A Weekend to Remember: Highlights from MerleFest 2024

Article Contributed by Victory Lap PR | Published on Monday, April 29, 2024

MerleFest, presented by Window World, concluded its annual spring homecoming this weekend with a larger-than-life ‘Traditional Plus’ celebration, drawing both seasoned attendees and newcomers to the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC. The four-day gathering––inspired by the vision of festival founder and North Carolina native Doc Watson––is the biggest economic driver of scholarships, capital projects, and educational needs within the greater community. Since its inaugural event in 1988, MerleFest has continued to demonstrate a commitment to supporting the residents of Wilkes County, while showcasing outstanding talent from its home state and beyond. This year’s festival was no different, with nearly one hundred acts spanning diverse styles and genres performing across 12 stages from Thursday through Sunday

Festival director Wes Whitson shares, “MerleFest 2024 was a testament to the enduring spirit of community and music. The unwavering support from our artists, fans, staff, volunteers, and sponsors not only creates unforgettable moments but also fuels the educational mission of Wilkes Community College. The beautiful weather this weekend served as a perfect backdrop to the magic unfolding on stage, adding an extra layer of joy to our festivities. We were thrilled to see an overwhelming turnout on Thursday evening, a resounding affirmation that MerleFest continues to grow stronger with each passing year.”

See below for a day-by-day highlight reel of MerleFest 2024’s noteworthy moments:

Thursday: Local breakout star Presley Barker greeted an eager first-day crowd on the Watson Stage before handing the reins to Dan Tyminski, who delivered a captivating bluegrass performance with his star-studded band. Later, Steep Canyon Rangers and Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway each drew in the evening with incredible fervor. Old Crow Medicine Show rang in their 7th appearance at MerleFest with choice cuts from their expansive catalog, as well as some surprising covers including Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ‘Em.” The Friday night headliners also commemorated 25 years of touring (as well as the 25th anniversary of their MerleFest debut) with cameos by Molly Tuttle, Willie Watson, and other MerleFest regulars. With even more to celebrate, the band presented a birthday cake and sang to MerleFest’s own “B" Townes before inviting Arthur Grimes to the stage for an old fashioned Appalachian flatfoot dance off.

Friday: What’s better than Fridays? Fridays at MerleFest! The day started off on a joyful note with Scythian playing a family-friendly set for local school groups in the dance tent; meanwhile soulful storyteller Kyshona made her MerleFest debut on the Americana Stage. Other festival first-timers included Nick Shoulders, Buffalo Nichols, and Willi Carlisle (who also led a rousing square dancing lesson earlier in the day). That evening, The Langan Band brought their Scottish sensibilities to the Traditional Stage, just before blue-rock sister group Larkin Poe fired up the Watson Stage and Red Dirt legends Turnpike Troubadours closed out the night. Night-owls were treated to a spectacle of hip-shaking singalongs by Shinyribs, who has a knack for involving the audience in his tongue-in-cheek antics.

Saturday: Saturday was chock-full of memorable moments, including the Veterans Jam (featuring Jack Lawrence, Joe Smothers, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, John Cowan, and T. Michael Coleman); The Waybacks’ legendary Hillside Album Hour (treating fans to a front-to-back performance of Stevie Wonder’s iconic 1973 masterpiece, Innervisions); and MerleFest’s annual band competition, which crowned Florencia & The Feeling as this year’s winner. 14-year old prodigy Wyatt Ellis also led a special jam on the Walker Center Stage featuring guests Jim Lauderdale, Peter Rowan, Jack Lawrence, John Cowan, and The Kruger Brothers, before joining mandolin virtuosos Sam Bush, Liam Purcell, and Chris Henry on the Creekside Stage for Mando Mania. On the Watson Stage, Béla Fleck performed an inspiring set of instrumental arrangements and selections from his 2021 album, My Bluegrass Heart, followed by powerhouses S.G. Goodman, Sam Bush Band, and Brandy Clark. The Teskey Brothers topped off the evening with their Aussie-tinged brand of blues rock.

Sunday: With a little something for everyone, the final day of MerleFest marked the cherry on top of a superb weekend. The Sensational Barnes Brothers hosted a powerful Gospel Hour on the Creekside Stage; Roy Book Binder, along with Charles Welch, The Harris Brothers, and Bob Margolin led a Sunday Blues session on the Americana Stage. The Traditional Stage saw lots of activity too, with a traditional jam hosted by Pete & Joan Wernick, ‘Shaped Note Singing’ with Laura Boosinger, ‘Women Who Sing & Play’ with Carol Rifkin, Bayla Davis, Liz Lanham, and others, and finally, Wayne Henderson & Friends closing out the afternoon. GRAMMY-winning country-rock outfit Lukas Nelson & POTR rocked the Watson Stage before the highly-anticipated return of Nickel Creek rounded out the weekend with a 90-minute string jam of seismic proportions.

As the curtains close on another incredible festival weekend, all sights are set on MerleFest’s return to Wilkes Community College April 24-27, 2025, with ticket and lineup news forthcoming.