MerleFest 2012 Memories

Monday, May 14, 2012 @ 10:05 AM
posted by MFG

May 14, 2012

Well, it’s been two weeks since I returned home from my first MerleFest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.  I think I’m still trying to sort through the memories of the weekend, and catch up on my sleep!  I thought I would share a few highlights…

So…MerleFest is huge.  Attendance the last few years has been around 80,000 people!  And I think I counted most of them Saturday morning when I was working the perimeter security volunteer shift.  I felt a little bit like I was at “Bluegrass Disney,” with the shuttles to Lot C, long lines, checking backpacks at the gate, buying MerleFest hats in the MerleFest mall, bounce houses for the kids, $220 reserved lawn chairs, and Alison Krauss on the big screen.   The music was truly magical, however.

2012 was the 25th Anniversary of MerleFest.  Our good friend Jack Lawrence helped commemorate this event by performing in several tributes to the Festival’s hero, Merle Watson, whose life was taken by a tragic accident in 1985.  Jack was joined by several others on stage, including Merle’s legendary father – Doc Watson.

The MerleFest website explains:  “As a testament to Merle’s popularity and musical accomplishments, one of the world’s most renowned gatherings of acoustic musicians began two and a half years after Merle’s death and continues today, 24 years later, to honor the memory of a great talent silenced too early.” –

The Claire Lynch Band stole the show on Friday at the Creekside Stage, and again Saturday on the main stage, with their debut of new fiddle player Bryan McDowell, who just recently at the age of 20 earned an unprecedented triple win on fiddle, mandolin, and guitar at Winfield, Kansas.  Chris Thile wowed the traditional bluegrassers with his Zappa-esque sound, lively stage antics, and solid backing by The Punch Brothers.  I truly believe that it won’t be long before Thile is considered one of the great musical legends of our time.  Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi fought the 45-degree temperatures Saturday night to entertain an unsuspecting Americana audience.  The bluegrassers seemed to groove with the blues, however, and Truck’s horn and rhythm section captivated the midnight jam ticket holders later that night.

I was happy to see Shannon Slaughter, of Shannon and Heather Slaughter & County Clare (and formerly Lonesome River Band fame), win the 2012 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest for his country tune “I’ve Hit Everything In My Life (But My Knees).”  Sierra Hull and her new guitar player Jake Stargel rocked the Cabin Stage Saturday with Highway 111 – showcasing one of the best high-energy line-ups of her career to date.

With Vince Gill opening on Thursday, and Alison Krauss closing the show on Sunday, MerleFest 2012 was truly a place where all of your musical dreams could come true.  I’m looking forward to next year.  I think I will save up for a hotel reservation and backstage pass…and, maybe, if I’m not as star struck…will make a point to get my own guitar out of the case and jam!

Sunday Crowds at MerleFest

MerleFest Stage – Claire Lynch Band Sound Check

Claire Lynch Band on the Watson Stage, Saturday

Sierra Hull debuts her new guitar player, Jake Stargel

Guitar Legend Tony Rice with Josh Williams and CLB’s
Mark Schatz (bass) and Bryan McDowell (fiddle)

I loved spending the weekend with my good friends
from Naples – Micki and Roli Scholl!  I hope 2012 is the
first of many MerleFest memories.

- Robyn

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