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MerleFest gets underway

Wilkes Community College, Wilkesboro, N.C., April 26, 2012

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

MerleFest kicked off the 25th anniversary of the North Carolina music festival with a fine outing from Canadian band Deep Dark Woods on the main stage. Their brand of rootsy, Band-inspired Americana was a perfect start to a weekend of what the festival folks refer to as "Traditional Plus."

One facet of MerleFest that's always fun is the many musicians who sit in with others; during the Deep Dark Woods' set production legend John Keane (Widespread Panic, Vic Chesnutt and many more) sat in on keyboards for a song.

Florida duo Jubal's Kin followed on the Cabin side stage with the first of several performances they have scheduled for the weekend. They played this one as a trio, but mentioned from the stage that they have a pedal steel player coming in tomorrow for the rest of their sets, which should only add to their upbeat, vaguely old-time and very energetic sound.

Lost Bayou Ramblers played the Doc and Merle Watson stage for their second consecutive appearance at MerleFest. The band's uptempo Cajun style is yet another genre one can hear at the festival. The surprise of the day was the set from Steel Wheels, an acoustic act and Merlefest rookie that wowed the crowd with a tight single-mike sound inspired by but not limited to bluegrass. Their opening a capella number quieted the late afternoon audience immediately, and the crowd remained appreciative throughout the short set.

Overall, it was a very strong Thursday lineup, with excellent sets from Daily & Vincent, Donna the Buffalo with Jim Lauderdale and Vince Gill wrapping up the evening with a set that included but didn't lean on his best known country hits.