Merlefest Day 1 – Friday
My day one trip report starts on day 2, because that’s just how I roll. And because I have that whole job thing and couldn’t get out on Thursday to see John Prine. Yes, I’m still a little pissy about that. But anyway.
So the plan is to blow out of the house by 10, be in North Wilkesboro around 11:30, see the Duhks (remember, huge crush on both girls in the Duhks) at noon, and go from there. Not so much. More like, get out of the house by 11:30, get to North Wilkesboro by 1, and head straight up to the Hillside stage to see Laura Love followed by the Avett Brothers (my niece Stephanie has a huge crush on the Avett Brothers, esp. the one with the banjo). I catch up with Bonnie (sister) and Steph in the parking lot, they landed about 5 minutes before I did, and we groove on up the road. Bonnie has had surgeries on both hips since December, so this weekend was going to be a mother of a test of her walking ability. We get there, go set up our base camp down by the Watson stage.
If you’ve never been to Merlefest, here’s a rundown. There are something like 11 stages scattered around the Wilkes Community College campus. The Watson Stage is the main stage, and is at the end of a big-ass field. At peak times, there are over 40,000 people in that field. Really. The Hillside stage is one of the B stages, where big acts play during the day, and can easily accommodate 10,000 people on the side of, yup, a hill. The Creekside stage is another B stage, with similar accommodations. Most of the other stages have enough real estate for a few hundred to maybe a 1500 at the Austin stage. On top of a friggin’ mountain is the John A. Walker Center, the main auditorium for the college. It seats about 1200 and is a great place to see a concert. It’s also home to the annual Midnight Jam on Saturday nights. That’s a tough ticket to come by, as a rule.
So our M.O. is to set up our chairs and cooler (no booze, it’s a dry festival) at the Watson stage at the best place we can find, and wander the campus seeing acts at other stages during the day, then we reconvene at the Watson for the evening shows, since they shut down all the other stages at dusk or so. This year looks like a monster year for attendance, because at 1PM-ish, our best seating was at least a football field away from the stage. No worries, since UNC Public Television has provided a monster video screen.
So we get to the Hillside, and Laura Love starts up. Laura is a singer-songwriter-activist from Seattle who stirred up some folks two years ago with her love song to G.W. Bush called “I want you Gone.” She serenaded the pres again this year, but there weren’t any boos from the crowd this time. She put on a hoppin’ set, full of fun dialogue and thumping bass. I went up afterwards and asked her for a picture for my blog. I didn’t explain the Snailtrax T-shirt to her, figured that was a little more info than she was ready for on just her first day at the festival.
Midway through her set, I looked over to my left, and saw my friends Jim and Mel walking up the hill! Jim had been a great supporter of our theatre for years, and he and Mel are just great folks. I had no idea they came to Merlefest, and we realized that we’ve managed to miss each other for about 8 years at the festival. Easy enough to do in a crowd of 50K.
After Laura, the Avett Bros. took the stage. These guys are from around Charlotte, and they’ve been a huge hit locally for a while. I had never seen the appeal. I bought one of their earlier albums and was less than impressed, but they are great live! They have a ton of energy and can solid jam when they get going. Steph of course took about a dozen pictures, and she couldn’t remember which Avett got married last year, but it made her a little sad. She’s turned into a great kid, and I love going to concerts and festivals with her and her mom. The Avett boys were smoking and I definitely have a new appreciation for their music, which is why I love festivals in the first place.
After the Hillside sets, it was down to meander and grab a little grub. Merlefest food tents are all provided by local charitable and educational institutions, so I paid waaaayyyy too much money for a couple of slices of Pizza Hut pizza to benefit a local elementary school. It’s for the childrens, yo. Missed the Mammals on the Americana stage because I was stuffing my face, so now I’ve missed two bands I wanted to see. That made my next decision easy – it’s time to climb the hill and see Darrell & Wayne Scott in the Walker Center followed by the Duhks & the Mammals in a jam together.
More to come…