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As this edition of Foothills Digest went to press, MerleFest officials made the unprecedented decision to cancel the festival given growing concerns about the coronavirus.
The bad news is, no MerleFest.
The good news is, organizers care more about safety than money.
This cancellation and others like it will have a ripple effect impacting artists, airlines, everyone in the hospitality industry, and almost every non-profit organization in Wilkes County, NC.
Keep them all in your thoughts and prayers and, as much as possible, keep them in your spending.
Do what you can to support artists; this is not the only festival (read: paying job) that is being canceled. Do what you can to support non-profit groups; they will be serving more with fewer resources.
During challenging times, we can shine love. Purchase and play some good music, don your tie-dye t-shirts, spray some patchouli to counteract the odor of that bleach and Lysol, and go serve your fellow humans.
We truly are all in this together.
MerleFest’s Old Friends
& New Trends
By Lisa DeMaio Brewer
We hate to miss MerleFest this year, but we still want to highlight the bands that we love, in hopes that you will support them.
Willie Nelson – It’s been 20 years since this national treasure performed at MerleFest. Even if you’re not a fan (and we can’t imagine why anyone would not be) don’t get on the road again without attending his headlining set. It’s sure to be memorable!
Alison Krauss – Whether accompanied by Union Station or Robert Plant, the most angelic voice in bluegrass never disappoints.
Donna the Buffalo – Herd of ‘em? Get ready to dance and feel the peace, love and positive vibes. You’ve not been to MerleFest until you’ve lost your inhibitions (appropriately, of course!) grooving to their funky tunes.
Los Texmaniacs – Proud of their Mexican culture and U.S. nationhood, this GRAMMY award-winning group has recorded seven albums, including three albums for Smithsonian Folkways. Their music incorporates jazz, rock-and-roll, and “conjunto Tejano.” Keep your dancing shoes handy!
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – He’s Willie’s son, Neil Young’s band leader and guitarist, and a musical force in his own right. He promises a lively musical and visually interesting show.
Kruger Brothers – We dare you to try to predict the set list! The Swiss-born Krugers play it all: bluegrass, classical, Broadway, and original compositions that defy categorization. They are virtuoso instrumentalists (Jens was the 2013 winner of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass), moving vocalists, crack entertainers and the very kindest of human beings, full of warmth and humor.
Wayne Henderson – The man who made a guitar for Eric Clapton is an American treasure in his own right – in fact, Henderson was awarded a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1995 (the nation’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts). For the best and cleanest finger-pickin’ and instrument tone, visit Wayne and let him know how much you appreciate him!
Alison Brown – She’s a bluegrasser, she’s a jazzer, she’s a Harvard and UCLA-educated former Wall Street investment banker, she’s a wife and mother, she’s a co-founder of Compass Records, she’s a GRAMMY winner, she’s the first woman to win the IBMA banjoist of the year award (an honor she has now won multiple times, making her one of the “First Ladies of Bluegrass”), and she’s a Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass board member. Her music was selected by NASA astronauts for their in-flight wake up call and, well, she’s Superwoman! But forget all that. Just go listen to her!
Presley Barker – Do you really want to miss Presley Barker’s first set on his own at MerleFest? We didn’t think so. This guitar phenom is gifted, talented, humble and kind. And he can entertain your socks off!
Che Apalache – Bela Fleck said their blend of Appalachian and Latin music won him over instantly and resulted in him producing their most recent album. The Buenos Aires-based band has members from the U.S., Mexico and Argentina. Expect the unexpected!
Gangstagrass –This fascinating bluegrass and hip-hop fusion band includes one of our favorite fiddlers: Brian Farrow, who toured previously with GRAMMY-winner Dom Flemons (the American Songster and founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops). Gangstagrass is highly improvisational in live sets. Do your best to keep up with them!
Melissa Etheridge – It’s her first visit to MerleFest and she’s going to rock this place! Keep your palms up and open to the energy, folks; she promises a good musical ride through her hits, and then some.
Sam Bush – As Sierra Hull once famously said, “When his head goes this way, his curls go that way!” Sam Bush has been attending MerleFest since the very first one in 1988, sometimes playing multiple sets with friends each day. He is a world-class musician, gracious and kind, and no one plays with more joy.
Scythian – Nashville’s Music City Roots describes them as “rock star charisma meets Celtic dervish fiddling.” Bring your world-weary bones to any Scythian set and emerge happy and refreshed. They are some of the nicest guys around and their charity work reflects their good hearts as well as their musical mission.
Jim Lauderdale – This GRAMMY-winning North Carolina native son has performed at nearly two dozen MerleFests. An acclaimed songwriter who has written hits for George Strait, Patty Loveless, Lee Ann Womack and more, Lauderdale directs and hosts MerleFest’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Don’t miss his trademark lonesome voice, and his snazzy suits with more rhinestones than any other cowboy!
Fireside Collective – The runaway winners of the 2016 MerleFest Band Contest have been writing and playing the hottest of hot licks at a dizzying pace. Each member of this high-energy quintet brings rare instrumental and vocal gifts to their sets. They stand alone among the newer bluegrass bands!
Rev. Robert Jones – From his native Detroit to tours throughout the world (and a 2018 Kresge Arts Fellowship for Music Composition and Performance), this multi-instrumentalist and ordained Baptist pastor preserves, promotes and performs traditional African music while incorporating blues and original songs. He is a beloved storyteller and co-founder of a non-profit organization, Common Chords, which creates community, cultural and historical connections through music and the arts. Did we mention what a full, rich voice he has?
Billy Strings – Billy Apostol, who played MerleFest in 2016, was named one of Rolling Stone’s Top 10 New Country Artists to Know in 2017. He is selling out venues quickly throughout the U.S., playing fast-paced bluegrass with a modern vision.
John Prine – No one writes a lyric like Prine, and no one delivers it like him, either. American folk music’s every man (former mailman, Viet Nam vet, cancer survivor) is a multiple GRAMMY winner and the first singer/songwriter to give a reading at the Library of Congress. Listening to his live renderings of his classics “Angel from Montgomery,” “Illegal Smile,” “Dear Abby” and “Sam Stone” is not to be missed.
Pete & Joan Wernick – His Ph.D. in sociology and enthusiastic dedication to teaching closeted banjo aficionados to get out and play has earned him the nickname “Dr. Banjo.” Wernick was a founding member of Hot Rize and currently tours with his wife, Jean, and his bluegrass/jazz combination band, Flexigrass.
Mavis Staples –This national treasure marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, performed at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, was a featured actress in many of our favorite television shows and movies, and sang our soundtrack of the sixties and seventies with her family band, The Staple Singers. Enjoy the power and warmth of a voice that has only improved with precious time.
Charley Crockett –Catch him at his first (and surely not last!) MerleFest for some straight-from-the-heart country. Straight from the heart? Visit his website for his amazing back story.
Hogslop String Band – These first-time MerleFesters promise a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, face-that-hurts-from-smiling good time. Abigail Washburn calls them a “real deal groovilicious honkin’ old-time string band.” Enjoy!