Last updated: June 01. 2013 12:08AM - 313 Views
Lindsay Craven
Staff Writer

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MerleFest kicks off its 26th year today. This year’s festival will pay tribute to the late bluegrass and folk music legend, Doc Watson.

The festival is named after Watson’s son Merle. Doc Watson, who died in May 2012, who has performed at every festival since its beginnings in 1986.

The annual bluegrass and folk music festival takes place from April 25 through April 28 and will feature performances from over 90 artists on 14 stages.

“For those wanting an affordable weekend getaway, MerleFest provides a true value to its customers,” said festival director Ted Hagaman. “The admission prices are extremely reasonable - especially considering that we feature over 90 artists on 14 stages. Also, there are no hidden charges.

“We provide free parking, a free shuttle that will deliver you to the entrance, a free program guide as you enter, and all children 12 and under are admitted free with a paid adult,” Hagaman continued. “In addition, our Little Pickers Family Area for children offers each child the opportunity to make crafts and participate in several interactive exhibits – all free of charge.”

Acts to look for

Thursday’s highlighted performances include The Charlie Daniels Band, Leon Russell, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Dehlia Low, Red Molly, The Greencards and Enter the Haggis.

Friday’s highlighted performances include Gov’t Mule, The Del McCoury Band and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Steep Canyon Rangers, Delta Rae, Donna the Buffalo, Jim Lauderdale Scythian and The Waybacks.

Saturday will feature legends like Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, John Cowan, The Kruger Brothers and David Holt.

Sunday brings The Avett Brothers, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Jim Avett, South Carolina Broadcasters, Jack Lawrence and Tift Merritt.

Special performances

MerleFest has several signature performances and contests that it brings back each year. The first event of the year will be the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest on Friday. Jim Lauderdale is a judge for the event and the winners will perform the winning entries on the Cabin Stage that night.

The Doc Watson Guitar Championship is also held on Friday and will be judged by Peter Rowan, Owe Kruger and last year’s winner Benjamin Cockman.

The Merle Watson Bluegrass Banjo Contest is held on Friday and will be judged by Pete Wernick, Steve Lewis, Blind Boy Paxton and last year’s winner Brandon Green.

The Hillside Album Hour will return for its sixth year. This event is hosted by The Waybacks and surprise guests and is shrouded in secrecy every year.

The Waybacks host a Facebook page and post periodic clues as to what the mystery album might be but nothing is revealed until the first note floats across the Hillside audience.

This year Saturday’s premiere event will be the Celebration Jam that evening. The jam will be hosted by Sam Bush and will feature Jeff Little, T. Michael Coleman, Jack Lawrence, Bryan Sutton and David Holt playing Doc’s favorites tunes and sharing their Doc stories with the audience.

Another large annual event is the Midnight Jam at midnight on Saturday. This event is a separated ticketed event and will take place in the Walker Center. This year it is hosted by Scythian with special guests The Waybacks, Donna the Buffalo, John Cowan, Jim Lauderdale, The Black Lillies, The Honeycutters, Pokey LaFarge and many more.

Outside the music

The festival also offers a large merchandise tent called the MerleFest Mall, where attendees can purchase music from their favorite artists of the weekend and grab a t-shirt or hat.

For a more extensive shopping experience attendees can peruse the Shoppes at MerleFest where there are demonstrating artisans, jewelry, clothing and shoes, art and photography, house wares, instruments and more.

There is a special family dedicated area called Little Pickers where children can take in free arts and crafts activities, entertainment and special kid friendly performances.

Want to go?

Tickets are still available for purchase and can be picked up at the gates starting Thursday at 2:30 p.m. and Friday, Saturday and Sunday starting at 9 a.m.

Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at lcraven@civitasmedia.com.

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