Highlights from the first two days of MerleFest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
The 2019 installment of MerleFest greeted music lovers with passing rain showers and high winds during the first two days before near perfect conditions rolled in over the weekend. Despite the less than stellar weather, fans packed the festival’s multiple stages and braved the changing elements to hear a stacked lineup of artists.
Fortunately, neither day was a complete wash out and the breaks often offered a pristine setting for listening in the mountains. There were numerous items to report on including the wide array of food options, vendors, artist access via an autograph tent, sound quality in an outdoor setting and the logistics of putting everything together but after thirty-plus events it’s apparent those responsible for MerleFest have a vast majority of the details figured out.
Following are the three best things witnessed over the festival’s first two days.
Lead singer B.J. Barham expressed his gratitude from the MerleFest Dance Stage moments after kicking off his first of two performances. The North Carolina native and band that was founded in Raleigh, made their debut and immediate impression all within a relatively short time frame.
Following their first 45-minute set, a festival representative commented that it was apparent the crowd on hand wanted them back one year from now. The energy behind each song of the initial show, including a few off their latest album, “Things Change”, made midday on a Friday feel like an epic Saturday night.
Moments later, the band was completing sound check on the always popular Hillside Stage for an encore. Many of those in attendance followed the band to catch a second show, interrupted momentarily by one of the passing showers but a majority of the crowd hung on to hear Barham’s stories and songs. A long time coming, the rising trajectory and momentum for this group continues as their case for a future Watson Stage performance was made.
Kentucky singer-song writer Tyler Childers also made his MerleFest debut by headlining the Watson Stage on Friday night. From the moment he opened with ‘Whitehouse Road’ until his set was over, the entire audience was focused on his talents. Appearing poised and confident, Childers impressed with his song style and tales.
Truly a crowd appreciative of the musical aspects, it was one of the best sets witnessed over the course of two days. From the patrons seated up front to those across the valley on blankets and in camping chairs, experiencing one of the best currently in music grow his fan base was fun to watch.
Founded in memory of Eddy Merle Watson, the family experience at MerleFest is unmatched. The influences of Doc Watson and others extend to this day from the traditional-plus approach of musical styling to the commitment of giving back and full fledged community support.
Not only was the presence of family a familiar feature, as it is each and every year, but it extended to the stage as well. While there were many different families performing over the course of the festival, two in particular shined on Thursday night.
Junior Brown and his wife Tanya Rae Brown were on the Watson Stage ahead of Wynonna Judd and her band the Big Noise, featuring Cactus Moser – Judd’s husband. Both pairs discussed dealing with medical issues and returning from struggles to continue doing what they love. The family roots of MerleFest run deep and they were on full display as each of the final two groups on the Watson Stage Thursday evening helped kick off an amazing weekend of music across the campus of Wilkes Community College.