A Look Back at the 32nd Annual MerleFest

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Hot of the presses! In a new review of the 32nd Annual MerleFest, Rolling Stone declared the festival "the gold standard for bluegrass, Americana and string music festivals." We have to admit: last weekend the music was excellent, and the fellowship around the past, present and future of traditional music was strong.

This year MerleFest presented 35 North Carolina acts, many of whom played the Creekside Stage that we sponsored for Come Hear NC. Unforgettable North Carolina moments abounded. 2018 N.C. Heritage Awardee Tony Williamson yet again packed the house with his annual Mando Mania set, and the Steep Canyon Rangers debuted the "North Carolina Songbook" set in celebration of the 2019 Year of Music. Governor Roy Cooper introduced the Rangers' session, making history as the first Governor to ever officially attend MerleFest. The Avett Brothers closed out the festival with the kind of exhilarating performance that's made them national stars. 

Founded by Doc Watson in 1988 in memory of his son Eddy Merle Watson, the festival has become an annual homecoming for bluegrass, country and blues musicians inspired by Doc Watson, whose presence was felt all weekend. We met people who are drawn back to MerleFest year after year because of their love of Watson and reverence for his music, and we interviewed a multigenerational group of North Carolina musicians about Doc Watson's impact on their music. Some of these stories might make you want to cry, but most will make you burst with pride. Expect to see these stories in an upcoming video series on our blog.

We're dropping a few photographs of our favorite MerleFest moments below. If you're experiencing a bit of FOMO, pop on over to www.MerleFest.org - where you'll find a countdown to MerleFest 2020.

As of 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 4, it looks like we are exactly 355 days away. 

Photos by Karen Blum and Sandra Davidson for the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources