Countdown to MerleFest

Article Published: Apr. 21, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Countdown to MerleFest

Preparations are well under way for MerleFest 2011, presented by Lowe's, which begins next Thursday, April 28, and runs through Sunday, May 1, on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro.

"MerleFest provides a true value to its customers and an affordable weekend getaway," festival director Ted Hagaman said. "When you consider that you can see over 90 artists on 14 stages, the admission prices are extremely reasonable. 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 Area for children offers each child the opportunity to make crafts and participate in several interactive exhibits - all free of charge."

As in previous years, the list of performers fits the "traditional plus" definition offered by the festival's host, 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, "plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play," he said.

The award-winning lineup represents a group of artists who have collectively earned 47 Grammy Awards, more than 50 International Bluegrass Music Awards and four Americana Music Association Awards, among many others. Watson himself was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988; received the National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton in 1997; and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences at the 2004 Grammy Awards show.

Fans at MerleFest can expect the unexpected with special surprises, spontaneous jam sessions and one-of-a-kind musical collaborations. The complete lineup and stage schedules are posted at, and festival updates also are delivered via Twitter and Facebook.


Thursday, April 28, will feature performances by artists, including Zac Brown Band, Randy Travis, Del McCoury Band, Scythian, Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans, Balsam Range, The Wailin' Jennys, Johnson's Crossroad, The Neighbors and others. That afternoon, participants in Pete Wernick's MerleFest Bluegrass Jam Camp will perform on the Cabin Stage.

A rare opportunity for Thursday festival attendees is the opportunity to pick or sing during "open mic" sessions with legendary dobro player Tut Taylor and the Local Boys.

The annual Doc Watson Guitar Championship is held this day, as well; this year's judges include Zac Brown Band guitarists Coy Bowles and Clay Cook, as well as last year's contest winner, Bryan McDowell.

There also will be a special musical tribute to the late Bill Young, an early and longtime supporter of the festival, as well as a personal friend of Watson.

Thursday is also a day for community outreach, with several MerleFest artists visiting and performing at local schools. Thursday's programming is sponsored by Window World.


The schedule on Friday, April 29, includes performances by The Doobie Brothers, The Emmitt-Nershi Band, Sonny Landreth, Jerry Douglas featuring Omar Hakim and Viktor Krauss, The Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, as well as Tony Rice and Peter Rowan, Frosty Morn (Doc Watson and friends), Alison Brown Quartet, John Cowan Band, Josh Williams Band, The Waybacks, Roy Book Binder, Rory Block, Paul Geremia, Pete and Joan Wernick, Corey Harris and Phil Wiggins, Jeff and Vida, The Kruger Brothers, The Tone Blazers, Blind Boy Chocolate and the Milk Sheiks, The Zephyr Lightning Bolts, Synder Family Band, Jim Lauderdale and Friends, and others.

The culmination of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest takes place on Friday; after contest chairperson Jim Lauderdale announces the winners, the winning entries are performed on the Cabin Stage.

The annual Merle Watson Bluegrass Banjo Contest is held this day; this year's judges include Pete Wernick, Jason Burleson and Eric Ellis, as well as last year's contest winner, Jonathan Dillon.

Special performances on Friday include "Bluegrass Boys, A Tribute to Bill Monroe," featuring Mark Hembree, Bobby Hicks, Bill Keith, Peter Rowan, Roland White and other special guests, and "Southern Filibuster - The Music of Tut Taylor" with Tut Taylor, Jerry Douglas, Billy Cardine and other special guests.


The lineup for Saturday, April 30, includes performances by Lyle Lovett, Sam Bush, Sara Jarosz, Crooked Still, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Donna the Buffalo, The Tony Rice Unit, Harper and Midwest Kind, Veronika Jackson, among others. The ever-popular Hillside Album Hour, hosted by The Waybacks, will have Joan Osborne as one of their special guests.

The highly-anticipated Midnight Jam will take place in the Walker Center (separate ticket required, available to four-day ticket holders); this year's Jam is hosted by Casey Driessen and the Colorfools, with opening act the Infamous Stringdusters,. Special performances on Saturday include "Docabilly" with Doc Watson, Richard Watson, Sam Bush, T Michael Coleman and other guests, "A Tribute to John Hartford," featuring the John Hartford String Band and guests that include Alison Brown, Sam Bush, Tim O'Brien, Peter Rowan and Tut Taylor, and "My Friend Merle," hosted by Mitch Greenhill and featuring Doc Watson, Richard Watson, Sam Bush, T. Michael Coleman and other musicians.


Sunday, May 1, will feature performances by Robert Plant and the Band of Joy (who will close the festival with their set), along with Doc Watson and the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Tim O'Brien, The Infamous Stringdusters, the Freight Hoppers, Alison Brown Quartet with Stuart Duncan, Corklickers, a special "Sunday Morning Blues" set with Roy Book Binder, Veronika Jackson and Charles Welch, Jeff Little and Wayne Henderson, Red Molly and many others.

Throughout the four-day festival the Dance Tent 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.

The Songwriter Coffeehouse will showcase the art of the song on Friday. And on Saturday, blues lovers will want to check out the "Greatest Acoustic Blues Show on Earth" at the Austin Stage in Alumni Hall.

For those attendees who like to do a little performing themselves, there is a continuous "open mic" at the Plaza Stage and specially designated "Jammin' Tents" (hosted by the Wilkes Acoustic Folk Society.)

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 the MerleFest Post Office, first aid, lost and found, and Internet access.

The Little Pickers area offers children's activities, crafts and entertainment, with the MerleFest Youth Showcase, hosted by Andy May, at the Little Pickers Stage. Nature walks of the gardens and forest on the WCC campus will be offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Ticket purchases can be made on the web at, by calling (800) 343-7857, or at the gate. Gates open on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 9 a.m.
MerleFest 2011 is presented by Lowe's. A complete listing of all MerleFest sponsors and additional information about all aspects of the festival can be found at

Now in its 24rd year, MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College Endowment Corporation and a celebration of "traditional plus" music.

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