MerleFest 2022 brings headliners Emmy Lou Harris, Josh Turner, Old Crow Medicine Show, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band—and a whole lot more.
Spring has sprung in North Carolina and that means music fans from around the world will make their annual pilgrimage to the campus of Wilkesboro Community College for one of the country’s most beloved weekends of live music, MerleFest. Here, music writer Lisa Snedeker gives her hot take on this year’s beloved roots-based music festival.
If you haven’t already blocked off the weekend of April 28–May 1 on your calendar—trust me on this—you’re going to want to because this year’s lineup is one of the festival’s most impressive. And if you consider the fact we all met for this storied festival less than six months ago, it’s even more formidable.
While I know many festival goers will purchase tickets because they want to see the headliners—think Emmy Lou Harris, Josh Turner, Old Crow Medicine Show, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Trampled By Turtles, Steep Canyon Rangers, Jerry Douglas and many other talented acts—it’s the myriad “other” acts you’re not going to want to miss. I often find that it’s the acts in the small print at the bottom of the festival poster that become the headliners of the future and each new festival gives you a chance to discover them before anyone else!
Caleb Caudle, a newcomer to MerleFest, is just such a performer for me. I first heard him perform at the now unfortunately defunct Phuzzfest in Winston-Salem. I knew immediately I wanted to hear more from this amazing young talent. He later introduced me to another favorite band, Raleigh-based Jack the Radio, who opened for Caudle at another Winston-Salem show in another sadly defunct music space, The Garage. I have been writing about Caudle long before Rolling Stone finally caught on to his amazing talents—and for good reason.
It’s been said that MerleFest is a homecoming, a reunion of sorts for fans and musicians alike. Familiar faces include the one and only Sam Bush, who has never missed a MerleFest since it first started on the back of a flatbed truck in the middle of a then-field; MerleFest’s house band Scythian and their friends from across the pond, We Banjo Three; The Wood Brothers; The Steel Wheels; Darrell Scott; and, well, you get the picture.
There are too many other great acts to mention them all here, but you can find a full lineup at this link.
Additionally, this year’s Late Night Jam features Hogslop String Band, whose unique sound and amazing energy I had the pleasure of experiencing at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Wide Open Bluegrass event in Raleigh in October. The group will be joined on Saturday by myriad guests for a night of “The Times They Are A-Changin – Songs From the ’60s and ’70s Folk-Rock Revolution.”
And that brings me to Will Easter, a native son and recent graduate of WCC, who looks and sounds like he should be in a ’70s folk-rock band. He will be among those competing in this year’s Battle of the Bands, one of my favorite things to check out at MerleFest, along with the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Get your tickets!