With less than one week until MerleFest 2018, the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, N.C. is buzzing with activity. The festival, presented by Window World, kicks off next Thursday, April 26, at 2:30 p.m., and runs through Sunday, April 29; an estimated 75,000+ participants will gather at this year’s annual homecoming of musicians and music lovers to celebrate the world renowned MerleFest.
With over 120 artists performing on 13 stages spread across campus, MerleFest fans have come to expect the unexpected. Late night jam sessions, band competitions, special guests onstage, impromptu dance parties and one-time-only musical collaborations are all a part of the fabric of MerleFest – and a testament to the enduring vision of Doc Watson and the Watson family.
A key part of this vision is Doc’s love of “traditional plus” music, a moniker he created to describe a unique mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian Mountain region, including bluegrass and old-time, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock and “whatever other styles we were in the mood to play.” Today, this spirit means that country music star Jamey Johnson will rub shoulders with bluegrass visionary Rhiannon Giddens, folk legend Kris Kristofferson will play the same stage as the Steep Canyon Rangers and Steve Martin. As the nation’s largest roots and Americana festival, MerleFest has room for all those who treasure musical tradition.
“The programming this year is incredibly diverse in both musical styling, origin, culture, and gender. We have artists/bands from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Ireland, Cuba, and the United States on our 2018 lineup and we couldn’t be more excited to showcase that talent on our 13 stages. Thursday kicks off with the Kruger Brothers and follows with Kris Kristofferson, Robert Earl Keen, and The Mavericks and continues through the weekend with Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Jamey Johnson, Sam Bush, Mandolin Orange, Jerry Douglas and Tommy Emmanuel, Rhiannon Giddens, Alison Brown, and Steep Canyon Rangers with Steve Martin, just to name a few. It’s sure to be a great year of music, moments, and memories!” states MerleFest Artist Relations Manager Steve Johnson.
The complete 2018 lineup may be viewed at www.MerleFest.org/lineup and is now available on the new and improved MerleFest mobile app, which includes festival updates in real time. Updates are also delivered via Twitter (@MerleFest) and Facebook. Use hashtag #MerleFest to connect with other festival goers on social media, and be sure to take a picture with Flattop, MerleFest’s raccoon mascot, to share on social channels.
Returning band members of Town Mountain are proud to be a part of this year’s MerleFest celebration. “For most of us, on either side of the stage, MerleFest kicks off the beginning of the festival season and that couldn’t be more welcomed at the end of a long winter. The significance of MerleFest is one that cannot be summed up in a quote or maybe even a textbook. But if you’ve been, then you know how important it is to the whole acoustic music community and beyond! There’s nothing that feels better then to take part in an event that celebrates the lives of Merle, Doc and Rosa Lee Watson, true royalty in American music,” says banjo player Jesse Langlais.
For MerleFest 2018, Town Mountain and noted songwriter Jim Lauderdale will host the Midnight Jam, presented by renowned music publication BGS at the Walker Center. Starting at 10:30 p.m. and running well past midnight, the 2018 Midnight Jam will feature a very special Doc Watson Tribute.
In addition to Lauderdale and Town Mountain, the Midnight Jam will host a wide array of talent, including performances by Buddy Miller, Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, John Cowan, Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange, Bryan Sutton, and many more. A separate ticket is required and available for purchase by four-day, three-day and Saturday ticket holders. Town Mountain will also host the Saturday Night Barn Dance, another Merlefest moment not to be missed; the lively and loud event starts at 7:45 p.m. on the Dance Stage.
In addition to musical performances, MerleFest offers special activities and unique shopping options. The Shoppes at MerleFest is a centrally-located shopping village that features demonstrating artisans, vendors, convenience foods, official MerleFest memorabilia and services such as first aid, lost and found, and Internet access.
New at MerleFest 2018 is the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina showcase sponsored by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Be sure to drop by the Plaza Stage for special sets featuring North Carolina artists including David Holt, Tony Williamson, Laura Boosinger, Presley Barker, plus many others. These special sets are Friday from 3:30-5:30, Saturday from 5:00-7:00, and Sunday from 10:00-11:15.
MerleFest is meant to be a fun, educational experience for children, too. Children are taught about roots music through listening and are given opportunities to play music for themselves through experiences like the Instrument Petting Zoo. The festival also supports youth who already play music by providing them with performance opportunities in the Acoustic Kids Showcases hosted by musician Andy May and held on Friday and Saturday of MerleFest.
During the festival, the Little Pickers Stage offers great performances geared towards entertaining kids and their families. The Little Pickers Family Area is enhanced with crafts, face-painting, games, storytelling, a large grassy play area, and the opportunity to take pictures with MerleFest’s official mascot, Flattop the raccoon. Because of the emphasis on family, many children have grown up among the MerleFest stages, later becoming performers themselves and returning with their own kids back to participate in this legendary weekend of music.
Beginners and yogis alike are welcome to start their day with a little Downward Facing Dog; a yoga class will be offered on Friday at 9:30 a.m. on the Dance Stage. The Nature Walks of the gardens and forest on the WCC campus are offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the festival.
“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 120 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, and all children 12 and under are admitted free with a paid adult. In addition, our Little Pickers Family Area offers each child the opportunity to make crafts and participate in several interactive exhibits – all free of charge.”
MerleFest 2018 is presented by Window World. MerleFest is grateful to over 100 sponsors and advertisers for their support in making the event possible, including Pepsi, WXII 12, Krispy Kreme, YES! Weekly, Carolina West Wireless, Wake Forest Baptist Health Wilkes Medical Center, The Birthplace of Country Music, WTQR Q104.1 New Country, The Law Offices of Timothy D. Welborn, WSMW 98.7 Simon, G&B Energy, Lowes Foods, WAME Real Country 92.9 FM / 550 AM, Winston-Salem Journal, WOXL 98.1 The River, Tyson, Explore Boone, WBRF Classic Country 98.1, Knee-Deep in Bluegrass, WPAQ 740 AM, Burger King, Vannoy Construction, WNCW 88.7, RaysWeather.com, WFNZ 610 AM and 102.5 FM The Fan, WLNK 107.9 The Link, and Curtis Media Group. A complete listing of all MerleFest sponsors and additional information about all aspects of the festival can be found at http://merlefest.org/sponsors/.
Tickets for the festival may be purchased at www.MerleFest.org or by calling 1-800-343-7857. MerleFest offers a tiered pricing structure and encourages fans to take advantage of the early bird discount; Early Bird Tier 2 tickets will be on sale through April 25. Tickets will be sold using Tier 3 pricing at the gate during the festival.