The annual celebration of roots music runs from Thursday, April 23 through Sunday, April 26 in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
by Dan Gabel
April 23, 2015
I’m looking forward to my first time at the annual gathering of roots musicians that the late Doc Watson’s family began in 1988 in memory of Doc’s son Merle Watson, who had died tragically three years earlier. Many of the folks that Doc and Merle played with and for came to the inaugural event and they’ve kept coming back for over 25 years.
Doc dubbed the musical theme of MerleFest “traditional plus,” a term that certainly fits when scanning the list of 80 acts that will appear on MerleFest’s 13 stages during the three-and-a-half-day celebration. On the traditional side of the spectrum, there’s Del McCoury, Blue Highway, Roy Book Binder, and the Kruger Brothers. On the “plus” end, you have the Avett Brothers, Sam Bush, Trampled by Turtles, the Stray Birds, and the Waybacks, who are gearing up for their epic Hillside Album Hour on Saturday afternoon. For the past 7 years, they’ve chosen an iconic album from the 1970s and played it front-to-back at MerleFest, recording and releasing the performance as a live album. Last year was CSN’s Déjà Vu,and they’ve done Dylan’s After the Flood, the Allman Brothers’ Eat a Peach, and others. It’s a much-anticipated highlight of the festival.
The action is not limited to what’s happening onstage during the official performances, either. The event’s non-performance program is diverse and inclusive, with the Chris Austin Songwriting Competition, Pete and Joan Wernick’s Bluegrass Jam Camp, the Acoustic Kids Showcases highlighting young talent, a full program of workshops hosted by Happy Traum and Homespun Music, and an official jam tent that is open during all festival hours. A vendor area with displays from familiar names in acoustic music products (and some of our Peghead Partners) gives attendees the chance to replenish strings or try out great new instruments. You can learn to clog, and there’s even a guided nature walk around the grounds. It all feels very participatory and inviting.
I’ve heard those who knew Doc talk about how at ease he could make folks feel. Musicians who came calling on their guitar hero, for instance, tell of Doc going to great lengths to make them comfortable and appreciate the music they made, like they were a member of the family, at least temporarily. It seems that the spirit of Doc is alive and well at MerleFest. I’m looking forward to taking in as much of it as possible. More here soon!
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