The beat of hundreds stomping their feet to the southern sounds of MerleFest returns this weekend. The annual festival starts this Thursday in Wilkesboro and brings three days and four nights of folk and bluegrass music back to the foothills of North Carolina.
Bluegrass legend Doc Watson started MerleFest in honor of his son Eddy Merle Watson in 1988. Since then it has brought in acts like Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss and Nickel Creek. This year’s festival rolls on with popular North Carolina natives The Avett Brothers and Chatham County Line. MerleFest’s 13 stages will be busy through the weekend with the sounds of dulcimers and events like the “Greatest Acoustic Blues Show on Earth," but here are five acts you will not want to miss:
Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn
Thursday, April 23rd, 7:00 p.m., Watson stage
The two banjo powerhouses will be headlining the first night on the big stage because, well… they deserve the big stage. The husband-and-wife duo consistently offer audiences a calm, collected and elegant performance. Fleck is an internationally-acclaimed virtuoso on the banjo and accompanies intricate melodies behind Washburn’s soothing vocal. They released their first album together last year and it was named one of Folk Alley’s top folk albums of 2014.
Donna the Buffalo
Friday, April 24th, 3:15 p.m., Watson stage
Saturday, April 25th, 5:00 p.m., Creekside stage
Donna the Buffalo may be from New York, but their twang seems so natural you would think the band is from Louisiana. For the past 25 years, Donna the Buffalo has stewed a pot of many southern flavors. Ranging from cajun zydecho to Americana rock, the band emanates a contagious dance-fueled energy audiences can not pass up.
"I Love My Tribe"
Cahalen Morrison & Eli West
Saturday, April 25th, 5:15 p.m., Americana stage
The Seattle duo are a pristine example of folk music’s rusticity and elegance. The recipe to the pair's songs is simple: guitar, mandolin and storytelling. But the way the two mold a world of intimacy and tranquility around such a basic framework is a true folk testament. Listening to Morrison & West you can’t help but imagine the pair lounging together on their porch sharing tales of lost love and personal longing. Check out their song “Down in the Lonesome Draw” and let the emotional journey begin:
Friday, April 24th, 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., Little Pickers Stage
Saturday, April 25th, 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., Little Pickers Stage
A little silly and a lot of fun, Farmer Jason is a folk act for the kids. With songs like “Punk Rock Skunk” and “The Doggie Dance,” Jason has an abundance of charisma and an Emmy to prove it. If the kids (or adults) are lulling to sleep during the festival, take them over to see Farmer Jason for a quirky and cute roundup of entertainment.
Friday, April 24th, 6:20 p.m., Cabin stage
The young bluegrass group has been steadily gaining a reputation in the Piedmont over the past few years, and is continuing to grow in in both sound and members. The group recently added fiddler Libby Rodenbough, who wrote “Down In the Water” off the band's new two-song EP, Faces. The release is a promising step for a young group with two full-length albums already under its belt. Guitarist Joseph Terrell won the festival’s Songwriting Contest last year with the serene “Angelina Jane is Long Gone.” Will he repeat this year? With a healthy portion of endearing songs, it is certainly possible.
"Down In the Water"