Now that MerleFest, presented by Window World, is only one week away, annual festival-goers have surely begun planning their weekends. For those who have not, however, here are five sure-to-be epic experiences that shouldn’t be missed. Make a note or two and join a welcoming legion of music fans in Wilkesboro, N.C., from April 25th to 28th at MerleFest.
The Avett Brothers Homecoming:
Concord, North Carolina’s own Avett Brothers will be having a homecoming of sorts, closing out MerleFest on the Watson Stage Sunday afternoon. Only 79 miles from where the Avett’s were born and raised, MerleFest has seen the band of brothers return time and time again. From kids spending time at the festival while their dad, Jim Avett, who is leading this year’s MerleFest Sunday morning gospel hour, to their first appearance as a band in 2004, to their most recent performance which saw record-breaking attendance numbers for the North Carolina festival, the Avett Brothers are attuned to the magic that MerleFest brings out in fans and bands alike. Be sure to see them in their purest element at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Del, the Birthday Boy:
Sunday afternoon also brings about another kind of celebration. Bluegrass patriarch and legend Del McCoury will be celebrating his 80th birthday on MerleFest’s Hillside Stage at 1:30 p.m. The Grand Ole Opry member and nine-time IBMA Entertainer of the Year winner will once again call upon his Del McCoury Band—which has seen only a single change in membership in the past twenty years—to light up the Hillside crowd. If by some strange chance, fans haven’t had the opportunity to hear Del pick and sing, his birthday celebration would certainly be a special place to start.
Steep Canyon Rangers NC Songbook Set:
The Steep Canyon Rangers set at MerleFest is titled the North Carolina Songbook and is a tribute to this state’s vast musical heritage. The band says, “The influence of North Carolinians can be heard in almost every genre of popular music from Earl Scruggs to John Coltrane. Many of them worked in textile mills by day and played music with friends and family on the weekends. Some were virtuosos who packed up their influences and took the world by storm. All were, like us, a product of the music and people they grew up with in Carrboro, Jacksonville, Eden, Tryon… every corner East to West.” For fans of North Carolina’s musical heritage or students of music who might just want to learn more about where it all comes from, 2:40 p.m. Sunday on the Watson Stage for Steep Canyon Rangers’ set is the place to be.
Annual Wayback’s Album Hour:
Every year, fans flock to the Hillside Stage to see the San Francisco-based Waybacks perform a kept-secret-until-showtime classic rock album—in its entirety—with the help of some high-profile friends. Previous years have seen the Waybacks take on “Led Zeppelin II,” The Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” and the Allman Brothers Band’s “Eat a Peach.” Over the years, special guests have become an integral part of the Wayback’s annual cover-fest. Emmylou Harris, John Cowan, and Sam Bush joined the Waybacks in tackling the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and Elvis Costello, Jim Lauderdale, and Jerry Douglas lent a hand to the Beatles’ Abbey Road. In the days leading up to each MerleFest, the Waybacks drop some very cryptic, hard to decipher clues as to what new album will be performed. Fans should keep an eye on the band’s social media pages to see if they can use the clues to crack the Album Hour code before it happens at 3:15 p.m. Saturday on the Hillside Stage.
Legends Debut at Merlefest:
It is truly special to see the look on an artist’s face when they take a MerleFest stage for the first time. This year will see a couple of heavy hitters debut at the festival. Contemporary blues powerhouse Keb’ Mo’ will get his first taste of a MerleFest crowd Saturday evening on the Watson Stage.
Philly-based songbird Amos Lee is also making his first appearance at the festival, though he shares some Carolina roots. Lee majored in English and education at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Amos Lee takes the Watson Stage at 7:15 p.m. on Friday.
A beautiful story of success is also unfolding at this year’s MerleFest, where IBMA’s Guitar Player Of The Year and Americana Music Association’s Instrumentalist of the Year Molly Tuttle will return to MerleFest for the first time since winning the festival’s prestigious Chris Austin Songwriting Competition in 2012. She’s come a long way from competing for a slot to playing MerleFest’s biggest stage. Catch Molly Tuttle’s guitar acrobatics Saturday on the Watson Stage at 1:15 p.m.
Don’t forget to download the MerleFest app to help plan your festival experience. The MerleFest app can point you towards a variety of on-site activities for all ages. In between musical sets, the Shoppes at MerleFest is a centrally located shopping village of commercial vendors, official MerleFest memorabilia, and services such as first aid, lost and found, overnight storage, and internet access. The Little Pickers Family Area offers lots of fun and games for children as well as some fine storytelling, songwriting and music. Small 15-person backstage tours are available for purchase online and begin at the Merle Watson Garden of the Senses and continue into the MerleFest museum. The Pickin’ Place, an entire venue devoted to pickin’ and grinnin’, includes the Traditional Jammin’ Tent, Bluegrass Jammin’ Tent, Anything Goes Jammin’ Tent, and Hands-On Tent for pickers of all skill levels. Info for all of the above and more is available here.
Tickets for this year’s festival, backstage tours, as well as the Late Night Jam sponsored by The Bluegrass Situation, may be purchased at www.MerleFest.org or by calling 1-800-343-7857. MerleFest offers a three-tiered pricing structure and encourages fans to take advantage of the extended early bird discount. Early Bird Tier 2 tickets will be available through April 24th. Remaining tickets will be sold at the gate during the festival. Headliners include The Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Amos Lee, Wynonna & the Big Noise, Del McCoury Band, Dailey & Vincent, Tyler Childers, Keb’ Mo’, Sam Bush, The Earls of Leicester, and Peter Rowan and The Free Mexican Air Force. The Late Night Jam sponsored by The Bluegrass Situation will be hosted by Chatham County Line.