four genre-based categories including bluegrass, general, gospel, and country. First through third place winners will be chosen by these judges in each category at MerleFest 2021.
About Dolphus Ramseur: Music manager and record label owner Dolphus Ramseur was born in the Odell community in Concord, North Carolina and raised on a healthy diet of classic country and rock and roll. Through his own record label and management company, Ramseur Records, he has helped foster the creative and artistic visions of The Avett Brothers, Bombadil, David Childers, Amythyst Kiah, Sierra Ferrell, The Steep Canyon Rangers, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Langhorne Slim, The National Reserve, Samantha Crain and the Ruen Brothers. Ramseur acts have performed live on the Grammy awards, some even taking home the prestigious award. Ramseur’s acts have also performed on The Tonight Show, The Late Show, The Late Late Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Grand Ole Opry, Austin City Limits, and The Today Show. His artists have headlined and sold out prestigious venues including Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Barclays Center, Boston Garden, Red Rocks Amphitheater, and even the former Charlotte Coliseum now known as Bojangles Coliseum.
In 2018 Ramseur was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Ramseur says his company focuses on making a strong foundation for each artist, putting the music first and having fun doing it.
About Amythyst Kiah: Amythyst’s Rounder Records debut, “Wary + Strange,” finds Amythyst redrawing the lines of roots music, and then coloring completely outside of them with a collision of styles that is fearless, iconoclastic and exhilarating. Expanding on the role she staked out in Our Native Daughters—the Grammy-nominated, all-women-of-color supergroup she cofounded with Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla and Allison Russell—Amythyst’s writing on “Wary + Strange” is raw yet nuanced, as she expresses grief, alienation, and ultimately the hard-won triumph of total self acceptance.
Produced by Tony Berg (Phoebe Bridgers, Amos Lee, Andrew Bird) and recorded at LA’s legendary Sound City Studios, with a musical A-Team that included guitarist Blake Mills (Bob Dylan, Alabama Shakes), keyboardist Ethan Gruska (Fiona Apple, Perfume Genius), bassists Wendy Melvoin (Prince & The Revolution, Madonna, Neil Finn) and Gabe Noel (Kamasi Washington, Father John Misty), and pedal steel player Rich Hinman (k.d. lang, Tanya Tucker) among others. Throughout the album, the Tennessee-bred Kiah uses inventive rhythms and textures to create a sound that is genuinely new. But the sonic grandeur of “Wary + Strange” never eclipses the visceral impact of Amythyst’s storytelling, which is unflinching in its examination of her mother’s suicide, the realities of being a Black and queer + woman living in the Bible Belt, her own struggles with alcohol and more.
About Darin & Brooke Aldridge: Husband and wife duo Darin & Brooke Aldridge draw heavily on the traditions of their native North Carolina, the savvy of a young, gifted band and their own dedication to ingenuity to create some of the most adventurous music in Bluegrass/Americana today. The duo has placed tracks at the top of the charts on Roots, SiriusXM, Bluegrass and Gospel charts dozens of times over their career. They have received multiple nominations from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) and Inspirational Country Music (ICM), Darin was the 2017 IBMA Mentor of the Year and Brooke is the reigning 4-time (consecutive) IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year (2020’s win tied her with the legendary Alison Krauss for the third most Female Vocalist wins in total and second most consecutive wins in the association’s history behind legend and Grand Ole Opry member Rhonda Vincent).
They tour nationally and internationally, have appeared on the Grand Ole Opry 32 times, and many times on national television and Sirius XM radio and headline some of the most prestigious festivals. 2020 saw their signing with Nashville’s burgeoning bluegrass label, Billy Blue Records as a cornerstone act. The label released a Christmas single in 2020, the inspiring “Light of the Stable” and plans to release a full length album (the 9th of their award-winning career) in mid-Summer 2021. Their 1st single, entitled “Blue Baby Now”, hit radio on March 19th with the full album following August 6th.
About The Milk Carton Kids: Listening to The Milk Carton Kids—Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale–talk about their creative process, it’s easy to imagine them running in opposite directions even while yoked together. “Joey and I famously have an adversarial relationship,” Pattengale says. They dig at each other in interviews and on stage, where Ryan plays his own straight man, while Pattengale tunes his guitar. The songs emerge somewhere in the silences and the struggle between their sensibilities. “The Only Ones,” The Milk Carton Kids’ new record (out now on the band’s own Milk Carton Records imprint in partnership with Thirty Tigers), finds Ryan and Pattengale performing a stripped-down acoustic set without a backing band. On “The Only Ones,” the pair returns to the core of what they are about musically: the duo.
Ryan and Pattengale also recently hosted the 18th annual Americana Honors & Awards for the second year in a row, while the group has been nominated for three Grammy Awards: Best Folk Album in 2013 (“The Ash & Clay”); Best American Roots Performance in 2015 (“The City of Our Lady”); and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, in 2018 (“All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do”). Over the past few years, life has changed dramatically for The Milk Carton Kids. Pattengale has moved to Nashville, where he is also producing records; Ryan is now the father of two children and works as a producer on “Live from Here with Chris Thile”. A break from years of non-stop touring, Ryan says, has yielded “space outside of the band that gives us perspective on what the band is.”