Apr 29, 2013

Merlefest 2013...

Overhead view of the Main Stage area.  We are in row 28 on the lower left in this image.

The late, great Doc Watson
As I've posted many times before, Merlefest is a marvelous celebration of Americana and "Roots Music" that takes place in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina every April.  It was established to celebrate the life and music of Merle Watson, son of legendary guitarist and singer Arthel "Doc" Watson, who passed away last year.  This was my 24th Merlefest and would be the first without Doc's inspiring presence.  The weather man was predicting a wet weekend, but Mary Ann and I left on Thursday prepared for any kind of weather.

For the last 22 years, the Mead entourage had stayed at the Red Carpet Inn in North Wilkesboro.  It was conveniently located near Wilkes Community College, the venue for the festival.  But each year, the motel became less attractive and more expensive.  This year we decided to break with tradition and stay in Boone, about 35 miles from the festival, and commute each day.  We were in a brand new Courtyard Marriott -- clean, bright, fresh, and free of mold.  Hooray!

After we arrived Thursday evening we drove to Wilkesboro and reserved a parking place for the weekend at a parking venue just outside the entry gate.  This way, even if we got a late start in the morning, we'd have a convenient place to launch our daily expedition.  We then proceeded to Amalfi's, a local Italian restaurant that we had discovered a couple years ago and are very fond of.  After a pleasant, liesurely dinner, we returned to Boone for a great night's sleep.

The Hillside Stage, one of many venues

The Courtyard chain has forged an alliance with Starbuck's Coffee, so first thing after I awoke, I went to the lobby and got two cups of strong coffee to get us started.  We got ready and proceeded to the festival, got our wristbands and went to our reserved seats near the main stage.  Because of the size of the festival, there are nine active stages and venues.  Each act or performer rotates through various performance venues over the four-day course of the event.  They might appear on the main stage one night, then be in the dance pavilion the next day, and then lead a workshop at a different location at another time.  The whole thing is very carefully choreographed and seems to go off like clockwork.

We always see new acts that surprise us.  This year, we discovered Scythian (an upbeat band with a Celtic flair), Della Mae (a terrifically energetic all-girl band), and Matraca Berg (a very talented songwriter from Nashville).  Ms. Berg inspired the audience with a description of a charity she was involved in, Magdeline House, that helps prostitutes proceed out of their unfortunate lives.

Della Mae
We stayed until after 10:00 PM on Friday, making sure we heard a couple of numbers from Government Mule before we left.  It was already drizzling when we arrived on Saturday, so we tended toward indoor venues -- the Old-Time Tent and the Walker Center Auditorium.  We stayed until a little after five, at which point it was raining pretty steadily.  As we were leaving the Walker Center, I turned to two young ladies and asked them if they had tickets to the "Midnight Jam."  They didn't have tickets.  I told them it was their lucky day and gave them our tickets.  The Midnight Jam is a limited admission musical free-for-all that is a great experience, but we had already decided not to go.  We were glad to see that someone could use our tickets.

On Sunday, we slept in.  We had wanted to hear some of the Sunday acts, especially the Avett Brothers, but it was raining cats and dogs.  We decided to have a liesurely lunch and take a little tour on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  One of the hotel staff recommented Coyote Kitchen.  We found it and had a wonderful lunch.  Then it was on to the Parkway for a few miles to the Cone House Visitor's Center and Craft Center.  We went a few more miles after enjoying the Cone House, but the fog was too thick to see any vistas, so we decided to descend on an access road and head home via Elizabethton and Knoxville.

Although we didn't witness as much music as we have at some previous Merlefests, it was still a relaxing and enjoyable music weekend.

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