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Through the Lens

Focusing on the finest roots music photography

Amos lives in West Virginia, where he works with Mountain Stage and takes stunning photographs of live music performances.

Through the Lens

Focusing on the finest roots music photography

Amos lives in West Virginia, where he works with Mountain Stage and takes stunning photographs of live music performances.

This Was Not Your Dad's MerleFest

I didn't get a chance to catch Jody Carroll's set but I did get to meet him. I was so impressed with his bio & the discussion we had that I trusted my instinct & bought a CD. I listened to it on the way home from Merlefest & was so impressed with his blues. He is an expert storyteller in the old, raw, gritty fashion. I'm glad you gave him a mention.

It was definitely a Merlefest to remember &, for me,  one of the best in the 18 years I have been attending. Your takeaway & photos are fantastic, as always. Thanks!

The article's title is rather amusing. I overheard a few gentleman talking about how it appeared that fewer "college kids" had attended this year's Merlefest. As I looked around, the audience was mostly made up of graying boomers, like myself.

I was about 50th in line waiting for the gates to open on Thursday. I looked back at the crowd that had gathered behind us, stretching down the sidewalk towards Wendy's, and there was nothing but gray hair for 100 yards. 

Not to say there weren't any people under 30 there, of course there were, but it did seem a bit more of an older crowd than I remembered. 

 

You were too kind to Kristofferson. Artists should not rest on past laurels. The voice was shot. How could you not mention the absolute highlight of the weekend (personally speaking). The Mavericks! They put on an unbelievable performance. They finally let lose the horn section. Tommy Emanuel did not know how to fit in with Jerry Douglas but did with Bryan Sutton. The Jerry Douglas Band was excellent and about as for out as I can go with this music. I did like Andrew Collins with a little western swing. No mention of Rhiannon Giddens? I'm not a Petty fan so I did not stick around for the Album Hour on the Hillside Stage. An interesting Merlefest but I was hoping for a few more surprises from the lesser bands. It was interesting that they put major acts on the Cabin Stage. Rodney Crowell and Bryan Sutton. 

Have to agree with you on Kris Kristofferson. He never had a good voice. Age has not treated it well.

I skipped the Mavericks. Saw them a few months ago and  I was just too cold and wet to stick around. I regretted not staying, but at my age, cold and wet, leads to sick and in the hospital. They are a great live band. 

I did not regret skipping the "Hillside Album Hour" and seeing Rhiannon Giddens instead. Toughest choice of the weekend but Rhiannon was extraordinary. What a great voice. What a great band.

Jerry Douglas has left the Bluegrass world and is making pure Jazz records now. I really like the new CD, but I understand why some fans who loved his Bluegrass days haven't followed him the past few years. He's making music more familar to fans of John McLaughlin, Pat Methany or Al Dimeola.

No new bands moved me as much as Cadillac Sky did 10 years ago, but there were some great surprises for me with the "Po Ramblin' Boys, Unspoken Tradition (though I think I was one of the few who had not heard them), The Lonely Heartstring Band, Rosie and the Riveters. And how about Pressley Barker? That kid held his own with Bryan Sutton and Tommy Emmanuel.

You were too kind to Kristofferson. Artists should not rest on past laurels. The voice was shot. How could you not mention the absolute highlight of the weekend (personally speaking). The Mavericks! They put on an unbelievable performance. They finally let lose the horn section. Tommy Emanuel did not know how to fit in with Jerry Douglas but did with Bryan Sutton. The Jerry Douglas Band was excellent and about as for out as I can go with this music. I did like Andrew Collins with a little western swing. No mention of Rhiannon Giddens? I'm not a Petty fan so I did not stick around for the Album Hour on the Hillside Stage. An interesting Merlefest but I was hoping for a few more surprises from the lesser bands. It was interesting that they put major acts on the Cabin Stage. Rodney Crowell and Bryan Sutton. 

Good write-up that captures essence of last weekend.  I was there all three main days under perfect weather. Another reason for going three days this year was the quality and diversity of the line-up.  Merlefest really is a premier American roots festival. 

When I was listening to the Jerry Douglas/John Medeski and band collaboration on Sunday, I was reminded of the famous Youtube video of the initial Merlefest in 1988 with the performers on the back of a flat-bed truck.  The band backing the Tony Rice song in the video included Fleck, O’Connor, Douglas, Bush, and Cowan.  What struck me was that all of the performers on stage for that song were in their bluegrass or early-newgrass phase and have re-invented their musical styles many times since.  This was evident at this year’s festival with wide-ranging and creative performances by Sam, Bela, Jerry, and John.  I am told that after the 1988 festival Doc said that he did not want it to be another bluegrass festival.  Instead, the phrase “traditional plus” has been coined to describe the wide-ranging music of the festival.  

Doc also emphasized the desire to have musical collaborations at Merlefest.  This year I got to see Douglas/Medeski , Paul Thorn/McCrary Sisters/Blind Boys of Alabama, Lauderdale/Buddy Miller/N. Miss. Allstars, Balsam Range/Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble, and Allison Brown with help from the Irish band (from France) Doolin’.  Doc has to be grinning at this year’s version of Traditional-Plus.

Some other specific highlights from my perspective:

The first-ever sunset performance at Hillside included the afore-mentioned set by The Devil Makes Three from California.   I knew of them as an up-tempo lively three-person acoustic string act with great songwriting, sometimes satirical and other times serious.  The band added an electric guitar and drums to the festival set and this really helped rev the crowd up. 

Balsam Range band continues to blow my mind in terms of their harmonies and being nice guys.

Doolin’ is an Irish band that is slightly more traditional than fan favorite Scythian but had just as lively a set at dance tent.

On Saturday evening at the dance stage, a “honkabilly” band, The Note Ropers, from upstate South Carolina, provided a realistic old-fashioned honky tonk dancehall experience.   I loved hearing steel backed by pounding drums and walking basslines.  I could only stay for a few songs before heading to the main stage.

Sam Bush and band moved seamlessly from bluegrass to reggae to country to funk to...  You get the picture.  Another Mr. Americana.       

My other favorite Watson Stage show Saturday night was the set with Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller swapping off on their songs, backed by the rockin' Hill Country blues stylings of the North Mississippi Allstars.  The Allstars collaborated with Lauderdale on a CD and Merlefest performance a couple of years ago.  I thought it was nice that Lauderdale yielded to Buddy for many songs since Miller has not been to Merlefest that often.  They are both truly the essence of Americana music.  In fact, Lauderdale mixed in some of his recent soul songs with country during his free-standing set.  Miller is an extraordinary electric guitarist. 

Aussie guitar wonder Tommy Emmanuel played a set with Jerry Douglas as well as being asked to share some songs with many other artists.  He really seemed to appreciate the hospitality.

The Waybacks and friends honored Tom Petty in the Hillside Album Hour with splendid recreations of some of his songs and played some Florida musician songs to remind us of the recent tragedy in that state.

The Steep Canyon Rangers show with Steve Martin was interesting.  I am still amazed at the Rangers-only main stage set last year.

The Cleverly's are a funny funny country band from Arkansas and good musicians to boot.

I did not go to the Midnight Jam session this year but thankfully it has been moved to a start time of 10:30. 

On the negative side, the current country acts on the main stage seemed out of place, even though some rock is played at the festival. 

I know this is the Golden Age of Hyperbole but  "Without Kristofferson there would have been no Willie, Waylon, and the boys, no Outlaw Country, no alt-country, no No Depression" is a bit over the top.