Preparations are well underway for MerleFest 2015, presented by Window World, which officially begins next Thursday, April 23, at 2:30 p.m., and runs through Sunday, April 26, on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
With over 80 acts performing on 13 stages during the four-day festival, attendees should expect the unexpected with special surprises, spontaneous jam sessions and one-of-a-kind musical collaborations.
“It seems our fans are really thrilled about this year’s complete lineup. They always get excited to see Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Jim Lauderdale, David Holt, The Kruger Brothers, the Nashville Bluegrass Band and others who performed with Doc Watson. And, we are pleased to welcome back Hot Rize, last seen at MerleFest in 2003. This will mark the first MerleFest appearance for Grammy Award-winning The Earls of Leicester,” said Ted Hagaman, festival director. “Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn’s 2015 appearance is creating a lot of buzz as well.
“Of course, we will continue to honor and memorialize Doc, who helped found this festival. Through his guidance and artistic creativity, MerleFest has grown into a world-class festival. MerleFest will always honor the memory and contributions of Doc and his son Merle,” added Hagaman. “As always, we take pride in the diversity presented in our lineup. That is a credit to Doc Watson, who always believed that all genres of music should be celebrated.”
As in previous years, the list of performers fits the “traditional plus” definition originally described by the late Doc Watson. Watson coined this term to describe the unique mix of music found at MerleFest: traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock, “plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play,” Doc said.
The complete lineup and stage schedules are posted at www.merlefest.org and available on the MerleFest mobile app; festival updates are delivered via Twitter (@MerleFest) and Facebook.
Thursday, April 23, will feature performances by artists that include Trampled By Turtles, Lee Ann Womack, Hot Rize, Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Larry Stephenson Band and others. That afternoon, participants in Pete Wernick’s MerleFest Bluegrass Jam Camp will perform on the Cabin Stage, and the Opening Night Dance with Donna the Buffalo will begin at 10 p.m. at the Dance Stage.
Thursday is also a day for community outreach, with several MerleFest artists visiting and performing at local schools. MerleFest Outreach touches the lives of nearly 11,000 students each year.
On Friday, April 24, fans will hear performances by The Marshall Tucker Band, Jim Lauderdale and North Mississippi Allstars, The Earls of Leicester, the Del McCoury Band performing songs of Woody Guthrie, Sam Bush Band, Bruce Robinson and Kelly Willis, The Kruger Brothers, Spinney Brothers, Chatham County Line, Mipso, Ballie & The Boys, The Honeycutters and others.
Finalists in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest compete on Friday to determine who will win first place and some great surprises, including the opportunity to record a song with Pinecastle Records. The culmination of the contest is Friday evening when contest chairperson Jim Lauderdale announces the winners, and the songwriters perform the winning entries on the Cabin Stage at 8 p.m.
Friday also offers the Doc and Merle Watson Performing Arts Showcase, hosted by Joe Smothers and Bob Hill of Frosty Morn on the Austin Stage. The series is intended as a diverse, eclectic sampling of local and regional talent, allowing festival-goers to see the artists in a more intimate setting. And in what is becoming a “must-do” event, Scythian’s Friday night show at the Dance Stage will start at 10:30 pm – it’s recommended that you get there early!
The lineup for Saturday, April 25, includes performances by The Avett Brothers, Willie Watson, The Gibson Brothers, Peter Rowan, Blue Highway, JOHNNYSWIM, The Jim Lauderdale Band, The Steel Wheels, Front Country, Del Barber, New Country Rehab and Blind Boy Paxton, among others.
In the afternoon, fans can enjoy theDoc Watson Guitar Tribute on the Watson Stage, starting at 1:45 p.m., with host Jack Lawrence and David Holt, T Michael Coleman, The South Carolina Broadcasters, Roy Book Binder, Tim Stafford (Blue Highway), Bill Mize, Stephen Mougin, Uwe Kruger, Adam Lawrence and Jacob Burleson.
Also of note will be several events at the Creekside Stage, including “Memories of Doc and Merle,” hosted by T. Michael Coleman (with many special guests expected) and the always-popular Mando Mania set.
The MerleFest 2015 Band Competition kicks off at the Plaza Stage at 10 a.m. on Saturday, as well. Music fans can watch ten bands perform sets throughout the day, with the winning band earning a coveted performance slot on the Watson Stage at 4:30 pm.
The highly-anticipatedHillside Album Hour – where a revered or iconic album is performed live from start to finish – will once again be hosted by The Waybacks, with many surprise guests joining in the performance, including previously announced guest lead singer Joan Osborne. The Midnight Jam will take place in the Walker Center (separate ticket required and available for purchase by 4-day and 3-day ticket holders and Saturday-only ticket holders). This year’s Jam is presented in partnership with The Bluegrass Situation and hosted by The Steel Wheels. In addition to The Steel Wheels, the Midnight Jam will feature Willie Watson, Jim Lauderdale, The Gibson Brothers, Front Country, Mipso, New Country Rehab, The Honey Dewdrops, Moore Brothers Band and Stephen Mougin, along with a few other surprises.
Sunday, April 26, will feature performances by Dwight Yoakam, Robert Earl Keen, Steep Canyon Rangers, The Kruger Brothers with the Kontras Quartet performing “Lucid Dreamer,” Paul Thorn, The Black Lillies, Shannon Whitworth and others.
In addition to the Sunday Blues with Roy Bookbinder set, featuring Richard Watson, Doug MacLeod, Blind Boy Paxton, Veronika Jackson, Rev. Robert B. Jones and Charles Welch, fans can experience the “Spirit of Sunday” set with the Nashville Bluegrass Band as well as the Gospel Hour with Jim Avett.
Throughout the four-day festival, the Dance Stage will feature various workshops and dance instruction with plenty of opportunities for festival attendees to cut loose with some stellar music performers. Additionally, Mayes Pit/Cohn Auditorium in Thompson Hall at MerleFest is devoted to a wide variety of workshops and demonstrations on Friday and Saturday, where world-class performers share their expertise with attendees. Avid MerleFest fans will be interested in the “History of MerleFest” workshop being presented by “B” Townes, the first director of MerleFest, who worked very closely with Doc Watson to bring MerleFest to life. The Songwriters Showcase Coffeehouse at the Austin Stage in Alumni Hall offers a venue where songwriters can showcase their original songs. The Pickin’ Place is an area for musicians of all levels and genres to meet old friends and make new ones while singing and playing their favorite tunes together.
The Acoustic Kids Showcases will be held: Friday, Austin Stage 5:30-7 p.m.; Saturday, Dance Stage 10-11:30 a.m.; and Saturday, Mayes Pit 3:45-5:15 p.m. Additionally, from among this year’s pool of applicants, several performers will be chosen for a special “Acoustic Kids Ambassadors” performance hosted by Andy May on the Cabin Stage, Saturday 6:20-6:45 p.m. These showcases allow music fans the opportunity hear the next generation of pickers, singers and traditional-style artists.
The Little Pickers Family Area offers children’s activities, crafts and entertainment, as well as performances at the Little Pickers Stage. Children can also meet Flattop, the big raccoon who serves as the MerleFest mascot.
In addition to music, MerleFest offers special activities and shopping, all in a family-friendly atmosphere. The Shoppes at MerleFest is a centrally-located shopping village featuring demonstrating artisans, vendors, convenience foods, official MerleFest memorabilia and services such as first aid, lost and found, and Internet access. Lowes Foods “Raised Right Here,” offering fruit, vegetables and deli-style sandwiches, will be a welcome addition to the expanded list of food vendors that will be at the festival this year.
Also new to MerleFest is the Belk Lounge, which will be located between the Traditional and Americana stages. Festival patrons can relax like a VIP there, as well as register to win prizes, receive special giveaways, and use the lounge’s cellphone charging station.
For those who would like to start their day with a little Downward Facing Dog, a yoga class will be offered at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning at the Dance Stage. Beginners and yogis alike are welcome to attend! Additionally, nature walks of the gardens and forest on the WCC campus will be offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“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 80 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 as you enter, and all children 12 and under are admitted free with a paid adult. In addition, our Little Pickers Family Area for children offers each child the opportunity to make crafts and participate in several interactive exhibits – all free of charge.”
Tickets for MerleFest may be purchased at www.MerleFest.org or by calling 1-800-343-7857. A ticket discount is still available through April 22, 2015, and tickets will be available for purchase at the gate. Fans are encouraged to take advantage of the extended early bird discount.
MerleFest 2015 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, Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority, The InterFlex Group, Hardee’s, Winston-Salem Journal, WXII 12, the Law Offices of Timothy D. Welborn, Bojangles’, Carolina Ford Dealers, Carolina West Wireless, CenturyLink, 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.
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 son of the late American music legend Doc Watson, renowned guitarist Eddy Merle Watson. 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 a diverse mix of artists on its 13 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.