Jim Lauderdale: A Busy Man at MerleFest
Jim Lauderdale, who is scheduled to play at MerleFest April 24 to 27, is simply one of the most prolific songwriters and performers in the roots music business.
Over the last year or so, the Grammy Award winner has released a bluegrass album, called “Old Time Angels,” a fourth album of music co-written with famed Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, titled “Carolina Moonrise,” and he also recently dropped a more electric guitar-driven project, “Black Roses,” produced by North Mississippi Allstars ace Luther Dickinson.
Lauderdale is also the host of the “Music City Roots” radio and TV show that is filmed in Nashville, Tenn., the host of the annual Americana Music Awards show, and he collaborates with fellow artist Buddy Miller on the SiriusXM Outlaw Country channel’s “The Buddy and Jim Show.”
At MerleFest, Lauderdale will play on three of the festival’s four days. He will perform on the Hillside Stage at 5 p.m. Friday. Earlier in the day, he will host the finals of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, of which he is the chairman. On Saturday, he will be a part of the all-star Midnight Jam, hosted by Scythian and newly sponsored by comedian Ed Helms’ The Bluegrass Situation. And, on Sunday afternoon, Lauderdale will perform right before Merle Haggard closes out the festival.
That, however, is just the official schedule for Lauderdale. As any MerleFest veteran can tell you, the versatile musician is apt to be a guest performer at any time on any stage throughout the weekend.
“I’m going to bring a country band down to MerleFest this year,” Lauderdale said. “I kind of do different things when I’m there. The last two years I played bluegrass, but this year I’ll bring Craig Smith, Pete Finney and some other Nashville guys who are great players. We’ll play Friday on the Hillside Stage, and I’ll probably sit in with some folks, and we’ll have our jam. Then Ricky Skaggs and I are going to sit in with Ralph Stanley on Saturday.”
Essentially opening for Haggard on Sunday, Lauderdale will perform on the Cabin Stage, as Haggard and his band, The Strangers, set up on the adjacent Watson Stage.
“On Sunday, I’ll do a solo show or maybe have a guest or two, and I get to go on right before Merle, which is a real treat,” Lauderdale said. “I’ve opened up for him a couple of times, but usually with a full band. But I like playing solo a lot, and I do it a good bit, so I won’t be too nervous. I will do a song that I wrote with a guy named Kostas, who is a country songwriter, and it is called ‘Merle World.’ It’s kind of a tribute to Merle, so it will be cool to do that right before him.”
Lauderdale has played MerleFest many times over the years, and he cherishes the time he was able to spend with the festival’s heart and soul, the late Doc Watson.
“Every year at MerleFest, I would go and visit with him some, and he was real kind and gracious,” Lauderdale said. “I gave his wife any new releases that I had, and he especially liked the ‘Lost in the Lonesome Pines’ album (recorded with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys) and would comment on that. And he knew I wrote some stuff with Buddy Miller on a record a while back, and he really liked that a lot. It was kind of a different rock and gospel-type record that Buddy did, but Doc listened to a lot of stuff. There will never be another man like Doc. He was a very kind and gentle man and super intelligent, and his gift of playing influenced many. Music would be different if it wasn’t for Doc, for sure.”
MerleFest takes place April 24 to 27 on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro. For tickets and more information, including a complete schedule, visit http://www.merlefest.org.