MerleFest 2018: Sam Bush

As MerleFest 2018 approaches, a highlight from one of the 100+ performing acts will be featured daily…

If joy were a person, he’d bring both peace and frenzy. He’d be full of music, light, and energy that soothes even as it stirs us up. Eyes closed, wire-rim glasses in place, mandolin pressed against his ribs, joy would be Sam Bush on a stage.

“I feel fortunate that when it’s time to play, no matter how I feel physically or mentally, once the downbeat starts, my mind goes to a place that’s all music,” says Bush. “The joy of the music comes to me and overtakes me sometimes––I just become part of the music.”

The Father of Newgrass and King of Telluride has long since established himself as roots royalty, revered for both his solo and sideman work, which includes time with Harris, Lyle Lovett, and Béla Fleck. But instead of kicking back and soaking up honors such as an Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award and suite of Grammys and International Bluegrass Music Association trophies, Bush still strives relentlessly to create something new.

Raised on a farm just outside of Bowling Green, Kentucky, Bush grew up plowing tobacco fields in the Southern summer heat alongside his family. He started playing mandolin when he was 11 years old. “I believe growing up on a farm probably helped me channel my energy into learning music and being so interested in it,” Bush says. “Me and my sisters, we all loved it. I’ve often wondered if that’s because growing up on a farm, you couldn’t go ride your bike all over town and horse around like the other kids.”

For Bush, a lifetime of channeling his energy has led to stylistic innovations that have changed the course of bluegrass and roots music alike.

“When we play live on stage, if people can feel the joy we’re feeling, then we have succeeded,” Bush says. “That’s the goal to me of playing music: Did the audience feel something?”

Bio courtesy of

Come experience it for yourself, don’t miss Sam Bush on Saturday night (April 28) at MerleFest!

Saturday, 7:30pm-9:00pm (Watson Stage)

View the full MerleFest schedule and stage lineup here.

Shinyribs: Get Your Dose Today

Shinyribs is a band unlike any other with the cure you need, even if you didn’t know you did…

Shinyribs, a name synonymous with entertaining, high-energy, can’t miss performances. The ability to entertain through stage presence, voice, music and the sheer talent of everyone involved – audiences are always left wanting more after any of their shows. From the always fun and thoughtful introductions to a never know what you’re going to get show, Shinyribs has been wowing audiences throughout the land since 2007 and in their current form for the past few years.

Led by lead singer Kevin Russell, formerly of The Gourds, Shinyribs began as a side project before morphing into the awesome show they are today. Performing both their own original music and a number of covers, Shinyribs never fails to entertain and their reputation precedes them.

Our first experience with Shinyribs was a 12:20am (start time) show on Day 1 of Mile 0 Fest and Russell was electric. Backed by the Tijuana TrainWreck Horns and Shiny Soul Sisters, Russell wore an eye catching outfit and danced the night away while jamming to the tunes and appearing to enjoy every last second of his set.

So too did the crowd who treated the late night set as a warm up for their main stage performance. Donning a bright yellow suit, Russell took the stage for a few songs before leaping from the riser and initiating a conga line throughout the festival grounds.

Whether you are familiar with the sounds of Shinyribs or not, one thing is guaranteed. You will be entertained. Always worth the price of admission, Russell and his crew never disappoint and he’s brining the cure to whatever ails you at MerleFest this year.

Their latest album, “I Got Your Medicine,” was released in 2016 and couldn’t have come equipped with a better title. Even if you’re oblivious to the gaping hole in your musical spectrum, Shinyribs will fill it with one live performance.

The combination of country, folk, bluegrass, funk, rap and any other genre you can think of creates a sweet elixer of enjoyment that you won’t soon forget.

Don’t miss Shinyribs on day one (April 26) as they kick off MerleFest here in North Carolina!

Thursday, 4:15pm-5:15pm (Watson Stage)

View the full MerleFest schedule and stage lineup here.

Live Review: John Moreland Weekend

John Moreland covered Charlotte and Black Mountain over the weekend…

John Moreland is one of the best songwriters in the industry and his addition of a full band has only served to increase his level of entertainment. While previous encounters with the Oklahoma based singer were far from stale, the backing of another guitar, bass, and drum kit plus an occasional keyboard or harmonica (sometimes both!), adds a different level of flare to his live performances.

Having witnessed Moreland on three separate occasions prior to his two-day run through North Carolina, it’s also refreshing to see him incorporate both aspects of his arsenal into every set.

Now, not only can Moreland rock the lyrics of ‘Sallisaw Blue’, ‘Love Is Not An Answer’ and Tom Petty covers but he can also slow it down for his acoustical renderings – always a crowd favorite.

Both appearances by Moreland this past weekend were in festival type settings as Tuck Fest at the U.S. National Whitewater Center on Friday featured numerous attendees for the many various other activities taking place and Saturday celebrated Pisgah Brewing’s 13th Anniversary.

Regardless, there were still those in attendance who came to see Moreland specifically – especially in Black Mountain. Moreland entertained both crowds with similar sets and each crowd was entirely receptive. No matter the initial reason for being in attendance, it is safe to assume that many left as new fans of Moreland and his many talents.

Not only did the crowds appreciate the up-tempo approach early but each was close to reverent when Moreland sat, guitar in hand and doled out the agonizing lyrics to ‘Cherokee’ and ‘Break My Heart Sweetly.’

If you didn’t get an opportunity to be at either of the shows this weekend, Moreland is returning to North Carolina on Friday (April 27) of this week. You can see him at The Ramkat in Winston-Salem, so start making plans to end your week right – you’ll be glad you did.

Two unique venues and one amazingly talented singer/songwriter made for an awesome combination of live musical entertainment this past weekend!

MerleFest 2018: The Mavericks

As MerleFest 2018 approaches, a highlight from one of the 100+ performing acts will be featured daily…

The Mavericks were founded more than 25 years ago by Malo and Deakin as a standout alternative band in a Miami rock scene dominated by hair metal and punk. Improbably, they were noticed by super-producer Tony Brown in Nashville, and when they got signed to innovative MCA Records, they upended expectations in country music. Their blend of Cuban grooves and Bakersfield-inspired twang netted them several CMA and ACM Awards plus a Grammy in 1995. They charted numerous singles and albums while earning accolades as one of the finest live bands in the business. There was some time off and re-jiggering of personnel, but they came back strong with 2013’s In Time and 2015’s Mono, albums that provided abundant material for a refreshed and unmatched stage show.

“We’ve traveled a lot in the last four years. And we’ve come back from a hiatus of nine years to find a brand new purpose — not just to go out and play for tickets and do the oldies,” says Eddie Perez. “Not many bands get to come back from that long to have another moment like this. So I believe it to be quite special.”

Bio courtesy of

Don’t miss The Mavericks on night one (April 26) as they close out the Watson stage performances to open MerleFest!

Thursday, 9:00pm-10:15pm (Watson Stage)

View the full MerleFest schedule and stage lineup here.

MerleFest 2018: Steve Martin and Steep Canyon Rangers

As MerleFest 2018 approaches, a highlight from one of the 100+ performing acts will be featured daily…

Steep Canyon Rangers have been expanding the parameters of bluegrass since coming together in 2000. Since then, the genre-defying band has developed a remarkable catalogue of original music – predominantly co-written by Sharp and bassist Charles R. Humphrey III – that links them to the past while at the same time, demonstrates their ambitious intent to bring string-based music into contemporary relevance.

With that goal in mind, Steep Canyon Rangers have in recent years begun collaborating with some of Americana’s most distinctive producers, working with top studio hands like Larry Campbell (2013’s TELL THE ONES I LOVE) and Jerry Douglas (2015’s RADIO) to take newfangled routes in crafting their ever-evolving approach. OUT IN THE OPEN sees the band teaming up with Joe Henry, an accomplished singer-songwriter as well as a 3x GRAMMY® Award-winning producer (Solomon Burke, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Carolina Chocolate Drops) with a particular affinity for American roots music.

Steep Canyon Rangers attempted to fast finish a number of additional songs but Henry wisely advised them to call it a wrap: OUT IN THE OPEN was complete. With that, the band returned to the endless highway they call home for near 150 nights a year. Indeed, Steep Canyon Rangers are easily among the hardest working bands in any genre, anywhere, pulling double duty on their own and as collaborators with Steve Martin. Since teaming with the legendary actor-comedian-writer-banjo player in 2009, SCR has produced not one but two unique bodies of work, dual catalogues in constant development – along with their own works, the band has teamed with Martin for 2011’s GRAMMY® Award-nominated RARE BIRD ALERT and 2017’s THE LONG-AWAITED ALBUM, while also backing Martin’s own partnership with Edie Brickell on both 2013’s LOVE HAS COME FOR YOU and the sold out tour that followed (captured for posterity on 2014’s STEVE MARTIN AND THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS FEATURING EDIE BRICKELL – LIVE CD/DVD).

In addition to the highly anticipated release of OUT IN THE OPEN, 2018 will also see Steep Canyon Rangers uniting with their local Asheville Symphony for a series of unprecedented live performances and the recording of yet another new album, once again pushing their increasingly distinctive music into unexpected terrain.

OUT IN THE OPEN is an undeniable milestone on Steep Canyon Rangers’ ongoing creative journey, its spirited, eclectic approach recasting the myriad sounds of string-based American music in their own unique image. As they fast approach their second decade, Steep Canyon Rangers are still moving forward, as ever searching for new horizons and musical vistas.

Bio courtesy of

See the Steep Canyon Rangers with special guest Steve Martin close down the weekend on Sunday (April 29) at MerleFest!

Sunday, 4:00pm-5:30pm (Watson Stage)

View the full MerleFest schedule and stage lineup here.

MerleFest 2018: Rhiannon Giddens

As MerleFest 2018 approaches, a highlight from one of the 100+ performing acts will be featured daily…

It was toward the end of the T Bone Burnett–curated September 2013 Another Day, Another Time concert at New York City’s Town Hall—a celebration of the early ’60s folk revival that had inspired the Joel and Ethan Coen film Inside Llewyn Davis—when singer Rhiannon Giddens indisputably stole the show. Performing Odetta’s “Water Boy” with, as the New York Times put it, “the fervor of a spiritual, the yips of a folk holler, and the sultry insinuation of the blues,” Giddens brought the star-studded audience to its feet. She was the talk of the lobby during intermission as those attendees unfamiliar with her Grammy Award–winning work as a member of African-American folk interpreters Carolina Chocolate Drops wondered who exactly Rhiannon Giddens was, with her elegant bearing, prodigious voice, and fierce spirit.

On her Nonesuch solo debut Tomorrow Is My Turn, Giddens and Burnett revisit “Water Boy,” its Odetta-arranged work-song rhythm serving as both provocation and a statement of power. Giddens delivers an equally thunderous rendition, one made all the more striking when placed between a gentle, ruminative interpretation of Dolly Parton’s “Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind” and a version of Hank Cochran’s “She’s Got You,” popularized by Patsy Cline, that Giddens imbues with “an old-timey R&B vibe,” abetted by Carolina Chocolate Drops band-mate Hubby Jenkins. The breadth of musical vision on Tomorrow Is My Turn fulfills the promise of that brief but stunning star turn at Town Hall. The album incorporates gospel, jazz, blues, and country, plus a hint of proto-rock and roll, and Giddens displays an emotional range to match her dazzling vocal prowess throughout.

The songs here, says Giddens, “are all facets of the human condition.” Taken together, they answer the question Twyla Tharp posed at the beginning of Giddens’ solo adventure. Tomorrow Is My Turn is a composite portrait of “Ruby,” of America, and of Giddens herself, whose turn is clearly right now.

Bio courtesy of

Make certain you’re on hand for Rhiannon Giddens set on Saturday (April 28) at MerleFest this year!

Saturday, 5:00pm-5:45pm (Watson Stage)

View the full MerleFest schedule and stage lineup here.

Sarah Shook on ‘Years’, the Album and Title Track

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers latest album Years continues to build momentum…

Two weeks ago Sarah Shook released her second album, Years with a hometown show at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, just outside of Chapel Hill. The event was held to celebrate the album release and kick off a multi-state tour that recently turned international with dates added in Sweden and Norway to start the summer.

The album has been widely accepted as Shook has been praised for her hard work and ability to speak her mind through engaging lyrics (and in the real world) without hesitation. Never in fear of potential repercussions, Shook stays true to herself and continues to move forward. It is this resiliency that has catapulted Shook and her band into the spotlight.

Two years ago Rolling Stone named Shook as one of ten artists that fans needed to know. Offering the following comments in an attempt to describe her and the band.

Her sound is a sneering fusion of punk-rock autonomy and say-it-like-it-is country from the classic era, paired with a timeless vocal warble and tons of attitude. Honest to a fault and as foul-mouthed as a drunken sailor, she’s a nonconforming spitfire who’s proud of not fitting in with mainstream country music. Nor does Shook hold back when writing about whiskey and hard living, screwing up and failed romance (with guys and girls) — whether in her songs or her combative social-media posts.

Needed to know then and well known now, without changing her approach although Years is a more polished album with a purpose. Recently, we caught up with Shook to discuss the album release and how things have changed since her first record, Sidelong.

RDNC: How exciting is it to host your album release show here in North Carolina with back-to-back dates in Carrboro and Charlotte?

SS: We are so pumped for a huge home show for the release of Years! We haven’t played locally since New Year’s Eve and it’s gonna rip. (It did)

RDNC: You’ve previously mentioned that Years is about finding a way. As your second album is about to debut, how has finding your own way changed since Sidelong?

SS: I’ve grown a lot as a person and as an artist since we released Sidelong. I’m single for the first time in about 11 years and spending a lot of solid alone time, getting myself together and preparing to tour like crazy for the rest of the year.

RDNC: Obviously, each of the 10 tracks on the new record have a special meaning but is there one, in particular, that outweighs the others for you personally?

SS: Years is one of the crucial tracks, it’s about acknowledging a need for change and reconnecting with yourself after years of pouring yourself into a black hole of a relationship.

Just this week the new record popped up on Billboard charts, reaching number 10 in the ‘Heatseekers’ category for top-selling albums by new or developing acts. Only officially two weeks old, the future is looking bright for Shook, the Disarmers and Years.

MerleFest 2018: Jamey Johnson

As MerleFest 2018 approaches, a highlight from one of the 100+ performing acts will be featured daily…

The Washington Post considers him to be “one of the greatest country singers of our time.”

Since Johnson doesn’t create a set list, no two shows are the same, so the once-in-a-lifetime concerts will be unforgettable. “I don’t know what I’m going to do until I am standing there doing it,” he says. “That is a freedom I have enjoyed ever since I began doing this, the ability to try something new.

For the last decade, Johnson has earned critical and commercial success for his traditional country sound. His 2008 album, That Lonesome Song, was certified platinum for 1 million in sales, and his 2010 double album, The Guitar Song, received a gold certification. He has been nominated for 11 Grammys.

In addition, he is only one of a few writers in history to win two Song of the Year Trophies–for “Give It Away” and “In Color—from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association. He has received tremendous praise from The New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal and other publications.

In 2012, he released the Grammy-nominated Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran. In 2014, he created his own label, Big Gassed Records, to release his own songs and albums as well as the music of other artists.

Tour information provided courtesy of

If you’ve never witnessed a Jamey Johnson set live then do not miss Friday (April 27) night’s MerleFest finale. If you have, then you already know to be there.

Friday, 9:45pm-11:00pm (Watson Stage)

View the full MerleFest schedule and stage lineup here.

Red Dirt NC: Weekend Watch, April 20-22

From Black Mountain to Greenville, there’s plenty of opportunities for great live music this weekend…

Regardless of your preferred method for enjoying live music, this weekend has you covered. From enjoying a good meal and drink with friends, a more typical venue or even a festival, there’s something for everyone across the state here in mid-April (that can’t seem to shake January).

Barley’s Taproom has some of the best pizza in the western part of the state and the “Fiddlesticks” are a must. Both the Visulite Theatre and Buccaneer Music Hall are more traditional venues and you’ve got two great options to see John Moreland.

Tuck Fest is happening at the US National Whitewater Center with all sorts of events occurring over the weekend, including live musical performances – of which Moreland is performing a set on Friday night. Saturday, you can catch him at Pisgah Brewing up in Black Mountain – another wonderful music venue with great craft beer.

FRIDAY – APRIL 20, 2018

Pistol Hill – Barley’s Taproom, Spindale

Independent and traditional country music. Emerging local artists within the genre featuring both original songs and covers from some of your favorite individuals and bands.

Old 97’s – Visulite Theatre, Charlotte

“There aren’t more than a handful of bands in history who can claim to have an intact, unchanged line-up as they approach twenty-five years together. There is, of course, no real blueprint or rulebook for sustaining the kind of chemistry that Miller, Bethea, Hammond, and Peeples enjoy. ‘I think our longevity can be attributed primarily to our friendship and ability to overcome those moments when egos want to overtake and obliterate everything in their path,’ says Miller … ‘We’re just very lucky to be able to do this for a living. It’s insane and beautiful and we never, ever take it for granted.”

John Moreland – Tuck Fest, Charlotte

“In churches learning how to hate yourself/Ain’t grace a wretched old thing” he sings, the song called “Ain’t We Gold.” Big Bad Luv is unmistakably a rock ‘n’ roll record. If, that is, one understands the term to include Ray Wylie Hubbard, John Hiatt, and Lucero. Or The Band, maybe. Insistent songs, coming from a voice as elegant as unfinished barn wood, songs which insist upon their words being heard.


Corey Hunt Band – The Buccaneer Music Hall, Greenville

“Hunt’s songwriting ranges from sincere romanticism to outlaw rebellion, and their do-it-yourself approach to booking, recording, and gigging has given them the freedom to explore and expand their music as they grow.  With room to grow and momentum on their side, their crowd-pleasing and relatable take on modern roots music is poised for bigger and better things every time they hit the stage or the studio.”

John Moreland – Pisgah Brewing, Black Mountain

A second opportunity this weekend!

SUNDAY – APRIL 22, 2018

No shows currently listed.

Look for us out on the road this weekend and enjoy the shows! Don’t forget, keep spreading the love, one song at a time…

MerleFest 2018: Robert Earl Keen

As MerleFest 2018 approaches, a highlight from one of the 100+ performing acts will be featured daily…

“The road goes on forever…”

It’s not always easy to sum up a career — let alone a life’s ambition — so succinctly, but those five words from Robert Earl Keen’s calling-card anthem just about do it. You can complete the lyric with the next five words — the ones routinely shouted back at Keen by thousands of fans a night (“and the party never ends!”) — just to punctuate the point with a flourish, but it’s the part about the journey that gets right to the heart of what makes Keen tick. Some people take up a life of playing music with the goal of someday reaching a destination of fame and fortune; but from the get-go, Keen just wanted to write and sing his own songs, and to keep writing and singing them for as long as possible.

“I always thought that I wanted to play music, and I always knew that you had to get some recognition in order to continue to play music,” Keen says. “But I never thought of it in terms of getting to be a big star. I thought of it in terms of having a really, really good career and writing some good songs, and getting onstage and having a really good time.”

Now three-decades on from the release of his debut album — with well over a dozen other records to his name, thousands of shows under his belt and still no end in sight to the road ahead — Keen remains as committed to and inspired by his muse as ever. And as for accruing recognition, well, he’s done alright on that front, too; from his humble beginnings on the Texas folk scene, he’s blazed a peer, critic, and fan-lauded trail that’s earned him living-legend (not to mention pioneer) status in the Americana music world. And though the Houston native has never worn his Texas heart on his sleeve, he’s long been regarded as one of the Lone Star State’s finest (not to mention top-drawing) true singer-songwriters.

He was still a relative unknown in 1989 when his second studio album, West Textures, was released — especially on the triple bill he shared at the time touring with legends Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark — but once fellow Texas icon Joe Ely recorded both “The Road Goes on Forever” and “Whenever Kindness Fails” on his 1993 album, Love and Danger, the secret was out on Keen’s credentials as a songwriter’s songwriter. By the end of the decade, Keen was a veritable household name in Texas, headlining a millennial New Year’s Eve celebration in Austin that drew an estimated 200,000 people. A dozen years later, he was inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame along with the late, great Van Zandt and his old college buddy, Lyle Lovett.

Bio provided courtesy of

You will not want to miss Robert Earl Keen on Thursday (April 26) during MerleFest this year.

Thursday, 7:15pm-8:15am (Watson Stage)

View the full MerleFest schedule and stage lineup here.