Back to School
If you can’t come to MerleFest, there’s always a chance that
MerleFest can come to you.
That’s the philosophy of the MerleFest Outreach Program. For more than two decades, the program has been sending MerleFest artists out into the community to perform free concerts.
“I’ve been involved with the MerleFest Outreach Program since the beginning,” said Brenda Moore at Central Wilkes Middle School, where Americana band Red Molly was set to perform in the school’s gymnasium April 25.
“It all started when we had two cloggers at MerleFest who were going to perform at one of the local schools. We needed somebody with a pickup truck to haul some plywood from MerleFest to the school, so they could dance on it. From there, it just sort of grew.”
In the early days of the outreach program, performers would appear at area schools and other places, such as retirement homes, on Thursday and Friday. For the past several years, the program has scheduled 12 to 15 concerts early on Thursday at Wilkes County elementary and middle schools.
“We no longer hold the concerts at the high schools, as they are not the most appreciative audiences,” Moore said. “But the younger kids are great audiences. They are well-mannered and they enjoy clapping and dancing to the music.”
The 2013 MerleFest Outreach Program included concerts by Red Molly, Andy May, Jeff Little and Wayne Henderson, Timmy and Susan Abell with the Interactive Theatre of Jef, Johnson’s Crossroads, The Local Boys, The ToneBlazers, Steve and Ruth Smith, Calico Moon, Enter the Haggis, The Kruger Brothers, Tom Feldman, Gregg “Buffalo” Barfield, The Misty River Band, The New Familiars and The Neighbors.
During Thursday’s concert, Red Molly, consisting of guitarist Molly Venter, bassist Laurie MacAllister and dobro player Abbie Gardner, performed a number of original songs and cover tunes, including the classic blues number, “Come On In My Kitchen” and the Doc and Rosalee Watson country gospel song, “Your Lone Journey.”
“You guys have easily won the award for our most excited audience ever,” Venter said to the middle school crowd after one song.
One of the highlights of the concert was when Red Molly re-enacted a Folger’s Coffee commercial, one where MacAllister was hired to sing the company’s signature jingle, “The best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup.”
Near the end of the concert, the members of Red Molly answered questions from the audience.
When asked how they met, Gardner answered, “All three of us were part of the solo singer-songwriter scene in New York City. We started playing together, and it just clicked.”
One of the students asked where the name, “Red Molly,” came from.
“We named the band after one of the characters in the song ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning,’” MacAllister said. “It’s from Del McCoury’s cover of a Richard Thompson song.”
When asked what CD they first bought was, the members of Red Molly mentioned albums by Janet Jackson, Dolly Parton and the California Raisins’ “Heard It Through the Grape Vine.”
After the school’s principal gave the trio tie-dyed Central Wilkes Middle School T-shirts, the women put them on and performed the closing number, “Lay Your Burden Down.”
“I estimate that we have now put on more than 300 MerleFest outreach shows,” Moore said. “And every one is different and every one is special.”