Sign up for newsletter
 

Five acts to discover at MerleFest

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 – By Kevin Oliver
MerleFest is a roots music fan's dream come true, with four days of bluegrass, folk, Americana, country, traditional and more to take in. 75,000 people are expected to attend this weekend's 30th anniversary edition of the festival, and while there will be crowds for the headliners and well-known acts such as Zac Brown Band, The Avett Brothers, Steep Canyon Rangers, Leftover Salmon and others, it's in the small stages and early time slots where one can discover talented acts that might be new to them. If you're going, here are a handful of lesser-known gems to seek out during the weekend.

Mipso: This is home turf for this North Carolina ensemble, which blends bluegrass and more contemporary songcraft to come up with a hybrid that's accessible to the traditional crowd and their grandkids, too. 2013's "Dark Holler Pop" was produced by Andrew Marlin of Mandolin Orange and it featured members of Chatham County Line and Town Mountain, while 2015's "Reverie" debuted on the top of the Bluegrass Albums chart.

Given that success and the fact that this isn't their first time at MerleFest (guitarist Joseph Terrell won in the 'General' category of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at the festival in 2014) it might not be accurate to call them "lesser-known" at this point. There will be several chances to see them, including an opening slot for the Midnight Jam on Saturday night as well as sets on the Americana, Hillside, and Cabin stages over the weekend.

Saturday, April 29 @ 4-4:45 PM @ Americana Stage
Saturday, April 29 @ 11:30-11:59 PM @ Walker Center Stage
Sunday, April 30 @ Midnight- 2:30 AM @ Walker Center Stage
Sunday, April 30 @ 12:30-1:15 PM @ Hillside Stage
Sunday, April 30 @ 3:35-4:15 PM @ Cabin Stage

I Draw Slow: This Irish band played MerleFest a couple years back and drew bigger and bigger crowds with each subsequent set they played due to their energetic, heartfelt performances; this year they'll only be there on Saturday, so don't miss your chance to see them.

I Draw Slow balances true Irish traditional sounds with flavors of bluegrass and a little rock 'n' roll; siblings Dave and Louise Holden are songwriting and singing partners who mix American folk into their Celtic storytelling style. They have a brand new album "Turn Your Face to the Sun," released April 21 on Compass Records.

Saturday, April 29 @ 10-10:45 AM @ Watson Stage
Saturday, April 29 @ 11:45 AM-3:45 PM @ Walker Center Stage
Saturday, April 29 @ 4-5 PM @ Traditional Stage
Saturday, April 29 @ 9-10 PM @ Dance Stage

Front Country: San Francisco might seem an unlikely place for a roots-pop outfit to coalesce, but the members of Front Country managed to find common musical ground from disparate origins and the result is a soul-flecked, country-derived acoustic pop style that's original and audacious, never claiming to be authentic but hitting many of the same sweet spots as their more Appalachian-steeped peers. Their new album "Other Love Songs" is out now.

Saturday, April 29 @ 4:15- 5 PM @ Watson Stage Saturday, April 29 @ 10:30-11:59 PM @ Dance Stage

The Stray Birds: Begun as buskers in Lancaster, Pa. seven years ago, The Stray Birds come to their second MerleFest appearance expanding their original trio to a quartet with the addition of a drummer/percussionist for 2016's "Magic Fire" album. True to their street corner origins, the band still keeps arrangements simple, but that brings a clarity to their vocal harmonies which evokes old-time music while bearing all the flourishes of modern roots music. Maya De Vitry's fiddle/violin adds a mournful, yearning tone while the new percussion option fills out the songs and adds another dynamic layer to an already intense live show.

Friday, April 28 @ 11:30 A.M.-12:15 PM @ Watson Stage
Friday, April 28 @ 1:15-2:15 PM @ Creekside Stage
Friday, April 28 @ 4-4:30 PM @ Autograph Booth
Friday, April 28 @ 5-5:45 PM @ Walker Center Stage

Megan Nash: Canada's answer to Lucinda Williams may be Megan Nash, who sings hauntingly beautiful songs such as "Lampshade" with a throaty voice that's part Lucinda, part Cary Ann Hearst, dipping into a growl as often as it soars to the high notes. For Saturday's Austin Stage set, she'll be joining a group of other songwriters from both sides of the border in what's billed as "Crossing Borders: American and Canadian Artists in the Round." Also appearing during that set: Ken Tizzard, Joe Smothers, Sarah Burton, Chris Jones and Jim Avett

Thursday, April 27 @ 7-7:30 PM @ Autograph Booth
Thursday, April 27 @ 8:15-9 PM @ Cabin Stage
Friday, April 28 @ 1:30-2:15 PM @ Hillside Stage
Friday, April 28 @ 9:45-10 PM @ Austin Stage
Saturday, April 29 @ 3:45- 4:45 PM @ Austin Stage

MerleFest happens this Thursday, April 27-Sunday, April 30 on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, N.C. For tickets, full schedules, lineup, and more visit the official website at www.merlefest.org.

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: Stuart turns up the honky tonk – Late in the afternoon before heading up to Penn's Peak, news broke that the venue was nominated by The Academy of Country Music as one of the top five small venues for 2018. This foreshadowed a special vibe for Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives on this night, playing for about 1,000 fans. The band, together now for 16 years, bedecked in... »»»
Concert Review: Trampled by Turtles overcome sad songs – There's light in the darkness of Trampled by Turtles. The latter is in the subject matter of the songs - there's a lot of doom and gloom in these relationships. There doesn't seem to be a lot of happy moments. As if to underscore that, the stage was often saturated in dark hues. So, where's the light? Well, despite the cup... »»»
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

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.... »»»
Hillman bides his time Legends don't come any more legendary than Chris Hillman. The roll call of bands that comprises Hillman's half century in music reads like a wing exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas, the Souther Hillman Furay Band, the Desert Rose Band,... »»»
The Cadillac Three creates its "Legacy" William Shakespeare noted a few centuries back that a rose by any other name would be equally aromatic, and that general idea has musical implications as well. The Cadillac Three knows a thing or two about maintaining a sonic identity after a name change;... »»»
With Stanley and Watson, sound isn't elementary Those aware of the late Owsley "Bear" Stanley likely know him for one of two reasons - his pioneering work manufacturing lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in San Francisco during the mid-to-late 1960s and his role as an innovative sound engineer. Most notably, Bear worked...... »»»
May shifts gears, directions Headed into 2015, Imelda May was on a hit streak. Her rockabilly career was in full swing, nurtured by the likes of former Squeeze keyboardist Jools Holland and guitar icon Jeff Beck. Her albums routinely topped the charts in her native Ireland.... »»»
Hard Times Are Relative CD review - Hard Times Are Relative
Jason Boland and The Stragglers serve up the ninth helping of their unapologetic, get it or not, country, in the past 20 years. This appears to almost be two EP's with the first mostly being a hard country dance cd and the second being a little more "out there" mix of fun and contemplative tunes, much less easy to categorize. »»»
Life is Good on the Open Road CD review - Life is Good on the Open Road
After a four-year-break from recording, Duluth, Minn. sextet Trampled By Turtles return with its eighth studio release of edgy bluegrass and Indie folk/rock. Lead singer Dave Simonett wrote all of the mostly dark themed lyrics with the lone instrumental that showcases the band's topflight musicianship, "Good Land," credited to bandmate Erik Berry. »»»
Last Man Standing CD review - Last Man Standing
Willie Nelson is 123 years old and this is his 85th album. No, that's not right, He's 85 and this is something like his 123rd album. At a certain point, the years and the numbers don't mean much any more. The bottom line is Willie Nelson has been around for a long time and made a lot of music.  »»»
Graffiti U CD review - Graffiti U
It's telling how two songs on Keith Urban's "Graffiti U" album chug along to a reggae beat because pop rhythms and non-country elements are the obvious inspirations for this collection. Opener "Coming Home" may borrow (steal?) a guitar riff from Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried," but this is where that country road begins and ends. »»»
Voices CD review - Voices
Having a dozen or so original songs to make an album has never mattered to Tom Rush nor has the idea of churning out an album every year or two. The iconic '60s folk singer has spread out about 20 originals over the span of 11 studio albums. »»»