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MerleFest 2010 exceeds expectations

Article Published: May. 6, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
MerleFest 2010 exceeds expectations

From left, Sam Bush and Dierks Bentley jam Friday at MerleFest 2010, held April 29 through May 2, in Wilkesboro.

Photo by Frank Ruggiero

While MerleFest 2010, presented by Lowe's, is now officially another one for the history books, initial figures show that aggregate attendance over the festival's four days exceeded 76,000 people, who attended the celebration of "traditional plus" music on the campus of Wilkes Community College from Thursday, April 29, to Sunday, May 2.

MerleFest is the primary fundraiser for the college and funds scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.

A diverse and fully loaded schedule of artists, as well as an unusual rain-free four days, encouraged attendance. Thursday's attendance was the highest in the festival's history, and the remaining days are estimated to be in the top three of festival history. Festival officials are also proud to announce that a goal set at the close of the 2009 event, to reverse the trend of unpaid tickets comprising a greater percentage of total attendance, has been met.

"What a weekend this has been," festival director Ted Hagaman said. "With over 100 artists playing on 15 stages, representing everything from bluegrass and blues to gospel, country and Americana, we feel that we succeeded again in giving our festival guests a great value for their entertainment dollars. We deeply appreciate the support of the great folks of Wilkes County, everyone who works here at the college, and of course our volunteers and fans, for making this all possible."

Performers who turned in riveting performances at MerleFest 2010 include Doc and Richard Watson, Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes, Steve Martin with the Steep Canyon Rangers, The Avett Brothers, The Zac Brown Band, Joey + Rory, Dierks Bentley, Taj Mahal, Little Feat, Sam Bush, Tony Rice, Dailey & Vincent, Cadillac Sky, Balsam Range, Bearfoot, The Duhks, The Gibson Brothers, The Greencards, The SteelDrivers, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Great Big Sea, Peter Rowan, Scythian, The Travelin' McCourys, and many more.

The highly anticipated Hillside Album Hour on Saturday evening, hosted by The Waybacks, featured The Beatles' album, Abbey Road. Joining The Waybacks were Sarah Dugas, Shannon Whitworth, Byron House, Jerry Douglas, Jim Lauderdale and Elvis Costello. As usual, a sea of fans filled the hillside to find out the album that would be featured, which is always a closely held secret until the show begins.

The legendary Doc Watson received an honorary Ph.D. from the Berklee College of Music on the Watson Stage on Saturday night. Watson performed throughout the weekend, including the memorable Docabilly set, featuring Doc and friends applying their style to classic pop tunes. The fan-favorite "My Friend Merle" set included friends of Doc's late son, Merle, sharing special memories between their favorite songs.

The Midnight Jam on Saturday, hosted by Zac Brown, featured The Duhks, The Greencards, Peter Rowan and many other surprises for audience members who stayed up late to enjoy it.
In addition to promoting "traditional-plus" music, a term coined by Watson to describe the wide variety of musical genres and styles celebrated at MerleFest, the festival also featured heritage crafts demonstrations, instrument picking lessons and jam sessions, dancing, instrument contests, music education workshops, and the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

A record number of musicians participated in Pete Wernick's Bluegrass Jam Camp from April 26-29 and had the opportunity to perform on the Cabin Stage on Thursday afternoon.

The Shoppes at MerleFest, located in the center of the festival grounds, was a popular area filled with merchandise vendors, the official MerleFest Gift Shop, concessions, and valuable services, including an information tent, lost and found, overnight storage, and more. There was also an R&R tent for festival-goers who needed to take a break and escape the heat.

MerleFest is known for its warm, inviting family atmosphere. A key part of that effort is the Little Pickers area, sponsored by Charlotte and Greensboro area Burger King restaurants. Designed with kids in mind, the area was expanded in size and scope for 2010, offering more activities and crafts to enhance children's experiences at MerleFest.

The stage in the area, hosting kid-friendly performances, was larger, and the youth showcases on Friday and Saturday were extended from 60 minutes to 90 minutes. Also, children 12 years of age and younger were admitted free to the festival when accompanied by an adult with paid admission.

A significant part of MerleFest's mission is to give back to the community. In that spirit, the outreach program took place on Thursday, with more than 20 of the artists at MerleFest giving performances at local schools. In addition, on Friday morning, more than 3,200 school children from Wilkes and surrounding counties were invited to attend the festival and flooded the event grounds.

Volunteers are integral to the success of MerleFest. More than 500 individual volunteers, 150 volunteer stagehands, and over 30 volunteer groups, including college and community organizations, helped to make the festival a success.

Also, each food vendor at MerleFest supports a local non-profit, with proceeds going to further their work and mission.

"Quite simply, MerleFest would not be possible without the support of our volunteers," Hagaman said. "Some of these individuals and organizations have given of their time since the festival began, and we are so grateful to them."

MerleFest 2010 was presented by Lowe's. MerleFest is grateful to 75-plus sponsors for their support in making the event possible, including Charlotte and Greensboro area Burger King restaurants, G&B Energy, Pepsi, Taylor Guitars, Cutter, Ray's Weather Center, WXIII-TV, The Winston-Salem Journal, WTQR Radio and 98.7 Simon.

A complete listing of all MerleFest sponsors and additional information about all aspects of the festival can be found at

Next year's MerleFest is scheduled for April 28 through May 1, 2011.

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