(Editor's Note: CityBeat's annual coverage of music festivals around the country started off its 2012 campaign with Emily Maxwell's write-ups from South By Southwest in Austin in March. But our coverage picks up in earnest — ahead of the barrage of late spring/summer fests — with this week's dispatches from North Carolina's MerleFest. Local musician Jeff Roberson will be filing reports and uploading photo galleries from the event all weekend. The fest kicks off tonight and below is Jeff's first report from the field. Get a look at the MerleFest lineup and more here.)
Weds April 25: Super 8 Motel, Hillsville, Va.
Welcome to the 25th MerleFest. Well, not yet, as I'm holed up in a motel in Hillsville, Va. thrilin' and chillin' to Vin Diesel and The Rock tearing up Brazil. I will arrive at Merle Fest tomorrow morning. As a preface, I thought I'd drop some MerleFest facts on you all. In the biz, this is known as regurgitating the press release. Well, not really, it's letting the PR folks do your work for you, and what the hell is wrong with that? Nothing, that's what.
MerleFest is a music and mountain heritage festival dedicated to the memory of Eddy Merle Watson, the late son and musical partner of legendary guitarist Doc Watson. Located in the foothills of the Blueridge Mountains in Wilkesboro, NC, on the campus of Wilkes Community College just down US 421 where, in 1866, ol' Tom Dula (in western NC parlance, that's pronounce "doolee") killed his fiancé Laura Foster (yep, as you can see, already ankle deep in old timey mountain mojo).
The festival features more then 90 acts of mountain, Bluegrass, Cajun, various forms of acoustic Blues, the occasional Alternative Country, all kinds of synthesis of the aforementioned musical styes, and, for some reason, last year, a washed-up Arena Rock act more suited to A Taste of Blue Ash — aka The Doobie Brothers. Go figure. There are also local non-profits selling food, dozens of vendors selling everything from Red Dirt T-Shirts to hippy garb and the Heritage Tent where accomplished crafts people demonstrate and sell pottery, carved bowls, musical instruments, hand tooled leather goods and split oak baskets.
Over the next four days, I'll be telling you about the music, people and crafts — the people playing, attending and exhibiting at MerleFest. I won't be paying much attention to the big nighttime acts. They don't particularly interest me. I'll be writing about the lesser known, regional acts like Blind Boy Chocolate, old timers like Roy Bookbinder and other bands I stumble across as well as my favorite 2011 Merle Fest experience — participating in a workshop on the Sacred Harp-style of congregation singing.
Did I mention it's alcohol and tobacco free? That's a bug and a feature.