North Carolina’s own MerleFest returns for its 31st year next April with a lineup that features Jamey Johnson, Robert Earl Keen, Paul Thorn’s Mission Temple Fireworks Revival (featuring The McCrary Sisters and Gospel Music Hall of Famers The Blind Boys of Alabama) and a rare treat: 81-year-old Country Music Hall of Famer Kris Kristofferson.
As always, Doc Watson’s family’s tribute to his late son – a family-friendly foray into folk, bluegrass and roots music and a North Carolina institution – will be held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro (about 90 minutes from Charlotte), in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The 2018 edition of the festival will be held April 26-29.
The initial lineup of more than 100 artists, announced Tuesday afternoon, also includes five artists who have been on the bill every year since MerleFest was founded in 1988: Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Joe Smothers and Jack Lawrence.
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But the coup this time around is Kristofferson, a three-time Grammy Award winner who has recorded 30 albums – including three with pals Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings as part of The Highwaymen – and written songs for more than 450 artists. He’s also enjoyed an acting career that has spanned five decades and a variety of genres, from a Golden Globe best-actor win for his turn opposite Barbra Streisand in 1976 love story “A Star Is Born” to his recurring role as a vampire hunter in the action-horror “Blade” trilogy.
Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2004, the man responsible for hits like “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Help Me Make It Through The Night” also could be seen recently in the CMT special “The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson.”
MerleFest began as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College, its home, with music sessions, open-mike opportunities, competitions, contests and stages for homecoming-like sessions for seasoned pros.
With these and other components in place, MerleFest has evolved into a multi-stage extravaganza considered the largest and leading annual show of its type. It attracts performers from all over the world, but points up the massive contributions northwestern North Carolina has made to roots music. (This past spring, Zac Brown and The Avett Brothers headed up the bill.)
Unlike, say, Bonnaroo, MerleFest is a listening-focused, family-friendly event; alcohol and tobacco are banned.
In addition to the aforementioned names, the initial lineup for 2018 also includes The Devil Makes Three, Balsam Range and the Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble, and the following artists:
Aaron Burdett, Alberti Flea Circus, Andrew Collins Trio, Andy May, Ari Eisinger, Ashley Heath and Her Heathens, Banknotes, Bill Mathis, Bob Hill, Bryan Sutton, Brynmor, Cane Mill Road, Cardboard Fox, Carol Rifkin, Jeanette Queen, Mark Queen, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, Charles Welch, Cicada Rhythm, David Holt and Josh Goforth, Dead Horses, Donna the Buffalo, Doolin, Elephant Sessions, Erin Harpe;
Flatland Harmony Experiment, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, Fireside Collective, Gunner & Smith, Hannah Shira Naiman, Happy Traum, Horsemen Let’s Ride, Hubby Jenkins, Hummingbird Crossing, Jayme Stone’s Folklife, Jeanette Williams Band, Jeff Little Trio, Jeffrey Foucault, Jody Carroll, Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, Junior Appalachian Musicians Band;
Laura Boosinger, Lauren and Lane, Lindsay Lou, Lillian Chase, The Lonesome Ace Stringband, Lori King and Junction 63, Mark Bumgarner, Mike Aiken Band, Mitch Greenhill, My Bubba, Note Ropers, Nu-Blu, Pete & Joan Wernick, Piper Jones, The Po Ramblin’ Boys, Richard Ray Farrell, Richie and Rosie, Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley, Robin and Linda Williams, Rosie & the Riveters, Roy Book Binder;
Sarah Jane Scouten, Savannah Smith and Southern Soul, Scythian, Sideline, Smitty and the JumpStarters, Steve and Ruth Smith, String Madness, T Michael Coleman Band, Ted Olson, Tennessee Jed Fisher, Terry Baucom’s Dukes of Drive, The Barefoot Movement, The BattleAxe Band, The East Pointers, The Hackwells, The InterACTive Theatre of Jef, The Kruger Brothers, The Lang Sisters;
The Local Boys, The Lonely Heartstring Band, The Mastersons, The Midatlantic Band, The New River Drifters, The Waybacks, The Wildmans, Susana and Timmy Abell, Tony Williamson Band, Unspoken Tradition, Virginia Hollow, The Way Down Wanderers, Wayland, Wayne Henderson, Wesley Bright & The Honeytones, and Whitewater Bluegrass Company.
Additional performers will be announced in the coming months.
Also Tuesday, MerleFest announced that its popular “Midnight Jam” will be hosted by hard-driving Carolina string band Town Mountain and Grammy- and Americana Music Association Award-winning musician Jim Lauderdale. The jam is scheduled to start at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28, and will run well past midnight.
Tickets for next year’s festival, as well as the Midnight Jam, are available now at www.MerleFest.org or by calling 1-800-343-7857.