April 29, 2013. MerleFest, presented by Lowe’s, has come to a close for another year. Early estimates show that, from its start on Thursday, April 25, to its close on Sunday, April 28, aggregate participation over the festival’s four days exceeded 76,000 participants, staying level with last year’s numbers. MerleFest, held on the campus of Wilkes Community College, has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.
“This year we thought it was important to celebrate the life and music of our dear friend Doc Watson,” said Ted Hagaman, director of the festival. “For the past 25 years he has been the artistic center of MerleFest, so everyone – musicians and fans – came together as a family to pay special tribute to the man and the musician who meant so much to us all.”
“We deeply appreciate the support of the great folks of Wilkes County, everyone who works here at the college, and of course our volunteers and fans, for making this all possible,” added Hagaman. “With over 90 artists playing on 14 stages, representing everything from bluegrass and blues, to gospel, country and Americana, we feel that we succeeded again in giving our festival guests a great value for their entertainment dollars.”
Performers who turned in riveting performances at MerleFest 2013 include The Avett Brothers, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Leon Russell, The Charlie Daniels Band, Gov’t Mule, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, American Legacies: The Del McCoury Band and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Steep Canyon Rangers, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Jim Lauderdale, Donna the Buffalo, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Peter Rowan, Scythian, Roy Book Binder, the Kruger Brothers and many more.
Every year, music fans at the festival experience what has become known as “MerleFest Moments” – special groupings of artists, jam sessions and events that get the whole festival talking, and become legendary in the festival’s rich history. Unquestionably the most anticipated set this year was Saturday evening’s “Tribute to Doc Jam,” hosted by Sam Bush. The many performers who took part in the musical tribute included the Avett Brothers, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Jim Lauderdale, the Kruger Brothers and John McEuen and Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Other “MerleFest Moments” this year included the rollicking Friday night set from the Del McCoury Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, appearing together as “American Legacies,” the Thursday night performances from legends Leon Russell and Charlie Daniels, the standing-room-only songwriting workshop hosted by the Avett Brothers. a full-throttle show from Gov’t Mule and a moving “Spirit of Sunday” gospel set, which one MerleFest fan said “couldn’t be a better experience even if the sun was out.” And since MerleFest has often served as a launching pad for rising talent, fans spread the word about new “buzz bands” like Pokey LaFarge, Della Mae and The Black Lillies.
The highly anticipated Hillside Album Hour on Saturday evening, hosted by The Waybacks with special guests Mike Farris, Sam Bush, John Cowan, Jim Lauderdale and many others, featured the album Before the Flood, the classic 1974 live double-album from Bob Dylan and The Band. A huge crowd filled the hillside to find out what album would be featured, which is always a closely held secret until the show begins.
The Midnight Jam on Saturday, hosted by Scythian – with opening act The Black Lillies – included Peter Rowan, Jim Lauderdale, John Cowan, Chris Austin Songwriting Contest winner Melody Walker and many other surprises for audience members who stayed up late to enjoy the Jam. For the second year in a row, the Jam was a sell-out, with music fans packing the Walker Center for the ticketed show.
In addition to promoting “traditional-plus” music, a term coined by Doc Watson to describe the wide variety of musical genres and styles celebrated at MerleFest, the festival also featured heritage crafts demonstrations, instrument picking lessons and jam sessions, dancing, instrument contests, music education workshops, and the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.
The Shoppes at MerleFest 2013, located in the center of the festival grounds, was a popular area filled with heritage crafts, merchandise vendors, the official MerleFest Gift Shop, concessions, and valuable services including an information tent, lost and found, overnight storage, and more. There was also an R&R tent for festival-goers who needed to take a break and escape the weather.
MerleFest is known for its warm, inviting family atmosphere. A key part of that effort is the new and improved Little Pickers area, sponsored by Charlotte and Greensboro area Burger King Restaurants®. Designed with kids in mind, the area offers activities and crafts to enhance children’s experiences at MerleFest – including their own chance to perform at the MerleFest Youth Showcase. Also, children 12 years of age and younger were admitted free to the festival when accompanied by an adult with paid admission.
A significant part of MerleFest’s mission is to give back to the community. In that spirit, the outreach program took place on Thursday, with more than 20 of the artists at MerleFest 2013 giving performances for nearly 10,000 children at local schools. In addition, on Friday morning more than 3,500 school children from Wilkes and surrounding counties attended the festival.
Volunteers are integral to the success of MerleFest. Over 600 individual volunteers, over 100 volunteer stagehands, and over 70 volunteer groups, including college and community organizations, helped to make the festival a success. Also, each food vendor at MerleFest supports a local non-profit, with proceeds going to further their work and mission. “Quite simply, MerleFest would not be possible without the support of our 4,000+ volunteers,” says festival director Ted Hagaman. “Some of these individuals and organizations have given of their time since the festival began, and we are so grateful to them.”
MerleFest 2013 is presented by Lowe’s. MerleFest is grateful to 100+ sponsors for their support in making the event possible, including: Wells Fargo, Charlotte and Greensboro area Burger King restaurants, G&B Energy, Pepsi, Tyson, Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority, The InterFlex Group, Winston-Salem Journal, WXII 12, the Law Offices of Timothy D. Welborn, Hardee’s, Carolina Ford Dealers, Carolina West Wireless, CenturyLink, Chobani Yogurt, Hampton Inn Wilkesboro and visitwilkesboronc.com, Wilkes Regional Medical Center and Carolinas Healthcare System. A complete listing of all MerleFest sponsors and additional information about all aspects of the festival can be found at http://www.merlefest.org.
Please join us next year for MerleFest: April 24–27, 2014.
MerleFest, considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the late Eddy Merle Watson, son of American music legend Doc Watson who passed away May 29, 2012. 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 over 90 artists, performing on 14 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.