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MerleFest presents ‘BanjoRama’

Article Published: Dec. 12, 2013 | Modified: Dec. 12, 2013
MerleFest presents ‘BanjoRama’

The Kruger Brothers’ Jens Kruger, the 2013 recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, is among the group of award-winning banjoists taking the Watson Stage at MerleFest 2014 for the inaugural BanjoRama.

Photo by Frank Ruggiero

MerleFest, slated for April 24 to 27, 2014, has announced the addition of “BanjoRama” – a one-time-only assembly of music’s top banjo players in performance together.

The event, created specifically for MerleFest 2014, will be part of Friday’s Watson Stage schedule. MerleFest, a four-day event that is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans, will once again take place on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro.

Hosted by Pete “Dr. Banjo” Wernick, BanjoRama will feature renowned banjo players Jens Kruger, Sammy Shelor, Alison Brown, Scott Vestal, Mark Johnson, Jim Mills, Rob McCoury, Terry Baucom, Ned Luberecki, Graham Sharp and offer a few surprises from the stage. The banjo all-stars will be backed by The Travelin’ McCourys and Bryan Sutton.

“BanjoRama is going to be an ‘only at MerleFest moment’ in 2014,” said MerleFest’s artist relations manager, Steve Johnson. “The idea for the event came about while I was pondering ways to keep the spirit of Merle Watson alive at the festival. Not many people know that Merle was also a banjo player, as was Doc. So, this seemed a fitting way to keep that part of their music in our program next year. To me, it was important to showcase a diverse lineup of banjoists in the set. It needed to be something that would be hard to replicate and would truly stand out as unique. Most importantly, it needed to be something Doc and Merle would appreciate.

“I discussed the concept with ‘Dr. Banjo,’ Pete Wernick, and we immediately developed the idea to include a number of performers, such as the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass recipients, International Bluegrass Music Association Banjo Player of the Year award winners, unique stylists and innovators of certain ‘styles’ of banjo playing.”

Johnson said MerleFest achieved that desired outcome by including Steve Martin Prize for Excellence recipients Jens Kruger, Mark Johnson and Sammy Shelor and IBMA Banjo Players of the Year Sammy Shelor (2012, 1995, 1996-tie, 1997, 1998), Scott Vestal (1996-tie), Alison Brown (1991) and Jim Mills (1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006), along with Graham Sharp, who is best known for his banjo work with the latest bluegrass album Grammy Award recipients, The Steep Canyon Rangers. McCoury, Wernick and Sharp are winners of IBMA’s Entertainer of the Year with their respective bands, The Del McCoury Band, Hot Rize and The Steep Canyon Rangers.

“We also anticipate some special guests,” Johnson said. “At present, we have over a dozen performers slated for this feature event. No one at MerleFest will want to miss this!”

While it originated hundreds of years ago — and can, in fact, be traced back in some form to sub-Saharan cultures of the 13th century — the banjo remains heavily identified with American roots music. In the hands of 20th century innovators like Charlie Poole and Earl Scruggs and through modern day interpreters like Béla Fleck, Jens Kruger and Noam Pikelny, the banjo has developed way beyond its humble roots into a distinctive, vibrant instrument known the world over.

“Scruggs and his disciples infused the banjo roll into bluegrass music, whose many styles, in turn, expanded the banjo’s horizons,” said Wernick, long respected for his work with seminal bluegrass group Hot Rize and a pioneer in bluegrass music instruction. “The worldwide reach of bluegrass and its intertwining with other musical styles has landed the banjo in a wide set of contexts.

“Pop music has discovered the banjo, and banjoists have shaped their own music with the influence of genres from classical to jazz and rock to regional music from around the world. So, as of 2014, the banjo is no one thing.

“The colors of the rainbow, the flavors of many cuisines are somehow heard in the way great banjo artists offer their music. At MerleFest, in the hands of a dozen masters of the instrument, we will be treated to a musical cornucopia.”

Tickets for MerleFest 2014 can be purchased at or by calling 1-800-343-7857. The festival features more than 130 acts performing on 13 stages during the course of the event. An early bird ticket discount is available through March 10, 2014.

MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the late Eddy Merle Watson, son of the late American music legend, Doc Watson. MerleFest is a celebration of “traditional plus” music, a unique mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock and many other styles.

The festival hosts more than 130 artists, with performances on 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.

Additional Images

The Kruger Brothers’ Jens Kruger, the 2013 recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, is among the group of award-winning banjoists taking the Watson Stage at MerleFest 2014 for the inaugural BanjoRama.
Photo by Frank Ruggiero

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