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MerleFest 2015 Commemorates Another Banner Year

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MerleFest 2015Wilkesboro, NC -- MerleFest, presented by Window World, has wrapped up its 28th year. Early estimates show that, from its start on Thursday, April 23, to its close on Sunday, April 26, aggregate participation over the festival’s four days exceeded 78,000 participants, an increase from last year’s numbers. MerleFest, held on the campus of Wilkes Community College, is the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.

Many incredible performers contributed to the success of MerleFest 2015, including The Avett Brothers, Dwight Yoakam, The Marshall Tucker Band, Trampled By Turtles, Lee Ann Womack, Hot Rize, Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Robert Earl Keen, Steep Canyon Rangers, The Kruger Brothers with the Kontras Quartet performing “Lucid Dreamer,” Jim Lauderdale and North Mississippi Allstars, The Earls of Leicester, the Del McCoury Band, Sam Bush Band, Bruce Robinson and Kelly Willis, Scythian, The Spinney Brothers, Willie Watson, The Gibson Brothers, Peter Rowan, Blue Highway, JOHNNYSWIM, The Steel Wheels, Paul Thorn and many more.

Every year, music fans at the festival experience what has become known as “MerleFest Moments” – special groupings of performances, jam sessions and events that get the whole festival talking and become legendary in the festival’s rich history.

One of those sets this year was Saturday night’s highly anticipated set from The Avett Brothers on the Watson Stage. The band often credit both Doc Watson and MerleFest with having a tremendous impact on their career and are one of the most requested performers by festival attendees. During a midday press conference that The Avett Brothers did with Peter Rowan, Scott Avett mentioned that the self-titled album from bluegrass supergroup Old & In The Way was a major influence on his musical development. A few hours later Rowan, one of the members of Old & In The Way, joined The Avett Brothers to perform a song from that album, “‘Til the End of the World Rolls ‘Round.”

“Since MerleFest has often served as a launching pad for rising talent, fans spread the word about new ‘must see’ bands that they’ve discovered at MerleFest. A few bands that had fans talking this year were Mipso, Jesse and Noah Bellamy, Brandon Whyde and The Devils Keep, The Honey Dewdrops and Del Barber,” said Steve Johnson, artist relations manager.

The Hillside Album Hour, which draws thousands of fans each year to the hillside on Saturday afternoon, was hosted by The Waybacks with special guests Joan Osborne, Jim Lauderdale, Sam Bush and Jens Kruger. The performers featured Bruce Springsteen’s seminal 1984 album “Born in the U.S.A.”Fans filled the hillside to find out what album would be featured, which is always a closely held secret until the show begins.

The Midnight Jam on Saturday, presented in partnership with The Bluegrass Situation and hosted by The Steel Wheels, featured special guests The Gibson Brothers, Front Country, Jim Lauderdale, New Country Rehab, The Honey Dewdrops, Moore Brothers Band, Willie Watson, Mipso and Stephen Mougin, with a few other invited guests. During the jam, many of the assembled musicians filled the stage to perform hits like the bluegrass classic “Cherokee Shuffle,” “Midnight Special” led by Willie Watson and “Good Luck, Back Luck,” a collaboration between The Ragbirds and the Moore Brothers Band.

MerleFest continues to celebrate the life and music of Doc and Merle Watson because the legacy of their music is the artistic center of the festival. Musician, composer and storyteller T. Michael Coleman joined Doc and Merle to tour the world and help create countless Grammy-nominated and Grammy-awarded recordings. Coleman has joined the festival in its mission to keep Doc and Merle at the heart of MerleFest. His annual Saturday “Memories of Doc & Merle” set is part of that mission.

“Musicians and fans alike think of MerleFest as a way to come together as a family to pay tribute to these very special musicians. The ‘memories’ set is pretty much based around our connections with Doc and Merle,” Coleman said. “All the artists participating have a direct connection to Doc and Merle and were influenced by them greatly.”

That includes names like Sam Bush, David Holt, Happy Traum, Peter Rowan, Jack Lawrence, The Kruger Brothers and many others.

Coleman continued, “We’re here because of these two musicians, and the guys on stage performing during the set are the closest you can get to them. It’s family. Doc and Merle were the nucleus to these friendships that have remained all these years. It’s a family reunion on stage that the audience just happens to be a part of. And for those of us on stage, it’s almost as if Doc and Merle are there on stage with us.”

BearWallow of Morganton, N.C., won the MerleFest Band Competition held on Saturday. The band is a unique blend of progressive bluegrass and a little bit of country.

In addition to promoting "traditional plus" music, a term coined by Doc Watson to describe the wide variety of musical genres and styles celebrated at MerleFest, the festival also featured heritage crafts demonstrations, instrument picking lessons and jam sessions, dancing, instrument contests, music education workshops and the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

The Shoppes at MerleFest, located in the center of the festival grounds, was a popular area filled with heritage crafts, merchandise vendors, the official MerleFest Gift Shop, concessions and valuable services like an information tent, lost and found, overnight storage and more. There was also an R&R tent for festival-goers who needed to take a break and escape the weather.

A significant part of MerleFest's mission is to give back to the community. In that spirit, the outreach program took place on Thursday, with MerleFest artists giving performances for nearly 7,000 children at local schools. In addition, on Friday morning more than 3,000 school children from Wilkes and surrounding counties attended the festival.

“We deeply appreciate the support of the great citizens of Wilkes County, everyone who works here at the college, and of course our volunteers and fans, for making this all possible,” said Ted Hagaman, director of the festival. “With over 100 artists playing on 13 stages, representing everything from bluegrass and blues, to gospel, country and Americana, we feel that we succeeded again in giving our festival guests a great value for their entertainment dollars."

MerleFest 2015 is presented by Window World. MerleFest is grateful to 90+ sponsors and advertisers for their support in making the event possible, including: Belk, Pepsi, Charlotte and Greensboro area Burger King restaurants, G&B Energy, Tyson, Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority, The InterFlex Group, Hardee's, Winston-Salem Journal, WXII 12, the Law Offices of Timothy D. Welborn, Bojangles', Carolina Ford Dealers, Carolina West Wireless, CenturyLink, Lowes Foods, Wilkes Communications, Wilkes Regional Medical Center, Wells Fargo and Mast General Store. A complete listing of all MerleFest sponsors and additional information about all aspects of the festival can be found at

MerleFest 2016 will be held at Wilkes Community College on April 28-May 1, 2016.

MerleFest, considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the son of the late American music legend Doc Watson, renowned guitarist Eddy Merle Watson. MerleFest is a celebration of "traditional plus" music, a unique mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock and many other styles. The festival hosts a diverse mix of artists on its 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.

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