By Samir Shukla
MerleFest, the largest roots and traditional music festival in the country, is an annual gathering of outstanding musicians and music outreach on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC. This year’s festival will be held from April 28 - May 1. MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the son of the late American music legend Doc Watson, guitarist Eddy Merle Watson. MerleFest is a celebration of “traditional plus” music, a blend of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and also includes Americana, country, blues, and rock. The festival hosts a diverse mix of artists on its 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. The annual event is the primary fundraiser for the Wilkes Community College, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.
There are so many bands and activities, that time becomes fluid. It’s easy to soak in the warm sounds, as folks can stage-hop around the festival and listen to an array of talent, from local banjo and guitar pickers to national acts. Some of the major performers this year include, Jason Isbell, John Prine, Dave Rawlings Machine, The Wood Brothers, Steep Canyon Rangers, Jerry Douglas, Scythian, The Kruger Brothers, and Donna the Buffalo. Over 100 varied artists spanning many genres will be appearing throughout the festival.
Alcohol is not served and is prohibited at MerleFest. The family-oriented festival also features a jam camp, nature walks, songwriters’ coffee house, acoustic kids showcase, little pickers’ family area, impromptu jam sessions, lots of vendors and plenty of food.
For the youngsters the “Little Pickers Family Area” offers a many games and fun along with storytelling, songwriting, and of course, music. The Little Pickers Stage has been expanded and seating doubled due to its popularity. Other activities in this area include painting, sand art, mural wall, and scrap exchange.
The late Doc Watson, founder of MerleFest, said, “When Merle and I started out we called our music ‘traditional plus’, meaning the traditional music of the Appalachian region plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play. Since the beginning, the people of the college and I have agreed that the music of MerleFest is ‘traditional plus’.”
The festival draws nearly 80,000 participants every year. There is plenty of free parking and shuttles haul folks directly to the festival entrance gate. Look for the signs that say “Festival Parking.” Follow the signs. A volunteer will help you find a parking space. They will also point you to a shuttle stop where you can hitch a ride on one of the local Boy Scout Troop buses.
For full details, tickets and passes, list of performers and more, visit www.merlefest.org.