Merlefest has held a special place in our hearts here at Americana Rhythm for more than 15 years. It was while working with another publication, Singer & Musician Magazine, that I was encouraged to check out this amazing four day celebration. I had never heard of Merlefest, and only vaguely knew the name Doc Watson.
I was blown away! I had been involved in music as an amateur musician, and then as a disc jockey since the late 70s. Never had I experienced such an event. I came home with many emotions and experiences, but the burning question in my mind was, ‘why had I never heard of Merlefest?’
Originally created in 1988 as a way to honor Merle Watson, the late son of Doc and Rosa Lee Watson, the annual event had already been taking place for 12 years before I happened upon it.
When I asked around my home area, a little less than four hours away from Wilkesboro, North Carolina where the festival was held, few people knew what I was talking about, or anything about many of the groups I had seen play there. It was the spark I needed to create a publication dedicated to promoting the kind of music I was now falling in love with. Thus, the birth of Americana Rhythm Music Magazine.
Fast forward to the spring of 2020; Due to the uncertainty in the world, for the first time since 1988, there would be no Merlefest. Postponed. I was so disappointed. Then in the winter of 2021, the message came again; postponed. Not again! But this time though, came a glimmer of hope. It was rescheduled for September, ’21.
After scrambling to ensure the safety of the attendees, volunteers, and artists alike from the resurge of covid19, Merlefest 2021 sprang into action on September 16th with a triumphant return. With only a few visible adjustments, the planning team and volunteers pulled off an amazing experience.
Outstanding performances by Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, Tedeschi Trucks Band, LeAnn Rimes, Sam Bush, Mavis Staples, Charley Crockett, Paul Thorn, and many others, filled the four day festival with passion driven entertainment, and even a few tears of joy, as the crowds delighted at being together again and sharing the bond of music.
Festival Director, Ted Hagaman offered this; “I want to thank all of our MerleFest family—artists, volunteers, staff, and fans—for their patience and support as we worked together to put on a safe and enjoyable festival that spotlighted the very best in roots-plus music.”
While my wife and I were sad to exit the Wilkes Community College campus at the conclusion of the festival on Sunday, September 19th, we took comfort in the thought that Merlefest would be back soon; this time, in just seven shorts months, as it returns to its regular time slot of late April. April 28th – Mat 1st, 2022 to be specific. We’ll be there! Will you?
Stay tuned to www.merlefest.org for the 2022 line-up and how to purchase tickets.
By Greg Tutwiler