Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Shannon Wurst @ Merlefest

The talented Shannon Wurst agreed to be the representative at Merlefest and provided this excellent commentary of her experience:

It started with packing up the car. The tent, the coleman stove, thermarest, and all the camping gear was piled beneath my guitar and camp chair. It was Merlefest 2008!
This was my third time to attend the festival held in on the Wilksboro, NC on the Wilkes Community College Campus. The festival commemorates Merle Watson, Doc's son, who died in a tragic accident. The festival started as a one time only fundraiser in 1987 and has grown into it's 14 stages, attracting thousands.

If you go expecting to see and do everything, you just can't. Thursday, the opening evening of the festival I got to see Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives. In my book, Marty is one of the best entertainers out there! It doesn't matter if you not a fan of country music, he is sure to impress with his mandolin playing and the band's tight harmonies, not to mention his silver held-n-place hair! He was followed by the Wilders on the the adjacent Cabin Stage. If you have not checked these guys out, you have to. They are long time attendees of Winfield, KS where I first saw them several years ago. The Kansas City based group will no doubt make your dance or at least wiggle in your camp chair. Old Crow Medicine Show closed the main stage, and pleased the audience of young and old with their anthem, "Wagon Wheel."

After the closing act, I made my way back to camp at the water sewer treatment center (much nicer that it sounds) where I did some late night picking with some of my old Boone, NC friends. A campfire combined with a few nips of cheap whiskey kept away the spring night's chill.

Friday morning came early to me. After some much needed bacon and eggs it was back to the festival grounds, which is about a 30-45 min venture including the bus wait and ride. I checked out Laurie Lewis and Tim O'Brien in "They Write the Songs," which was insight the the ideas behind their inspiration behind song writing. I find these types of concerts particularly delightful. The Austin stage is a hillside stage with a bit of morning sun, and a great place to relax and listen to these two incredible songwriters. I unfortunately missed the clown workshop on the Little Pickers Stage, but I did catch Doc Watson, David Holt, and Michael Coleman. Ralph Stanley joined them briefly. Doc is such a great story teller and it makes his music even more meaningful. I grew up on Doc Watson recordings, so seeing him live is a must. If you ever meet him, ask him to tell you the story about his mother's haunted wood stove!
I spent a while just roaming. You can hear music in every direction and folks laughing and talking. The festival has several tents of quality handmade crafts including soaps, pottery, and wooden art. They also have a "mall" that is full of artist's CDs and t-shirts. I could spend my year's income buying all the wonderful music they have to offer!

Friday evening I spent in the Dance tent, where I ended up spending a lot of my time, square dancing to the music of the Wilders with caller Phil Jamison (one of the best callers I have heard!) I love Merlefest square and contra dances!
Later that evening I entered my name in the songwriters coffeehouse drawing and my name was chosen to play an original song on the Lounge stage. What a treat to play my tune with other songwriters to listen. I played a new one of mine called White Walls and it got some great reception! Friday night at the camp ground was much like Thursday, except without the accordion/keyboard playing camp neighbor in the picking circle.

Saturday brought a very impressive storm. I took refuge in the Lounge with many others to wait out the storm where we shared peanut butter and cracker snacks with friendly strangers. The storm blew over, and ended up being a pretty nice Merlefest day. I went to several workshops including a vocal workshop and a bass workshop, and I brought my guitar in to pick a few in the old-time picking tent inside the festival grounds. That is another cool thing about Merlefest. They have 4 tents inside the grounds devoted to pickers, anyone welcome. They are divided into Old-time, bluegrass and a couple of "anything goes".

I caught a father daughter show that made me wish my dad was with me there followed by my favorite clawhammer player, Dirk Powell. He was joined by Martha Scanlan who is a former member of the Reeltime Travelers. She has a great album called the West was burning. I also caught Ollabelle (two thumbs up), the Lovell Sisters (talented young gals with great harmonies and stage presence), and well as North Carolina's own Chocolate Drops. I tried to get into see Tift Merritt, but there wasn't enough setting in Walker Center, so I stayed out in the lobby and listen over the loud speaker. I danced another square/contra dance, this time with Dirk Powell and Tim O'Brien, Tom Sauber and Riley Baugus with special guest Martha Scanlan. Levon Helms and the Ramble on the Road closed the stage and had the main stage audience movin' and groovin'.

Many folks leave on Sunday, but this is one of my favorite days. There was a full day of music and more room to move about. I helped build the dance stage, so I have to stick around til 5 anyway to help tear it down. So, I caught Polecat Creek, as well as Bearfoot, a young band from Alaska with some hot pickers and good songwriting. I also watched the Alberti Flea Circus a the Little Pickers tent. Turned out to be the most entertaining event of Merlefest. Sunday was a little soggy, so it made sitting on the grass a lot like sitting in the mud. So with my muddied behind, I helped to tear apart the dance floor, said good-bye to my friends I see once a year, and headed home. Another great Merlefest!

Shannon Wurst

No comments: