Sign up for newsletter
 

10 artists you need to see at MerleFest

Thursday, April 21, 2016This year's event - April 28-May 1 in Wilkesboro, N.C. - has plenty of both and with a full four days of music it can be daunting to decide who to check out, and when. Country Standard Time's Kevin Oliver will be on site covering the festival, and here is his preview of 10 bands you might not know about, but need to put on your list to check out while you are there, in order of appearance.

Tellico
3:45-4:15 p.m. Thursday, Cabin Stage
One of the advantages of playing MerleFest for many developing bands is that you get multiple sets over a day or two, creating word of mouth within the festival grounds and growing your audience along the way. Asheville, N.C. progressive bluegrass band Tellico is only appearing for this one brief set, however, so be sure not to blink. Formed by members of MerleFest veterans Dehlia Low and Town Mountain, the group's 2015 album "Relics and Roses," is a delightful spin on mountain music.

Foghorn String Band
10:45-11:15 a.m. Friday, Traditional Stage
12:15-1 p.m. Friday, Hillside Stage
2-2:45 p.m. Friday, Watson Stage
Self-described as "ass kicking, redneck string band music," the Portland, Ore.-based Foghorn String Band aren't as outlandish as that might suggest. A true string band, they play old time music the way one imagines it has been shared for over a century on back porches and mountain enclaves, with energy, soul and conviction.

The Whiskey Gentry
1:30-2:15 p.m. Friday, Hillside Stage
4:30-5:15 p.m. Friday, Walker Center
Husband and wife Jason Morrow and Lauren Staley of The Whiskey Gentry were finalists in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest a couple of years back; this time around they bring the rest of the band for two sets. A rip-roaring live show along with two John Keane-produced albums has earned them a reputation for bluegrass and country-tinged Americana that rocks with near-punk fervor.

Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Revue
6:30-7:30 p.m. Friday, Watson Stage
Probably the biggest name on this list, but still one that many are unfamiliar with, Mike Farris has enjoyed a long solo career after a brief fling with mainstream rock 'n' roll in the Screaming Cheetah Wheelies. His own material mixes with classic soul and and R&B his considerable vocal pipes can wrap around with ease. If you saw him guest with The Waybacks on the Hillside Album Hour a few years ago, you'll know what is meant when he has a full-scale show band behind him. Farris' only set promises to be a highlight of the weekend.

Barefoot Movement
9:45-10:30 a.m. Saturday, Americana Stage
2-2:45 p.m. Saturday, Walker Center
Bluegrass is experiencing a youth movement of sorts, and Barefoot Movement are right in the middle of the new crop of acts combining traditional sounds with contemporary energy and songwriting style, including surprisingly diverse tones and influences to create a unique acoustic signature sound.

Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show
10:45-11:30 a.m. Saturday, Creekside
If traditional bluegrass and bluegrass gospel is your thing, it doesn't get much better than Karl Shiflett and company. Firmly rooted in the Osborne Brothers and Stanley Brothers style that defined bluegrass bands early on and was as much classic country as it was bluegrass, Big Country Show is as much a description of what they do as it is the name of the band.

Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys
1:15-1:45 p.m. Saturday, Cabin Stage
6:30-7:15 p.m. Saturday, Americana Stage
Right at that intersection where bluegrass, folk, pop, jazz and more combine sits this Michigan band. Lindsay Lou's jazzy voice brings to mind Lake Street Dive while the ghost of Tony Trischka haunts the newgrass backing of the rest of the band, and their performances are nothing short of spellbinding. Their main set will be on the Americana stage, an appropriate venue for an act that personifies everything that all-encompassing genre tag implies.

Penny & Sparrow
10-10:45 a.m. Saturday, Hillside Stage
4-4:45 p.m. Saturday, Americana Stage

The Texas duo of Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke practice gentle acoustic heart-on-the-sleeve confessional singer-songwriter fare in the style of Storyhill, Griffin House and others. The pure simplicity of the arrangements and the way their voices intertwine in harmony combine for a memorable effect that's emotionally vulnerable but strongly present.

Zoe & Cloyd
11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Saturday, Walker Center
5:15-6 p.m. Saturday, Americana Stage
Two former members of MerleFest veterans Red June, husband and wife duo Natalya Zoe Weinstein and John Cloyd Miller, the Asheville residents have broad musical backgrounds in bluegrass, classical music, and more that comes out in their 2015 debut as a duo, "Equinox." They recently placed first in the duo category at the FreshGrass Festival in Massachusetts.

Jonathan Byrd and the Pickup Cowboys
10-10:45 a.m. Sunday, Hillside Stage
12:45-1:30 p.m. Sunday, Americana stage
North Carolina songwriter Jonathan Byrd has performed and recorded both solo and with various full band configurations, and while his songwriting can be concise, cutting, and topical all at once it is with a like-minded group of musicians that his songs really shine, taking the fuller, yet still country-folk based sound and creating a more evocative context.

The entire list of performers is at the MerleFest web site.

More news

CD reviews

Sho Nuff Country! CD review - Sho Nuff Country!
For a flicker in the early 2000s, there appeared on the national bluegrass scene a band that melded traditional bluegrass and country honky tonk sounds in a manner seldom heard since the heyday of Jim & Jesse and The Osborne Brothers. The Karl Shiflett and Big County Show appeared as a popular draw receiving solid notices, and the group released at least one stellar bluegrass album, 2001's "In Full Color." The follow-up "Worries On My Mind" had its moments. »»»
Holly Grove CD review - Holly Grove
Pity the poor record store worker (and yes, there are some left) who has to try and classify the Whiskey Gentry's new album, "Holly Grove." The band has a definite rock attitude, but it also features fiddles and banjos, making it bluegrass - except the drums put it in the country genre. Then again, those drums occasionally lean closer toward punk than country, and there's a Celtic feel to more than a couple of songs. In other words, it's an Americana album and a very good one at that. »»»
Take Me Back CD review - Take Me Back
There are artists who play in a retro style because they think it sounds cool or they're paying tribute to the past glories of their chosen genre, and then there are those such as Karl Shiflett, who sounds as if he was dropped into our century from a barn dance radio show circa 1946. The modern recording techniques and lack of tape hiss give away these tracks as contemporary creations, but don't tell Shiflett as he's apparently happy to continue indefinitely in his arrested »»»
Editorial: Walking the talk – When names like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon and the Hag are invoked, you're talking hard core country. These are the touchstones of country , the guys who made country music what it was and still is (or maybe can be). When these folks would sing about being down-and-out and the rough-and-tumble, they knew of what they were singing about. Fast forward a few years to the country singers of today. »»»
Concert Review: There's a lot to be said about The Felice Brothers – The Felice Brothers have soldiered on, occupying the fringes of the musical world with ups and downs. After not knowing whether the group would even continue following the departure of half of the band a few years ago, The Felice Brothers continued with a new rhythm section and a new album, "Undressed," that is heavily political.... »»»
Concert Review: Turner bring it on (to his second) home – Frank Turner opined during the first of four sold-out nights of the Lost Evenings Festival that Boston was his home away from his British home. The likable, accessible singer hit the sweet spot not only with his perspective, but his performance as well demonstrated why. Turner made a major change in this year's festival. For the first time, he... »»»
Follow Country Standard Time  Subscribe to Country News Digest  Follow Country Standard Time on twitter  Visit Country Standard Time on Facebook 

Elsewhere in the news

Currently at the CST blogs

Wilson goes her own way After having huge success at the get go with "Redneck Woman," Wilson eventually went her own way and took a break. During her "hiatus," Wilson started her own label and was a "120 percent mom" to her teenage daughter.... »»»
Carll tells it like it is A visit with Hayes Carll finds him taking a rare day off at home to discuss new album "What It Is" co-produced by Brad Jones and Carll's girlfriend, Allison Moorer. "This album works around three themes; our relationship (he and Moorer), the world and myself.... »»»
Watson gets "Lucky" Dale (The Real Deal) Watson has been releasing hard country albums since 1995 and shows no signs of slowing down on his most recent release, "Call Me Lucky." This record marks his third effort recorded in Memphis, at Sam Phillips Recording Studio, with Watson's regular touring band, The Lone Stars.... »»»
The Long Ryders return to action The Long Ryders have come a long way since they were initially associated with other Los Angeles relatively retro acts collected under the Paisley Underground umbrella. Even back during the mid to late '80s,... »»»
Taylor uncovers the past, offering new perspectives Suffice it to say that the past has always loomed large throughout Chip Taylor's career. That's all the more obvious if only for the fact that Taylor wrote some of the biggest pop hits of the '60s, "Wild Thing"... »»»
Tyminski goes dark Dan Tyminski (known simply as "Tyminski" on his 2017 release "Southern Gothic") has traditional music roots and unassailable bluegrass street cred especially given his membership in Alison Krauss' Union Station. He is also a powerful songwriter and has been writing songs for himself and others for years now.... »»»
Washburn, Fleck create "Echoes" Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn have powerhouse individual talents; each has followed an estimable career path to where they find themselves today: making complex, but spare, records, writing music together and touring with their son Juno. Their new release, "Echoes In The Valley" features mostly songs written by Fleck and Washburn, banjos, Washburn's strong vocals and very little else.... »»»
Front Porch CD review - Front Porch
Joy Williams' "Front Porch" album is a beautiful collection of acoustic, country-folk music. The title cut, for instance, includes sweet fiddling, while the rest of the album takes an appreciated low-key approach to its instrumentation. »»»
Hellbent CD review - Hellbent
Randy Rogers makes a big, bold statement with his title track, but it's the smaller insightful moment expressed through "Wine In A Coffee Cup" that stands out most. Rogers sings it empathetically over a swaying groove... »»»
When You're Ready CD review - When You're Ready
One of the most celebrated acoustic guitarists working within the Americana field, Molly Tuttle is two-time International Bluegrass Music Association Guitarist of the Year, the first female to be so honored. »»»
Stronger Than the Truth CD review - Stronger Than the Truth
The beauty of Reba McEntire's albums flows from her way with a phrase, knowing when to modulate to carry us deeper into sadness or joy and when to pull back when she wants us to listen quietly to the lessons of a tear falling. »»»
Reboot CD review - Reboot
Brooks and Dunn return with the duo's first studio album in a dozen years. Sort of. That's because they revisit a dozen of their hits (leaving a bunch behind) with contemporary country singers. »»»
GUY CD review - GUY
A decade after recording his tribute to Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle has released an album of Guy Clark covers. It includes, perhaps, Clark's best-known songs, "L.A. Freeway" and "Desperados Waiting For A Train," as well as a  »»»