MerleFest 25: A Jammin’ Good Time
MerleFest has come to a close for another year.
Early estimates show that, from its start on Thursday, April 26, to its close on Sunday, April 29, aggregate participation over the festival’s four days was at 76,000 participants, keeping pace with last year’s numbers.
Festival organizers noted that MerleFest 25 experienced a big boost in advance sales of multi-day tickets, as well as an increase in the number of patron packages and reserved seats. MerleFest, held on the campus of Wilkes Community College, has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.
Performers who turned in riveting performances at MerleFest 25 include Doc and Richard Watson, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Los Lobos, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Dailey & Vincent, Sam Bush, the trio of John Cowan, Patrick Simmons and Darrell Scott, The Boxcars, Steep Canyon Rangers, Donna the Buffalo, Dougie MacLean, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Tony Rice Unit, Peter Rowan, Sierra Hull & Highway 11, The Gibson Brothers, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Deep Dark Woods, Scythian, Roy Book Binder, The Kruger Brothers and many more.
“As much as I can ever remember about past festivals, this year offered some of the most incredible MerleFest moments ever,” festival director Ted Hagaman said.
Every year, music fans at the festival experience what has become known as “MerleFest Moments” – special groupings of artists, jam sessions and events that get the whole festival talking and become legendary in its rich history.
Moments this year include the Friday night super jam during Sam Bush’s set, where Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Béla Fleck and John Cowan ignited the crowd with such rock classics as “Up on Cripple Creek,” “Bell Bottom Blues” and “Gimme Shelter,” as well as the many artist tributes to the recently departed musical giants Earl Scruggs and Levon Helm – both of whom have graced the stages of MerleFest. Other spontaneous jams happened during the Los Lobos and Scythian sets.
The highly anticipated Hillside Album Hour on Saturday evening, hosted by The Waybacks with special guests Sarah Dugas, Susan Tedeschi, Sam Bush, John Cowan, Jim Lauderdale and many others, featured the album, “Are You Experienced” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, the 1967 rock classic. A huge crowd filled the hillside to find out what album would be featured, which is always a closely held secret until the show begins.
The legendary Doc Watson performed throughout the weekend, including a special set of old-time music from Doc Watson and David Holt in the Traditional Tent, Saturday evening’s “Doc Watson and Friends” jam session and – a fan favorite – Sunday morning’s gospel set with the Nashville Bluegrass Band.
The Midnight Jam on Saturday, hosted by Casey Driessen with the opening act Jonathan Scales Fourchestra, featured a wide array of guest artists – including an all-banjo tribute to the late Earl Scruggs – for audience members who stayed up late to enjoy the Jam.
In addition to promoting “traditional-plus” music, a term coined by Doc 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.
Volunteers are integral to the success of MerleFest. More than 600 individual volunteers, 100-plus volunteer stagehands and over 70 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 4,000-plus volunteers,” festival director Ted Hagaman said. “Some of these individuals and organizations have given of their time since the festival began, and we are so grateful to them.”
The next MerleFest is scheduled for April 25 to 28, 2013.