Returning the Favor and other Slices of Life

Returning the Favor
Returning the Favor
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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More from the fest of Merle

After hanging with Tony, Peter and Tish on the Austin Stage, we meandered around and got some food. I picked up a decent pork tenderloin sammich because the lines were shorter, and then we hung out while Donna the Buffalo played the main stage. I love seeing them at festivals, because the hour or 90 minute set is about the perfect amount of Donna the Buffalo for me. They're a little more jam band than a lot of the acts, and they don't really light my fire the way some of the other Merlefest regulars do. But for an hour set, I think they're great.

After Donna was done, it was Sammy Time. Now as you may know if you've read here often, my sister is a little bit of a Sam Bush stalker, so I've seen a lot of Sam in my time. And I had a great time this time, the band was tight, the set was rockin'. I hooked up with my friends Douglas and Gillian right before the set started, so I spent a lot of the set talking rather than watching the band, but that was okay, too. Adding Scott Vestal on banjo has done wonders for their live sound. The banjo was definitely the missing link in their sound for the past few years. They were jamming, and brought out Peter Rowan for the requisite reggae number, and it was cool as always.

The Avett Brothers closed out the main stage on Friday night, and that was a definite departure. The Avetts are a couple of guys from just north of Charlotte who have developed a rabid following over the past few years. I find their albums to be tepid, but their live shows are great. I think if they could ever manage to translate their live shows onto their cds, they'd blowup huge. On their albums, they just sound like yah-yah guys singing kinda old-timey stuff, but live they are a kickin' blend of bluegrass and punk rock, with plenty of screaming. So much so that I worry for the longevity of the singer's voice, but it ain't my voice, so what do I care. They put on a really fun set, and it was obvious that a good chunk of the remaining crowd was there just for the Avetts, and it got a little rowdy towards the end, with folks tearing down one of the crowd barricades to get close to the stage. I hope that they'll be asked back, but their crowd by and large wasn't quite into the Merlefest vibe.

Lemme expound on that a little. I know a bunch of you have gone to some big music festivals, some of you have gone to festivals much bigger than this one. But if you haven't been to Merlefest, you haven't been to the coolest festival on the planet. It's one of those places where everyone is just kinda hanging out being cool for days on end. They run 80,000+ people through the campus of this little community college without any real incident over the course of 4 days. I've gone to many Merlefests in my time, and I don't think I've ever seen anyone get hauled out of the festival in handcuffs. Now compare that stat to the average rock concert.

The lines for everything are short or nonexistent, and you can usually get right up to the stage to see the acts. There is reserved seating at the main stage, but before 5PM those seats are open to anyone until the owner of the seat comes back. So if there's something in the afternoon you wanna get down front for, go ahead, no worries. A great example of the vibe is that we set up our chairs down at the main stage early each day, and leave our stuff. Now I've usually got a backpack full of clothes, and sometimes have a camera or other essential equipment in that bag, and I've never had anyone mess with it. I even left a hat and shades laying on a table in the food tent for about 45 minutes on Saturday before I wandered back to it, and nobody touched a brand new Merlefest cap. That kinda thing doesn't happen at most festivals. That's one of the things that keeps me going back.

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