The clock is ticking down the hours and minutes to MerleFest 2009, presented by Lowe's, which will begin its 22nd year of "Music, Moments and Memories" next Thursday, April 23, and wind up on Sunday, April 26, on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
MerleFest is a great entertainment value and an economical weekend getaway, offering four days of performances by almost 100 performing artists on 15 stages on the college campus. Ticket purchases can be made on the web at www.merlefest.org, by calling 1-800-343-7857, or at the gate. Ticket prices, which haven't increased in four years, range from $35-$50 per day for general admission, to $250 for 4-day admission including reserved seating at the Watson Stage. Free parking and shuttle service to the festival entrance are provided. Gates open on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. and Friday through Sunday at 9:00 a.m.
Opportunities still exist to volunteer at the festival. Volunteers completing a four-hour shift receive free admission on the day they volunteer. For further information on volunteering, visit www.merlefest.org and click on the "Volunteering" tab.
As in previous years, the list of performers fits the "traditional plus" definition offered by Doc Watson when describing the rich musical diversity that is a hallmark of the event. Sounds of bluegrass, Americana, gospel, blues, folk, Celtic, Cajun and mariachi music will fill the air. The artist lineup and stage schedules are posted at www.merlefest.org.
Thursday, April 23, will feature performances by the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band with special guest George Shuffler, Dailey & Vincent, Scythian, Bearfoot, The Lovell Sisters, Tift Merritt, and Travis Tritt with Jerry Douglas, among others. The MerleFest Mandolin contest will take place in Alumni Hall. Thursday is also a day for community outreach, with several MerleFest artists visiting and performing at local schools, churches and community centers.
The schedule on Friday, April 24, includes the Welcome Home Super Jam hosted by The Duhks with Jim Lauderdale and Peter Rowan; The Dixie Bee-Liners, Ollabelle, The Grascals, The SteelDrivers, The Kruger Brothers, Mountain Heart with Tony Rice, John Cowan, Sierra Hull and Highway 111, The Del McCoury Band, and The Waybacks with special guests. The Merle Watson Bluegrass Banjo Championship and the Doc Watson Guitar Championship will also take place on Friday in Alumni Hall. Finalists in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest will compete on the Austin Stage at 2:00 p.m., followed by the announcement of the winners in each category. Winners will perform on the Cabin Stage at 7:20 p.m.
The lineup for Saturday, April 25, includes the New Generation Super Jam hosted by The SteelDrivers and The Belleville Outfit, with The Dixie Bee-Liners, The Farewell Drifters and Cadillac Sky; The Greencards, Blue Highway, BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet, Missy Raines and The New Hip, Sam Bush, and Emmylou Harris. The ever-popular Hillside Album Hour hosted by The Waybacks will take place at 5:00 p.m., and a special performance by Doc Watson and Friends, beginning at 6:15 p.m., will culminate in a tribute to Merle Watson. Winners of the instrument contests (mandolin, banjo, guitar) will perform on the Cabin Stage from 2:00-2:30 pm. The Midnight Jam will take place in the Walker Center (separate ticket required, available only to advance 4-day ticket buyers). Hosted by David Bromberg, with opening act The Farewell Drifters (11:30 p.m.), the jam will also feature Angel Band, Bearfoot, Cadillac Sky, The Dixie Bee-Liners, Missy Raines and The New Hip, Spring Creek Bluegrass Band, The SteelDrivers, The Belleville Outfit, and Ollabelle.
Sunday, April 26, will begin with gospel music on the Creekside Stage with Doc Watson and the Nashville Bluegrass Band, and blues on the Americana stage with Roy Book Binder and Patrick Sweany. Featured performers throughout the day include the Carolina Chocolate Drops, BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet, The Gibson Brothers, Happy Traum, Pete and Joan Wernick, Bearfoot, and George Hamilton IV, among others. The festival will close with Linda Ronstadt featuring Los Camperos De Nati Cano, performing an afternoon of Canciones de Mi Padre, "Songs of my Father."
In addition to music, MerleFest offers special activities and shopping, all in a family-friendly atmosphere. The Shoppes at MerleFest is a centrally located shopping village featuring demonstrating artisans, vendors, convenience foods, official MerleFest memorabilia, and services such as the MerleFest Post Office, first aid, lost and found, and internet access. The Little Pickers area offers children's activities, crafts and entertainment. Nature walks of the gardens and forest on the WCC campus will be offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
MerleFest 2009 is grateful to 80+ sponsors for their support in making MerleFest possible. Those sponsors include: Lowe's, Tyson, Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and Creamery, Charlotte and Greensboro Area BURGER KING® Restaurants, G & B Energy, Hardee's, Pepsi, WXII TV 12, Winston-Salem Journal, D'Addario, GHS Strings, Gibson, Taylor Guitar, John Pearse Strings, Embarq, SE Systems, Carolina West Wireless, Sugar Hill Records, and many other fine companies. A complete listing of all MerleFest sponsors can be found at www.merlefest.org.
MerleFest honors the memory of instrumental virtuoso Eddy Merle Watson and the contributions of Doc and the entire Watson Family to the musical traditions of the region and nation. MerleFest began in 1988 as a fundraiser for the college and remains the largest fundraiser for the institution.