The 30th celebration of MerleFest is a milestone that brings many MerleFest artists back to the festival’s stages for fresh collaborations and special events. Notably, The Transatlantic Sessions Tour will come to MerleFest – and the U.S. – for the first time ever, bringing hosts Aly Bain and perennial MerleFest performer Jerry Douglas and guests folk-rock legend James Taylor, Sarah Jarosz, Maura O’Connell, Declan O’Rourke, Karen Matheson and Joe Newberry among others. Additionally, The Reunion Jam at the Watson Stage on Saturday will feature three-fourths of the legendary progressive bluegrass band Newgrass Revival, which includes 30-year MerleFest veteran Sam Bush. As well, the new MerleFest Museum will be open to offer festivalgoers the chance to appreciate these performances in MerleFest’s deep-rooted history.
The Avett Brothers help usher in the 30th celebration of MerleFest on the Watson Stage Thursday evening. Photo by Misty McGuire.
“We focused the MerleFest 2017 lineup on honoring artists who have performed with Doc Watson over the last 30 years of the festival,” said Steve Johnson, artist relations manager for MerleFest. “This was also a way to showcase the bands our fans have continuously requested over the years. The 30th celebration goes back to the 1988 Flatbed Trailer Jam at MerleFest. We ‘reunited’ as many of the musicians as we could get from that first jam, like Sam, Jerry and Béla, and added Mark Schatz and Bryan Sutton. We are indeed very excited to have a few new things to bring to the stages like The Transatlantic Sessions Tour with Jerry Douglas and Aly Bain featuring James Taylor and other guests of that set. It’s sure to be a special celebration of 30th years of MerleFest and we hope something that would make Doc, RosaLee and Merle proud.”
Below is a chart of special collaborations and performance highlights at this year’s festival.
|History of MerleFest with B. Townes
|Pete Wernick’s Flexigrass Jam with Del McCoury, David Holt, Nicky Sanders, Joan Wernick, Charlie Muench, Darin and Brooke Aldridge and Mike Ashworth
|Jack Lawrence’s MerleFest Veterans Jam with Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Joe Smothers, T. Michael Coleman, Peter Rowan and Pat McInerney
|Docabilly Blues Blowout hosted by Mitch Greenhill with special guests T. Michael Coleman, Jeff Little, Jorma Kaukonen, Jim Avett, Tara Nevins, Jeb Puryear and Pat McInerney
|Steep Canyon Rangers with Del McCoury
|The Transatlantic Sessions Tour with Jerry Douglas & Aly Bain, feat. James Taylor and more
|Chatham County Line Electric Holiday
|Memories of The Watson Family hosted by T. Michael Coleman with Watson Family Friends
|The Avett Brothers present “Songs of Doc Watson”
|Mando Mania featuring Sam Bush, Tony Williamson, Darin Aldridge, Sierra Hull, Casey Campbell and Tommy Norris
|Reunion Jam with Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Béla Fleck, Mark Schatz and Bryan Sutton
|Crossing Borders: American and Canadian Artists in the Round with Ken Tizzard, Joe Smothers, Sarah Burton, Chris Jones, Megan Nash and Jim Avett
|Hillside Album Hour with The Waybacks
|Jack Lawrence’s Guitar Jam with Bryan Sutton, Steve Lewis, Tommy Edwards and Stephen Mougin
|Sunset Jam with The Kruger Brothers
|Donna the Buffalo’s Saturday Night Jam with Special Guests
|Front Country’s Saturday Night Throw Down
|Sunday Blues with Roy Book Binder, Jorma Kaukonen, Charles Welch and Todd Albright
|Zac Brown Band Acoustic Set
The complete lineup and stage schedules are posted at merlefest.org/lineup and available on the MerleFest mobile app, which includes festival updates in real time. Updates are also delivered via Twitter (@MerleFest) and Facebook. Use hashtag #MerleFest to connect with other festivalgoers on social media, and be sure to take a picture with Flattop, MerleFest’s raccoon mascot, to share on social channels.
Bring your instrument! Jam sessions pop up all around campus during MerleFest. Photo by Austin Mikulka
Returning band members of Front Country are proud to be a part of MerleFest’s 30th celebration. “It’s Front Country’s second time at MerleFest, and we are honored to be playing the Watson Stage and to be busting out some special guests and surprises for our Saturday Night Dance Tent set,” said singer Melody Walker. “In the spirit of the ‘MerleFest Moment,’ we will be trying something crazy that we’ve never tried before at that set. After that, it’s the Midnight Jam, where even more magic happens. It’s going to be a blast!”
Hosted this year by Mipso and sponsored by The Bluegrass Situation, the Midnight Jam gathers many performers from the festival’s lineup for impromptu artistic collaborations and one-of-a-kind superstar jams. A separate ticket is required and available for purchase by four-day, three-day and Saturday ticket holders. Mipso has invited Jim Lauderdale, Donna the Buffalo, Peter Rowan, Sierra Hull, Celia Woodsmith of Della Mae, and others to take part in the hootenanny.
This year’s guest voice for The Hillside Album Hour, hosted by The Waybacks, will be Della Mae lead singer Celia Woodsmith. The Waybacks and MerleFest have been leaking hints as to which classic album will be reinterpreted for the HAH, but the album in question will remain a mystery up until the start of the set on the Hillside Stage on Saturday at 4:15 p.m.
Fans pack the hillside every year to enjoy the featured classic rock album selected for Hillside Album Hours. Photo by Dr. Gordon Burns.
In addition to musical performances, MerleFest offers special activities and unique shopping options. The Shoppes at MerleFest is a centrally-located shopping village that features demonstrating artisans, vendors, convenience foods, official MerleFest memorabilia and services such as first aid, lost and found, and Internet access.
The Dance Stage will feature various workshops and dance instruction with plenty of opportunities for festival attendees to cut loose with an array of music styles, and the Mayes Pit/Cohn Auditorium in Thompson Hall will be devoted to a variety of workshops and demonstrations. The Songwriters Showcase Coffeehouse at the Austin Stage in Alumni Hall offers a venue where songwriters can showcase their original songs. The Pickin’ Place provides musicians of all levels and genres to meet old friends and make new ones while singing and playing their favorite tunes together.
MerleFest is meant to be a fun, educational experience for children, too. Children are taught about roots music through listening and are given opportunities to play music for themselves through experiences like the Instrument Petting Zoo. The festival also supports youth who already play music by providing them with performance opportunities in the Acoustic Kids Showcases hosted by musician Andy May and held on Friday and Saturday of MerleFest.
During the festival, the Little Pickers Stage offers great performances geared towards entertaining kids and their families. The Little Pickers Family Area is enhanced with crafts, face-painting, games, storytelling, a large grassy play area, and the opportunity to take pictures with MerleFest’s official mascot, Flattop the raccoon. Because of MerleFest’s emphasis on families, many children have grown up among the MerleFest stages, become performers themselves, and later, brought their own kids back to participate in this legendary weekend of music.
Everyone has the opportunity to perform at MerleFest. Photo by Jim Gavenus.
Beginners and yogis alike are welcome to start their day with a little Downward Facing Dog; a yoga class will be offered on Friday at 9:30 a.m. on the Dance Stage. The Nature Walks of the gardens and forest on the WCC campus are offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the festival.
“For those wanting an affordable weekend getaway, MerleFest provides a true value to its customers,” said festival director Ted Hagaman. “The admission prices are extremely reasonable – especially considering that we feature over 100 acts on 13 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, and all children 12 and under are admitted free with a paid adult. In addition, our Little Pickers Family Area offers each child the opportunity to make crafts and participate in several interactive exhibits – all free of charge.”
MerleFest 2017 is presented by Window World. MerleFest is grateful to 90+ sponsors and advertisers for their support in making the event possible, including Belk, Pepsi, Charlotte and Greensboro area Burger King restaurants, G&B Energy, Tyson, InterFlex Group, Hardee’s, Winston-Salem Journal, WXII 12, the Law Offices of Timothy D. Welborn, Bojangles’, Carolina Ford Dealers, Carolina West Wireless, Lowes Foods, Wilkes Communications, Wilkes Regional Medical Center, Wells Fargo and Mast General Store. A complete listing of all MerleFest sponsors and additional information about all aspects of the festival can be found at www.MerleFest.org.
Tickets for MerleFest 2017 are on sale now and may be purchased at MerleFest.org or by calling 1-800-343-7857. An advance ticket discount runs through April 26, 2017. Gate pricing begins on the first day of the festival.
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