MerleFest adds Zac Brown Band, Taj Mahal to lineup

Article Published: Jan. 14, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
MerleFest adds Zac Brown Band, Taj Mahal to lineup

The Zac Brown Band

MerleFest 2010, presented by Lowe's, is proud to announce the addition of the Grammy-nominated Zac Brown Band and legendary blues artist Taj Mahal, completing the performance lineup for Thursday night, April 29.

"We are excited to welcome the Zac Brown Band and Taj Mahal and know that their performances will thrill the Thursday night crowd," festival director Ted Hagaman said. "Bringing them to MerleFest fulfills our mission of providing a diverse array of the very best musical talent."

In just over a year since the release of its platinum-certified major label debut, The Foundation, the Zac Brown Band has taken the music world by storm. The band has been nominated for three Grammy Awards, including the coveted Best New Artist award, Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and Best Country Album. The Zac Brown Band will perform on the Grammy Awards show on Sunday, Jan. 31, at 8 p.m. on CBS.

The Foundation includes the band's No. 1 singles "Chicken Fried," "Whatever It Is" and "Toes," as well as the current single, "Highway 20 Ride," which is in the top 25 and quickly climbing the country charts.

In 2009 Zac Brown Band captured two fan-voted honors, taking home the "Top New Vocal Group" Award at the Academy of Country Music Awards and the "USA Weekend Breakthrough Video of the Year" at the CMT Awards for "Chicken Fried." The video for "Whatever It Is" is nominated for CMT's Top 50 Videos of the Decade. The band received four Country Music Association and three American Music Award nominations in 2009 and performed on the CMA Awards show. The band was also among the Billboard Top 20 Artists of 2009.

In addition to performing on the Watson Stage on Thursday night, Zac Brown will host MerleFest's ever-popular Midnight Jam on Saturday night.

Composer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Taj Mahal is one of the most prominent and influential figures in late 20th century blues and roots music. Though his career began more than four decades ago with American blues, he has broadened his artistic scope over the years to include music representing virtually every corner of the world, including West Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe and the Hawaiian islands.

"There will be a lot of people who will enjoy Taj's approach to music," said Doc Watson, the multiple Grammy Award winning musician from Deep Gap. "Plus, he is an old friend of mine and Merle's, and I am looking forward to him being a part of this MerleFest."

Born Henry St. Claire Fredericks in Harlem, N.Y., Taj grew up in Springfield, Mass. His father was a jazz pianist, composer and arranger of Caribbean descent, and his mother was a gospel singing schoolteacher from South Carolina.

Taj was exposed to a wide range of music through his father's extensive record collection, a shortwave radio, and the musicians from the Caribbean, Africa and all over the U.S. who frequently visited the Fredericks home. As a child, Taj took classical piano lessons and also learned to play the clarinet, trombone and harmonica, and he loved to sing. In his early teens, he discovered his stepfather's guitar and, when a guitarist from North Carolina moved in next door, learned the various styles of Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and other titans of Delta and Chicago blues.

Inspired by a dream while a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he adopted the musical alias of Taj Mahal and formed the popular U. Mass party band, the Elektras. After graduating, he headed west in 1964 to Los Angeles, Calif., where he formed the Rising Sons, a six-piece outfit that included guitarist Ry Cooder. The band opened for numerous high-profile touring artists of the '60s, including Otis Redding, the Temptations and Martha and the Vandellas. During this time, Taj also mingled with various blues legends, including Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy and Sleepy John Estes.

Taj released his self-titled debut album in 1967, and through the decades his extensive and adventurous catalog has included many different forms of roots music, including Mo' Roots (1974), the Grammy-winning Senor Blues (1997) and Shoutin' in Key (2000), as well as the soundtrack to the movie, Sounder (1973), and the musical score for the Langston Hughes/Zora Neale Hurston play, Mule Bone (1991).

Beginning in the '80s, he also released four children's albums for the Music for Little People label.
In the fall of 2008, Taj released Maestro on the Heads Up International label. His first U.S. release in more than five years, Maestro marks the 40th anniversary of Taj's rich and varied recording career by mixing original material, chestnuts borrowed from vintage sources and newcomers alike. This anniversary gala includes performances by Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Angelique Kidjo, Los Lobos, Ziggy Marley and others - many of whom have been directly influenced by Taj's music and guidance.

MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson, son of Doc and Rosalee Watson, as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College and a celebration of "traditional plus" music. Scheduled for April 29 through May 2, the event is held on the campus of Wilkes Community college in Wilkesboro.

Ticket purchases can be made on the Web at or by calling 1-800-343-7857. With more than 100 acts, including Doc Watson and previously announced artists Elvis Costello and The Sugarcanes, Steve Martin with The Steep Canyon Rangers/An Evening of Bluegrass and Banjo, Little Feat, The Avett Brothers, WPA, Dailey & Vincent, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage and Sam Bush, performing on 15 stages during the course of the event, MerleFest is an entertainment value. An early bird ticket discount is available through March 12.

In addition to providing the full line-up, the festival's Web site,, is a complete source of information on all aspects of the event. Festival fans are encouraged to visit the site and sign up for the MerleFest e-newsletter or register as a volunteer. Fans can also follow the latest MerleFest developments on Facebook and Twitter.

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