MerleFest, which begins next Thursday, has long boasted some of acoustic music’s legendary players and songwriters in its lineup. While festival veterans and famous names like Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Tim O’Brien, and John Prine are on the bill with the returning Alison Brown, Scythian, Kenny and Amanda Smith, and Steep Canyon Rangers, the 100-act, 13-stage schedule allows for plenty of time to check out artists that are new to the fest. Here are a few recommendations.
EmiSunshine, 3 p.m. Thursday. An 11-year-old singer-songwriter who appeared on “The Today Show” after her flea market performance went viral, she’s a diminutive band leader who carries herself with the confidence and vocal power of a performer twice her age. Unapologetically true country, her big Southern voice is down home like a tween Miranda Lambert leading the Carter Family.
April Verch, 12:45 and 4 p.m. Friday, 9:30 a.m. and 8:15 p.m. Saturday. The Canadian step-dancing fiddler, who charmed Charlotte Folk Society audiences in the past, makes a lively mix of old-time, Celtic fiddle tunes and folk music. And in her Ottawa Valley tradition, Verch sings, fiddles and dances simultaneously, providing percussion via taps on her shoes. She even dusts the stage with sand to mimic brushes on a snare drum.
Liz Vice, 1:45 p.m., Sunday. Ramseur Records hasn’t had a big hit since the Avett Brothers, but this Portland, Ore., singer’s refreshing blend of classic soul and gospel-infused R&B may turn out to be the Concord-based label’s latest breakout. That’s if she’s given time to win over music fans who missed her stellar 2015 debut, “There’s A Light.” Those folks would be wise to catch her live.
Brandi Carlile, 2 p.m. Sunday. She may have started her career as a folk-inspired pop-rocker with an amazing alto, but working with T-Bone Burnett, bringing more traditional roots flourishes to her 2015 album, “The Firewatcher’s Daughter” and touring with Old Crow Medicine Show and the Avett Brothers (whom she opened for at Madison Square Garden this month) has given her new-found roots cred.
Jason Isbell, 4:15 p.m., Sunday. Though he just played Ovens Auditorium in March, the recent Grammy-winner and former Drive-By Trucker is having the kind of creative and critical crescendo that shouldn’t be missed. His last two albums have illustrated a songwriter on top of his game, while topping critics’ year-end “best” lists. His live show, especially when accompanied by fiddler and wife Amanda Shires, is moving and arguably flawless.
When: April 28-May 1.
Where: Wilkes Community College, 1348 Collegiate Drive, Wilkesboro.
Tickets: Single day, $45-$65; 3-day pass, $145; 4-day pass, $165.