Editorial: MerleFest lineup impressive again

Published 9:50 am Thursday, September 2, 2021

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If you’ve never been to MerleFest, this should be your year.

If you’ve been before, well, chances are you are either planning to attend this year or you want to attend this year. It’s that good.

Like always, the music festival on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro features some of the biggest names in music. It also features some of the best musicians and songwriters around. The two don’t always go together – but at MerleFest – they do.

Yes, there can be crowds, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings. But it’s a big venue. Plenty of seats for those who want to pay the big bucks, and grassy areas where you can take your own chairs to see and hear the music. The crowds shouldn’t be a deterrent.

And within an hour of just about anywhere in Davie County, you’ll be in Wilkesboro. I’ve been inside the venue in that amount of time from my house in western Davie. So the drive shouldn’be be a deterrent.

What about Covid? As of now, adults entering the venue will have to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test. Fair enough for the times we’re in. And like I said, there’s plenty of room to spread out.

Let’s go over some of my favorites this year.

I’d have to pick Thursday night (The festival is four days and nights (Thursday-Sunday, Sept. 16-19) as the one I’d be most interested in.

You’ve got Sturgill Simpson closing the night on the main Watson Stage. Some pretty good Waylon Jennings’ honky tonkin’ will be going on. Even better, prior to Sturgill taking the stage, Margo Price will bring her own brand of honky tonk music to MerleFest with lines like “I put a hurtin’ on the bottle, Baby now I’m blind enough to see, I’ve been drinking whiskey like it’s water, But that don’t touch the pain you put on me.” It’s nice to hear women singing those drinkin’ and lovin’ songs for a change, and she is one of the best at it. The following is her take on the Nashville record business in the song “This Town Gets Around:” “When I first came here the streets were paved with gold. And you can walk that road, I’ve been told. But I won’t put out or be controlled. I don’t write the #@!% that gets bought and sold.”

Prior to Margo Price taking the stage, Scythian will be there. You can catch them at the Carolina Bible Camp Bluegrass Festival in Mocksville on Sept. 11. They get around, too.

Friday night is another blockbuster, with the Tedeschi Trucks band as the headliner. If you want to hear perhaps the greatest blues and rock and roll guitarist in the world, go listen to Susan Tedeschi. Lee Ann Rimes – a grown up version of the child country music star – performs right before Tedeschi Trucks. Pretty impressive.

Some folks can’t miss The Waybacks, a West Coast band that performs every year at MerleFest. Their “Hillside Album Hour” every Friday draws thousands as they play every song from an iconic rock album. That album remains a secret – supposedly – up until they take the stage. They often have some powerful guest musicians join in on the fun.

On Saturday, the lineup stays strong with the Sam Bush Band and Shovels and Rope headlining. Every day, on the multiple stages, you can hear the likes of Tommy Emmanuel, Donna the Buffalo, Jim Lauderdale, Krueger Brothers, Presley Barker and more – much more.

My only complaint about this year’s lineup happens on Sunday. Two of my favorites – Shinyribs and Paul Thorn – play at the same time on different stages. I’d be torn as to which way to go. But you do have Mavis Staples and Melissa Etheridge ending the festival.

MerleFest in September? It’s another victim of Covid and the scare it has caused. MerleFest is usually held at the end of April, but was moved to September. My problem: My wife and I had already planned a getaway for that weekend before the date change was announced. And although our trip includes a show by country music’s Craig Morgan, we’ll miss MerleFest – and Paul Thorn’s Sunday preaching: “Holy Ghost. Big Bang theory. Pentecostal. Fire and brimstone. Mission Temple Fireworks Stand.”

– Mike Barnhardt