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Registration Now Open for Annual Banjo, Guitar Instrument Contests at MerleFest, April 22 Deadline

April 11, 2013. MerleFest 2013, presented by Lowe’s and slated for April 25–28, 2013, has opened registration for the annual Instrument Contests held during the four-day festival. Both the Doc Watson Guitar Championship and the Merle Watson Banjo Contest will be held on Friday, April 26; the first place winners from both contests will be invited to perform on the Cabin Stage Friday evening following a performance by the winners of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

Online pre-registration is required for the Instrument Contests. The online registration form may be accessed at www.merlefest.org; the deadline to enter is April 22 at 5 p.m. Eastern. Registrants will receive email confirmation of their time slots in the competition by 5 p.m. on April 22.

There is not a registration fee to participate in the Instrument Contests; however, participants must be paid festival ticket holders and must pre-register for the contests.

Judges for the 2013 Merle Watson Bluegrass Banjo Contest are Steve Lewis, Blind Boy Paxton and Brandon Green. Pete Wernick, a.k.a. Dr. Banjo, serves as the host of this contest and Deering Banjo serves as the sponsor.

Steve Lewis is a national banjo champion who is also adept at bluegrass guitar. A native of Todd, N.C., just up the road from Doc Watson’s home in Deep Gap, Lewis began playing guitar at age three. He drew heavy influence from Watson, the legendary flatpicking king, and another legendary acoustic flatpicker, Tony Rice. By age ten he began playing the banjo. Lewis has traveled throughout much of the United States performing and winning contests that have included RenoFest, Galax Old Time Fiddlers Convention, MerleFest and Walnut Valley.

Blind Boy Paxton
Blind Boy Paxton

Blind Boy (Jerron) Paxton is a songster, busker and itinerant bluesman, the living embodiment of the true blues in the 21st Century. Blind since age 16, the charismatic bluesman hails from a Creole family in Watts, South Central Los Angeles, but his people come from Louisiana. He is a capable multi-instrumentalist who picks banjo and guitar, plays harmonica, piano and other instruments. He is a joyous entertainer, humorous with a dazzling wit, a terrific storyteller, exuding an affable excitement.

Brandon Greene won the 2012 Merle Watson Banjo Contest. He teaches at ETSU in the university’s bluegrass program. In last year’s competition, the young educator finished on top of a strong field of 10 banjo pickers from across the Eastern United States. After finishing in the top three, he impressed the judges and the capacity crowd at the Austin Stage with “Rabbit in the Log,” a duet with famed singer Laura Boosinger, and an original instrumental, “Haywire.”

Judges for the 2013 Doc Watson Guitar Championship are Peter Rowan, Uwe Kruger and Ben Cockman. Guild Custom Shop is sponsor of this contest.

Peter Rowan
Peter Rowan

Peter Rowan personifies American roots music with his distinctive voice and masterful rhythm guitar work. A chameleon of musical genres, Peter Rowan’s original songwriting is the driving force of his musical diversity. A skilled singer/songwriter, Rowan also yodels and plays numerous stringed instruments and the saxophone. Rowan has been performing since 1963, and today he is still making waves in the music world. Not one to pigeonhole himself into any particular genre, Peter is considered a renaissance musician.

Uwe (Oo-vay) Kruger, lead vocalist and guitarist, has been playing music since early childhood. For more than twenty-five years Uwe has been playing guitar and singing as a professional musician. Performing in Switzerland’s relatively limited music market, with his younger brother Jens, required Uwe to develop versatility, and he became proficient on other instruments including the electric guitar and the banjo. Today, Uwe astonishes audiences with his unique blend of flatpicking and finger picking guitar styles that is truly an experience to behold.

Ben Cockman, a guitar picker from Sherrills Ford, N.C., won the 2012 Doc Watson Guitar Championship. Cockman ended up on top of a field of 10 competitors from across the region. His flatpicked renditions of the Irish classic “Danny Boy” and the Gershwin tune “Lady Be Good” brought cheers from the crowd at the Austin Stage last year.

Prizes for the Instrument Contests include a Deering Eagle banjo (valued at $2,400) (banjo competition), a TKL banjo case from Separk Music (banjo competition), a Red Spruce/Rosewood 14-Fret Slope Shoulder Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar from Guild Custom Shop (valued at $4,000), gift certificates to Jackson’s Music, gift certificates to John Pearse Strings and capos from the G7th, The Capo Company.

Ticket purchases for MerleFest 2013 can be made on the web at www.merlefest.org or by calling 1-800-343-7857. 

With over 90 artists performing on 14 stages during the course of the event, MerleFest 2013 is an excellent entertainment value. A complete list of confirmed performers is available at www.merlefest.org. Additionally, up-to-the-minute lineup additions for the festival can be obtained through the festival’s e-newsletter and through Facebook and Twitter. 

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.