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MerleFest by the Numbers

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Article Published: May. 2, 2013 | Modified: May. 2, 2013
MerleFest by the Numbers

Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers performs MerleFest 2013's closing set during Sunday's rainy festivities. For more MerleFest photos, visit

Photo by Frank Ruggiero

MerleFest has come to a close for another year.

Early estimates show that from its start on Thursday, April 25, to its close on Sunday, April 28, aggregate participation over the festival’s four days exceeded 76,000 participants, staying level with last year’s numbers.

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.

“This year, we thought it was important to celebrate the life and music of our dear friend, Doc Watson,” said Ted Hagaman, director of the festival. “For the past 25 years, he has been the artistic center of MerleFest, so everyone — musicians and fans — came together as a family to pay special tribute to the man and the musician who meant so much to us all.

“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.

“With over 90 artists playing on 14 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.”

Performers who turned in riveting performances at MerleFest 2013 include The Avett Brothers, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Leon Russell, The Charlie Daniels Band, Gov’t Mule, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, The Del McCoury Band and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Steep Canyon Rangers, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Jim Lauderdale, Donna the Buffalo, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Peter Rowan, Scythian, Roy Book Binder, the Kruger Brothers and many more.

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.

According to Hagaman, the most anticipated set this year was Saturday evening’s “Tribute to Doc Jam,” hosted by Sam Bush. The many performers who took part in the musical tribute included The Avett Brothers, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Jim Lauderdale, the Kruger Brothers and John McEuen and Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Other “MerleFest Moments” this year included the rollicking Friday night set from The Del McCoury Band and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, appearing together as “American Legacies,” the Thursday night performances from legends Leon Russell and Charlie Daniels, the standing-room-only songwriting workshop hosted by The Avett Brothers, a full-throttle show from Gov’t Mule and a moving “Spirit of Sunday” gospel set, which one MerleFest fan said “couldn’t be a better experience even if the sun was out.”

And since MerleFest has often served as a launching pad for rising talent, fans spread the word about new “buzz bands” like Pokey LaFarge, Della Mae and The Black Lillies.

The highly anticipated Hillside Album Hour on Saturday evening, hosted by The Waybacks, with special guests Mike Farris, Sam Bush, John Cowan, Jim Lauderdale and many others, featured the album, “Before the Flood,” the classic 1974 live double-album from Bob Dylan and The Band. 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 Midnight Jam on Saturday, hosted by Scythian — with opening act The Black Lillies — included Peter Rowan, Jim Lauderdale, John Cowan, Chris Austin Songwriting Contest winner Melody Walker and many other surprises for audience members who stayed up late to enjoy the Jam. For the second year in a row, the jam was a sell-out, with music fans packing the Walker Center for the ticketed show.

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.

Next year’s MerleFest is slated for April 24 to 27.

MerleFest, considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro. The festival was founded in 1988 in memory of the late Eddy Merle Watson, son of American music legend Doc Watson, who died May 29, 2012.

For more MerleFest photos, visit

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