Truckin’ to MerleFest

Article Published: Apr. 26, 2012 | Modified: Apr. 29, 2012
Truckin’ to MerleFest

The Tedeschi Trucks Band will make its MerleFest debut this Saturday.
Photos by James Minchin

This Saturday marks the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s first appearance at MerleFest, and Mike Mattison is somewhat concerned.

“I hope we’ll fit in,” harmony singer Mattison said.

However, MerleFest, returning to Wilkesboro April 26 to 29, celebrates what award-winning Deep Gap flatpicker and festival host Doc Watson calls “‘traditional plus,’ meaning the traditional music of the Appalachian region, plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play.”

In other words, Mattison and company have nothing to worry about.

Its music hailed for an idyllic blend of blues, soul, rock, funk and Americana, the Tedeschi Trucks Band hits MerleFest’s Watson Stage at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28.

Fronted by husband and wife Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, the band is an amalgamation of the duo’s unique talents, which, according to their official bio, have been described as “heavily steeped in the blues tradition, yet open to far-ranging influences, including rock, gospel, jazz and world music. Each has produced recordings that share a sensibility best described as a swampy mix of rootsy, rockin’ American music.”

Tedeschi is known for her vocal prowess in American blues and soul, having fronted the Susan Tedeschi Band and released two Grammy-nominated albums.

Trucks is the youngest musician named in Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Guitarists of All Time, and his dedicated performances in his own celebrated Derek Trucks Band led him to a permanent gig as co-lead guitarist for The Allman Brothers Band (he’s also nephew to Butch Trucks, the Allmans’ original drummer).

Tedeschi and Trucks met during a 1999 Allman tour, fell in love and married in 2001. In early 2010, they put their individual music projects on the backburner to pursue something different, a “collective that will allow everyone in the band a chance to shine,” Trucks said at the time. “We’re not sure yet what it will sound like exactly – we’re just going to let it come together and not force a vision on it.”

The vision evolved, rather, over the course of a year and a half into the 11-piece Tedeschi Trucks Band, featuring harmony singers Mattison (who sang lead in the Derek Trucks Band) and Mark Rivers, brothers Oteil Burbridge (former bassist with The Allman Brothers Band) and Kofi Burbridge (keyboardist/flautist with the Derek Trucks Band), drummers J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell, trumpeter Maurice Brown, tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams and trombonist Saunders Sermons.

“I think part of the mission of the band is … to stretch out and to keep (improvisation) happening in popular music,” Mattison said. “Everybody’s good at what they do. From the songwriter’s perspective, there’s no having to translate or explain what you want to get out of (the music) … everyone just gets it immediately.”

For the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Mattison said songwriting is a group effort. “Everybody brings something to the table,” he said.

This applies to performing, as well, as each band member’s invested in the music.

“It’s been a great experience for Susan and Derek, because they’ve always wanted to work together, and finally they’ve been able to make this partnership happen on stage,” Mattison said. “One of the upsides of this band is you really get to see what a great guitar player Susan is. She’s not just the front woman out there singing and putting a nice veneer on things. There are a couple of set pieces where she really gets to do her thing, especially as a blues guitarist.

“And, of course, Derek – that’s what he does, that’s who he is. But there are moments in the horn section – Kebbi Williams is an excellent player, an amazing improviser, and the same thing with Oteil and Kofi Burbridge. The band is really a vehicle to let people know how talented some of these people are individually.”

The listening public got a taste with Tedeschi Truck’s Band’s 2011 Grammy-winning release, “Revelator,” which will be followed by a live compilation called “Everybody’s Talkin’,” slated for release May 22.

As for MerleFest, Mattison said the band will likely perform some new material, along with numbers from Tedeschi’s and Trucks’ solo careers. “Some of the old, some of the new, but we’ll see … who knows what will pop up?” he said.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band performs at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, at MerleFest on the Wilkes Community College campus in Wilkesboro. For tickets and more information, visit For more on the Tedeschi Trucks Band, visit

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