Music, moments & memories is what the program promises at Merlefest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina this weekend. After a stormy start, literally tornadoes touched down 7 miles from here on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, the festival has more than lived up to its promise in the first 2 days. . Internet and phone service is still spotty but everyone is dealing with that happily. The storm passed taking all the humidity with it, leaving sparkling clear blues skies with temperatures in the 70's and music everywhere. The hundreds of volunteers, musicians, production crews and the local residents have all been so kind & willing to go the extra mile to make this event fantastic. Merlefest is held in the beautiful hills of Wilkes Community College.
The festival started 2 and ½ years after the tragic death of Merle Watson in 1985 as a tribute to his musical accomplishments & popularity. It was supposed to be a onetime one night benefit concert to raise funds for the gardens on campus. So 24 years later the festival is still going strong. The line-up is incredible and is not just limited to bluegrass but also includes blues, folk, country, and rock. Thursday night started with Del McCoury Band, T Michael Coleman, Jack Lawrence, Bill Mathis, The Wailin' Jennys, Randy Travis and Zac Brown Band. Friday's line-up included Roy Bookbinder, Paul Geremina, Rory Block, Peter Rowan, John Cowan, Jerry Douglas, Corey Harris, and Phil Wiggins and it ended with a fantastic show by the Doobie Brothers.
Today will be just as wonderful. It is so hard to choose which stage to attend-there are 12 stages scattered across the campus. I don't want to miss Tony Rice, Sam Bush, Tim O'Brien, The John Hartford String Band, Roy Bookbinder (a St Petersburg, Florida resident & friend), Doc Watson and the highlight for me will be Lyle Lovett. I have not seen him play in about 10 years. He always has such great stories to tell in between songs. Tomorrow the festival will conclude with Robert Plant, yes of Led Zeppelin. And, yes, the old folks still really do know how to boogie!
As I wandered the campus yesterday, there were people of all ages jammin' & pickin, dancing & enjoying the weather, the music & camaraderie. I saw kids as young as 5 playing guitars & banjos and adults well into their 90's still jamming with anyone who was willing to try & keep up with them. There are people who will teach you how to play any number of instruments & how to clog & square dance too. I can't believe how lucky I am to be attending this festival with my dear friend, Felton Pruitt of Fat Music Radio, who has introduced me to most of these legends. Unfortunately, I am still conducting business in between sets but I really don't mind with this kind of backdrop.
Like the banner I saw yesterday said, "What is life without music"?