MerleFest – April 23-26, 2015, Wilkesboro, NC (PREVIEW)

Five Things to Know About Merlefest 2015

Merlefest, a highlight of North Carolina’s spring festival season, which takes place April 23-26 on the campus of Wilkes Community College, bills itself as “Traditional Plus.” So alongside the old-time and bluegrass bands, festival-goers can also expect to see the musicians who are taking those roots and growing something new with them.  The 2015 lineup reflects just that, with a host of traditionalists like the bluesman Blind Boy Paxton and bluegrass Grammy winners The Del McCoury Band mingling in the lineup with artists who take traditional music in whole new directions, like The Avett Brothers and The David Mayfield Parade.

Heading to the festival? Here are a few tidbits to know before you get there.

The Headliners

You can buy single day tickets or a pass for the whole (4-day) weekend, so make sure you know which nights your favorites are headlining. Thursday brings you Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Hot Rize, and Trampled by Turtles. On Friday night you can see The Marshall Tucker Band, Sam Bush Band, and Jim Lauderdale, all on the Watson Stage. Also, Scythian will be playing their innovative Celtic-Klezmer music for the Friday Night Dance, as well as during several other sets throughout the weekend. They’ll also be releasing their new album, Old Tin Can, at Merlefest, so make sure to browse the merchandise tent. On Saturday night The Avett Brothers are playing a nice long set by festival standards–an hour and 45 minutes. On Sunday Dwight Yoakam closes out the festival.

Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn

Three Not To Miss

 With over 115 artists in the lineup you’re going to have to make some hard choices, and there will be many unfamiliar names. Here are a few artists that you should fit into your schedule if you haven’t heard them before. This is far from an exhaustive list. Obviously.


  • The classically trained acoustic trio The Stray Birds, hailing from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, melds haunting melodies, evocative lyrics and instrumental virtuosity to produce a sound that sets it apart from the roots/folk crowd. If nothing else you owe it to yourself to hear Maya de Vitry’s voice. The Stray Birds perform Friday.
  • If you’ve heard Mipso you know that this four-member band that describe themselves as “renegade traditionalists” will fit right in at Merlefest. But they have an extra reason to belong—last year one member, Joseph Terrell, won the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (“general category”) with the song “Angelina Jane is Long Gone.” Mipso performs Friday.
  • Willie Watson’s musical evolution has brought him back to the music that provides the roots beneath his former band, Old Crow Medicine Show, as well as pretty much any other Americana or rock band you’ll encounter. His album “Folk Singer, Volume 1” covers folk songs from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. What’s more, he makes them sound authentic. Also he’s a damn good guitar and banjo player. Willie Watson performs Saturday.


The Straybirds
The Straybirds


Hillside Album Hour

 Merlefest is a festival that loves traditions and one of the favorites is the Hillside Album Hour, at which a variety of artists perform one album from start to finish. The album is a closely guarded secret but some past Hillside Album Hours have featured Led Zeppelin II, The Rolling Stone’s Sticky Fingers, The Beatles’ Abbey Road, and Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The event, which takes place Saturday at 4:00 p.m., is hosted by The Waybacks. So far, one guest artist, Joan Osborne, has been announced. You can play along in the guessing game as more clues are dropped on the Facebook page for the event.


 New This Year: Band Contest

 Merlefest is presenting a new event this year, the Band Contest, featuring  “Bluegrass,” “Old Time”, “Western Swing” or “New Acoustic/Newgrass” music. On Saturday, ten bands will each play three songs, and will be judged on material selection, instrumental performance, vocal performance and stage presence. The majority of the bands play bluegrass or old-time music on traditional instruments. Exceptions are Whitewater Ramble, from Fort Collins, Colorado, who describe their sound as “high-octane Rocky Mountain dance-grass,” and Time Sawyer, a North Carolina-based folk/rock band with an emphasis on songwriting. The winner of the contest will play a 30-minute set on the Watson Stage on Saturday afternoon.

Whitewater Ramble

Get the App

A word of advice: the cell signal can be dicey. Before you go, download the free Merlefest 2015 app. You’ll be able to check the stage schedules, access a map, get information on each band, and create your own schedule even when you’ve got no bars on your phone.

See the whole schedule and complete information on the Merlefest website.


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