By Matt Wickstrom
WILKESBORO, NC — Led by Kentuckians Sam Bush and Tyler Childers, Merlefest has announced the first wave of artists for its 2019 gathering to be held April 25-28 on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
From teen fiddle champion to groundbreaking mandolinist, there is only one Sam Bush. The son of Kentucky reared on Bill Monroe’s bluegrass came of age in the counterculture cyclone of the late ‘60s. In the genre’s outsiders like the Osborne Brothers and The Dillards, Bush heard the future, and by the dawn of the 1970s was leading his own New Grass Revival, driven by the power of rock-and-roll and the freedom of improvisational jazz. Bush and his hippie co-conspirators changed the bluegrass landscape, touring with Leon Russell, winning fans at festivals across the country, and recording GRAMMY-winning songs. At the group’s peak, after taking aim at the top of the Country charts, Bush walked away. Subsequent stints with Emmylou Harris and Bela Fleck brought him well-deserved recognition, numerous awards, and the gushing respect of a whole new generation of bluegrass upstarts. The once rebellious apprentice had become the genre’s gold-standard master. Sam Bush will perform at MerleFest on Saturday.
Like many great Southern storytellers, singer-songwriter Tyler Childers has fallen in love with a place. The people, landmarks and legendary moments from his childhood home of Lawrence County, Ky., populate the 10 songs in his formidable debut, Purgatory, an album that’s simultaneously modern and as ancient as the Appalachian Mountains in which events unfold.
The album, co-produced by GRAMMY Award winners Sturgill Simpson and David Ferguson, is a semi-autobiographical sketch of Childers’ growth from wayward youth to happily married man, told in the tradition of a Southern gothic novel with a classic noir anti-hero who may just be irredeemable. Purgatory is a chiaroscuro painting with darkness framing light in high relief. There’s catharsis and redemption. Sin and temptation. Murder and deceit. Demons and angels. Moonshine and cocaine. So much moonshine and cocaine. All played out on the large, colorful canvas of Eastern Kentucky. Tyler Childers will make his MerleFest debut on Friday evening.
Joining Bush and Childers are Wynonna & The Big Noise, Keb’ Mo’, The Earls of Leicester, Peter Rowan and The Free Mexican Air Force, American Aquarium, Andy May, Ana Egge & The Sentimentals, AZTEC SUN, Banknotes, Bob Hill, Cane Mill Road, Carol Rifkin, Carolina Blue, Catfish Keith, Charles Welch, David LaMotte, Dirk Powell Band, Donna the Buffalo, Driftwood, Elephant Sessions, Elizabeth Cook, Ellis Dyson & The Shambles, Gordie MacKeeman & His Rhythm Boys, Happy Traum, Irish Mythen, Jack Lawrence, Jeff Little Trio, Jess Morgan, Jim Avett, Jim Lauderdale, Joe Smothers, Jontavious Willis and Andrew Alli, Junior Brown, Junior Sisk, Larry Stephenson Band, Laura Boosinger, Lindi Ortega, Mark Bumgarner, Mark & Maggie O’Connor, Maybe April, Michaela Anne, Mile Twelve, Mitch Greenhill and String Madness, Nixon, Blevins, & Gage, Pete & Joan Wernick and FLEXIGRASS, Presley Barker, Professor Whizzpop!, Radney Foster, Roy Book Binder, Salt & Light, Scythian, Shane Hennessy, Si Kahn & The Looping Brothers, Steve Poltz, T Michael Coleman, The Black Lillies, The Gibson Brothers, The Harris Brothers, The InterACTive Theatre of Jeff, The Kruger Brothers, The Local Boys, The Trailblazers, The Waybacks, Todd Albright, Tom Feldmann, Tony Williamson, Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, Wayne Henderson, Webb Wilder, and Yarn.
Additionally, the 2019 Late Night Jam on Saturday, April 27th will start at 10:30 p.m. and run well past midnight, hosted by Chatham County Line. This very popular after-hours hootenanny in the Walker Center gathers many performers from the festival for impromptu artistic collaborations and one-of-a-kind superstar jams that have become legendary in the festival’s history.
“MerleFest is proud to announce more than 75 artists who are part of the festival’s 2019 lineup, commemorating the 32nd year of the festival. MerleFest continues its tradition of honoring the tried and true performers that our MerleFest fans have come to know and love like Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Jim Lauderdale, and The Kruger Brothers and adding to them some of the top traditional plus acts performing today like Tyler Childers, Wynonna & The Big Noise, Keb’ Mo’. The initial lineup reflects the musical diversity and quality of performers who are the hallmark of the festival,” says Lindsay Craven, MerleFest Artist Relations manager. MerleFest is known for its unique mix of traditional, roots-oriented music from the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, Americana, blues, country, Celtic, Cajun, cowboy, zydeco, rock and many other styles that the late Doc Watson referred to as “traditional plus.”