Solving the MerleFest Mystery

Article Published: Apr. 28, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Solving the MerleFest Mystery

Elvis Costello sang "Polythene Pam" and "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" when The Waybacks performed The Beatles' "Abbey Road" during their third annual Hillside Album Hour at MerleFest. Photo courtesy of the Waybacks

A number of events at MerleFest have taken on lives of their own. Since the early days of the festival, Saturday night's Midnight Jam at the Walker Center is a blissful collaboration of artists for those lucky attendees who can secure a golden ticket.

The Chris Austin Songwriting contest is an annual gathering of hopeful tunesmiths - both those on stage on those in the audience wishing to witness the emergence of the next Gillian Welch or Tift Merritt.

But nothing at MerleFest has grown as quickly or as enthusiastically as The Waybacks' Hillside Album Hour.

Now in its fourth year, The Waybacks' Hillside Album Hour presents a classic rock album, in its entirety, on stage with notable guest artists present at the festival. The band manages a tricky balance of keeping the album a mystery, while revealing some enticing clues leading up to the event.

Last year, MerleFest was abuzz with the rumor that the Hillside Album Hour would feature a Beatles record. But which one? Debate on the merits of "Rubber Soul" versus "Sgt. Pepper's" raged on the hillside as fans gathered to what has become one of the most popular annual events at MerleFest.

The Waybacks and some of their guests got into position, and after a quick "one-two-three-four," the opening bass notes of the Beatles' "Come Together" rang out and were met with a giant roar from the crowd. After listening to The Waybacks and guests, including Jim Lauderdale and Elvis Costello, perform "Abbey Road" in its entirety, audience members streamed off of the hill with smiles on their faces.

In the two years prior to the presentation of "Abbey Road," The Waybacks' Hillside Album Hour has featured Led Zeppelin's "Led Zeppelin II" and The Rolling Stones' "Sticky Fingers."

This year, The Waybacks have revealed a number of clues to this Saturday's Hillside Mystery Album on their website and on a specially created Facebook "Guess-A-Thon" page dedicated to the concert:

Clue No. 1 - This year's mystery album proved inspirational to many an underage mall gang.
Clue No. 2 - Our lead guitarist says "That's how I roll."
Clue No. 3 - This year's mystery album was, in terms of independent record label success, a zodiac killer.
Clue No. 4 - Made in America.

Those clues have led to hundreds of Waybacks and MerleFest fans posting their best guesses on the Facebook site. Those guesses range from The Allman Brothers' "Eat a Peach" to Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A."

The "Made in America" clue is somewhat significant, since the first three Hillside Album Hours featured albums by English rock bands.

Because of Clue No. 3, a number of Facebook guessers are picking albums by The Allman Brothers and other artists who recorded for Capricorn Records.

Despite the mystery of what album it is going to be, a few things are certainties. One, the Hillside Album Hour is going to be one of the most popular events at 2011. Two, Joan Osborne will be one of the guests of honor.

"We're very pleased to confirm that our pal, Joan Osborne, will bring her serious vocal chops to bear as our lead vocalist for this year's Hillside Album Hour at MerleFest on April 30," said Waybacks' founding singer, songwriter and guitarist James Nash.

Besides Nash, the Waybacks include drummer Chuck Hamilton, bass player Joe Kyle Jr., and fiddler and mandolin player Warren Hood. Originally from San Francisco, the band has fans all over the world and is noted for its Americana roots and keen ability to mix electric and acoustic instruments into a seamless blend of good-time music with a distinct classic country-rock bent.

This year's Hillside Album Hour with the Waybacks and Joan Osborne and guests will take place on Saturday, April 30, beginning at 4:45 p.m.

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