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: Stapleton shows his traditional roots – Chris Stapleton's All-American Road show feels like a singular mission to rid the genre of the bro country scourge that has plagued it for years. He came out with a blazing one-two punch of "Second One To Know" and "Without Your Love" and packed a stadium sized onslaught into a 9,000-seat arena. He never once veered from his... »»»
Concert Review: Jinks wins over fans, especially new ones – Cody Jinks asked the crowd a bit into his show how many had never seen him before. It seemed like Jinks has made a lot of musical inroads into the public's consciousness because roughly three quarters of the audience raised their hands to show that this was their first time. That probably made Jinks feel pretty darn good about how life has been... »»»
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

Willis, Robison spin "Beautiful Lie" Eleven years ago, Kelly stepped away from music. She had just finished touring on 2007's exquisite "Translated From Love" and felt the angst of being a travelling musician with family at home. At that point, Willis and her husband, musician/producer Bruce Robison,... »»»
Chip Kinman celebrates brother, career on "Sounds Like Music" For a brief moment last summer, the news of Tony Kinman's death was, if not greatly exaggerated, then at least fortuitously premature. The roots rock icon, known for his work in The Dils, Rank and File, Blackbird and Cowboy Nation with his younger brother Chip, had been diagnosed with cancer in March 2018,... »»»
Shiflett learns "Hard Lessons" Until recently, Chris Shiflett took a somewhat obsessive/compulsive approach to his music career. For the past two decades, Shiflett has been the primary guitar foil for Dave Grohl in Foo Fighters; early in his tenure, Shiflett was so self-deprecatingly... »»»
White embraces "The Hurting Kind" John Paul White, to paraphrase a Steve Earle song, may just be one of the last of the hardcore troubadours. By 'troubadour,' we mean one of those guys that lives to write great songs - more specifically, great country songs - and then get these songs into the ears of folks that... »»»
Bingham gets personal with "American Love Song"...again A lot of the early reviews for "American Love Song," Ryan Bingham's latest set of raucous and reflective Americana brilliance, have characterized it as the singer/ songwriter's most personal album to date.... »»»
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.... »»»
Threads CD review - Threads
With "Threads," Sheryl Crow gets the all-star-guest treatment on what she says is her swang song, with each song featuring a favorite fellow artist. She seems a little too young for this kind of tribute. Nevertheless,  »»»
Let it Roll CD review - Let it Roll
Midland is more magicians than musicians. When the trio came out with their omnipresent 2017 single "Drinkin' Problem," they pulled off their first trick: a brand-new band to radio who sounded like old friends. Their sound and their look (matador »»»
While I'm Livin' CD review - While I'm Livin'
It's been 17 years since we've had a new album from Tanya Tucker, so it's a real pleasure to hear her clear throaty vocals deliver these songs with her characteristic raw emotion. Tucker knows how to get into a song and make it her own »»»
Gypsy CD review - Gypsy
Eilen Jewell's "Gypsy" opens with the ominous, mysterious "Beat the Drum," which is a swampy - and yes, gypsy - song of warning about some impending doom or other. It plays out like a softer type of vintage... »»»
Texas CD review - Texas
Rodney Crowell is a rare breed of a country songwriter. Yes, he knows how to write traditional country songs; it's just he's also a deep thinker, which requires extra effort on the part of the listener to appreciate them fully.  »»»
New Moon Over My Shoulder CD review - New Moon Over My Shoulder
Larry Sparks was still a teenager when Ralph Stanley chose him to replace his brother Carter Stanley as guitarist and lead singer in the Clinch Mountain Boys in the wake of Carter's passing in December 1966. »»»