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Rain doesn't slow Avetts, Merritt

Wilkesboro Community College (Merlefest), Wilkesboro, N.C., April 28, 2013

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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If it's Sunday morning at Merlefest, then it's time for gospel music, and this year's choices included Jim Avett (father of the Avett Brothers) and the SC Broadcasters.

Given the persistent rain, it was no surprise that the Broadcasters' set was well-attended (it was dry inside the tent), and they didn't disappoint in delivering a solid set of what they refer to as "Rowdy Gospel," classic songs of faith delivered with their contemporary spin on old-time musical energy. Ivy Sheppard and Sarah Osborne of the SC Broadcasters stuck around the Traditional tent for the subsequent offering, dubbed "Women Who Sing" and also featuring Tara Nevins of Donna the Buffalo, two members of the Sheets Family Band, Laura Boosinger, Kim McWhirter and Carol Rifkin.

In songwriter round fashion each woman offered up a song, some done a capella, some as a sing-along with the audience, and the last tune all together, with banjos and guitar accompaniment.

The afternoon brought several interesting sets, including the Kruger Brothers performance of what they dubbed an "Appalachian Concerto" combining their bluegrass lineup with members of a local symphony orchestra for an almost Aaron Copland-like result.

Sunday-only performers Tift Merritt and the Avett Brothers drew fans despite the steady rain; many of the Avetts crowd in particular were there only for the brothers' set. Merritt took the weather in stride, commenting that her instrument didn't like the rain any more than people did, and that she'd invite the wet crowd on the stage if she could "you could play spoons and we'll just tell them you're all with the band," she said, only half-jokingly.

Musically, Merritt was in fine voice, sounding a bit like Emmylou Harris on the slower, more atmospheric numbers; her band included steel guitarist Eric Heywood and drummer Aaron Levy, making it top-heavy with talent.

The Avett Brothers' set drew in the crowd from the far reaches of the festival until the line between the reserved section (mostly empty for Merritt with all the early departures due to the weather) and the rest of the field was blurred, the fans allowed to file in and fill the open spaces for a standing-in-the-rain set.

Despite the rainy finale, this year's Merlefest can be considered another successful year, with newer acts such as Black Lillies, the SC Broadcasters, and Della Mae making lasting impressions and the headliners living up to expectations.