MerleFest celebrates what would be founder Doc Watson’s 100th birthday over the weekend of April 27-30, 2023, in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
MerleFest, presented by Window World, is excited to announce the final round of artist additions to the 35th annual festival. Taking place April 27-30, 2023, on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, MerleFest 2023 will welcome The Black Crowes’ Chris and Rich Robinson’s stripped-down side-project, Brothers of a Feather, the Grammy-winning trio of acoustic music torchbearers Nickel Creek, Tommy Emmanuel—one of only five musicians to ever earn the Chet Atkins-given title of C.G.P. or Certified Guitar Player, the highly anticipated Doc Watson’s 100th Birthday Jam hosted by The Kruger Brothers, your favorite songwriter’s favorite songwriter, Lori McKenna, hard-working honky-tonk storyteller, Joshua Ray Walker, North Carolina’s favorite husband and wife duo, Woody Platt & Shannon Whitworth, and many more—and that’s all in addition to previously announced headliners like The Avett Brothers and Maren Morris and MerleFest favorites Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas.
The following bands and artists were also included in today’s announcement: Ali McGuirk, Bella White, Ben Chapman, The Biscuit Eaters, The Brothers Young, The Burnett Sisters Band with Colin Ray, Della Mae, Gravity Check Juggling, Henhouse Prowlers, High Road, Holt & Cabe, John Jorgensen Bluegrass Band, John Paul White, Laney Lou & The Bird Dogs, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, Pretty Little Goat, Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley, Songs From the Road Band, Southbound 77, and Taylon Hope.
Today’s additions will join this year’s previously announced list of MerleFest favorites and first-timers: Andy May, The Avett Brothers, Banknotes, Black Opry Revue, Carol Rifkin, Charles Welch, Donna the Buffalo, Jack Lawrence, Jeff Little Trio, Jerry Douglas, Jim Lauderdale, Joe Smothers, Kruger Brothers, Laura Boosinger, The Local Boys, Maren Morris, Mark Bumgarner, Mitch Greenhill & Mitch’s Kitchen, Pete & Joan Wernick, Peter Rowan, Presley Barker, Roy Book Binder, Sam Bush, Scythian, T. Michael Coleman, The InterACTive Theater of Jef, The Waybacks, Tony Williamson, and Wayne Henderson.
MerleFest 2023 Tickets are available now. For general admission passes, as well as patio seating, reserved seating, camping, parking, and more, please visit merlefest.org/purchase.
About Brothers Of A Feather with Chris and Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes (appearing Thursday): Under the moniker Brothers Of A Feather, The Black Crowes, Chris and Rich Robinson give fans a rare opportunity to see them perform stripped-down versions of some of their classic songs. In 1990, when journalists were lamenting the death of rock, as cheesy pop and hair metal dominated the charts, Atlanta’s Black Crowes gave the genre a swift and much-needed kick in the ass with “Shake Your Money Maker.” Fueled by singles “Jealous Again,” “Twice As Hard,” “She Talks To Angels,” and the breakthrough cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle,” the band immediately took the rock world by storm, topping Rolling Stone’s “Best New American Band Readers Poll” in late 1990. The Black Crowes went on to release eight studio and four live albums, selling in the tens of millions along the way; they sold out shows around the world; had legendary guitarist Jimmy Page join as a member; got kicked off a tour with ZZ Top for insulting the sponsor; got screwed by bad record deals; got married and divorced, fought amongst themselves and against the rest of the world. In other words, they’ve done everything a legendary rock group should do.
About Nickel Creek (appearing Sunday): Nickel Creek is the platinum-selling, internationally renowned roots trio of mandolinist Chris Thile, violinist Sara Watkins and guitarist Sean Watkins. The Grammy-winning band has revolutionized folk and roots music since first performing together as children at a pizza parlor in San Diego in 1989, signing to acclaimed roots label Sugar Hill Records after wowing the bluegrass circuit for a decade. Nickel Creek quickly broke through in 2000 with their Grammy-nominated, Alison Krauss-produced self-titled LP, which showcased not just their instrumental virtuosity but their burgeoning songwriting prowess. The trio quickly followed that effort with the Krauss-produced This Side, a landmark release that earned Nickel Creek the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album and brought their progressive take on acoustic music to a broader audience, greatly influencing the sound and trajectory of roots music in the process. 2005’s Grammy-nominated Why Should the Fire Die? found the trio pushing genre boundaries even further, incorporating elements of alt-rock and indie pop into their singular brand of acoustic music. Nickel Creek’s most recent album, 2014’s critically acclaimed and joyously received A Dotted Line, ended a seven-year recording and touring hiatus for the band, during which members explored other musical and creative avenues.
Each member of Nickel Creek has taken part in many outside projects over the years, too. Thile is a 2012 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and served as the host of the American radio variety show Live from Here (formerly A Prairie Home Companion) from 2016 to 2020. Over the course of Nickel Creek’s career, Thile has released collaborative albums alongside world-renowned musicians like Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Brad Mehldau, and Stuart Duncan. His Grammy-winning band Punch Brothers has released six studio albums, the most recent being 2022’s Hell on Church Street, a reimagining of the beloved 1983 Tony Rice album Church StreetBlues. Sean Watkins has kept busy outside of Nickel Creek, too, co-founding Watkins Family Hour alongside Sara, releasing three albums with the collective and maintaining the long-running collaborative show in Los Angeles for a decade. Sean has also released a string of solo albums, most recently 2020’s This Is Who We Are with the Bee Eaters. Sara Watkins’ extracurricular projects include the aforementioned Watkins Family Hour band, as well as co-founding the Grammy-winning roots trio I’m With Her alongside Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz. Sara has released four studio albums, most recently 2021’s Under the Pepper Tree. She has contributed fiddle to recordings by artists like Phoebe Bridgers, the Killers and John Mayer. Nickel Creek will release Celebrants, their first new album in nine years, March 24 via Thirty Tigers.
About Tommy Emmanuel, CGP (appearing Thursday): Anytime you talk to any of Tommy Emmanuel’s fans, whether musicians or civilians, invariably they will speak of not one but two qualities that define his greatness. The first, predictably, is his extraordinary guitar playing. Considered by those in the know to be among this planet’s greatest guitarists, his playing is simply miraculous, as it would take three musicians, or more, to do what Tommy does solo.
Which brings us to the other aspect of his music always mentioned, and without which the first might not be as powerful or as infectiously appealing: the joy. Yes, joy. Because it’s one thing to play these multi-dimensional arrangements flawlessly on an acoustic guitar. But to do it with that smile of the ages, that evidence of authentic, unbridled delight, is an irresistible invitation to feel his music as deeply as he does.
Although his expression is instrumental, he comes to the guitar much more like a vocalist, positively singing melodies through the strings. He inhabits the tunes he performs, delivering every nuance and turn of phrase. His own songs are also illuminated always with lyrical melodies that go right to the heart, such as his beautiful ode to his daughter, “Angelina,” or his great “Story Without Words,” “Lewis & Clark.” That they resonate so deeply without words makes sense, as words only go so far. But music, coming from a genuine and joyful source, can go so much farther.
About Doc Watson’s 100th Birthday Jam hosted by The Kruger Brothers (appearing Saturday): Wilkes County residents and long-time MerleFest performing artists the Kruger Brothers celebrate the music of MerleFest’s founding folk icon Doc Watson. Join the Krugers and special guests Saturday evening at the Watson Stage for Doc Watson’s 100th Birthday Jam. This unique collaboration of musicians will showcase many highlights from Doc’s extensive catalog ranging from the ballads Doc made famous to the “Doc-a-billy” numbers that rocked the many stages at MerleFest and the country throughout his lifetime of making music for the people. Happy Birthday, Doc!
About Lori McKenna (Appearing Saturday): Over the last three decades, as she became a wife and mother of five, she has also emerged as one of the most respected, prolific singer-songwriters in popular music. On her latest release, The Balladeer, Lori McKenna is offering her most uplifting and up-tempo album in a catalog that spans 20 years. Produced by Grammy Award-winning Dave Cobb and recorded in Nashville’s historic Studio A, The Balladeer follows an incredible stretch of career momentum, including two consecutive Grammy wins as a songwriter for Best Country Song: Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” and Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind.” She made history in 2016 by becoming the Academy of Country Music’s first female Songwriter of the year and in 2017 she became the first woman ever to win the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year award two years in a row. Yet her success doesn’t stop there. McKenna co-wrote “Always Remember Us This Way,” which was featured in the Academy Award-winning 2018 film, A Star Is Born. In 2021, Taylor Swift released her second re-recorded album Red (Taylor’s version)including a song called “I Bet You Think About Me” featuring Chris Stapleton and written by Swift and McKenna. McKenna continues to enjoy tremendous success as one of the music industry’s most in-demand songwriters. Her recurring theme of family builds a tapestry of experiences she has loved and overheard, been told, and dreamed up, to create a stunning ode to life’s defining relationships.
About Joshua Ray Walker (Appearing Thursday): On his new album See You Next Time, Texas-bred singer/songwriter Joshua Ray Walker shares an imagined yet truthful portrait of a broke-down honky-tonk and the misfits who call it home: barflies and wannabe cowboys, bleary-eyed dreamers and hopelessly lost souls. His third full-length in three years, the album marks the final installment in a trilogy that originated with Walker’s globally acclaimed 2019 debut Wish You Were Here and its equally lauded follow-up Glad You Made It.
The album’s immaculately crafted but timelessly vital sound provides a prime backdrop for Walker’s storytelling, an element that endlessly blurs the lines between fable-like fiction and personal revelation. Closely informed by the tremendous loss he’s suffered in recent years, See You Next Time emerges as the most powerful work to date from an extraordinarily gifted songwriter, imbued with equal parts weary pragmatism and the kind of unabashedly romantic spirit that defies all cynicism.
A working musician since the age of 13, Walker first began honing his lyrical talents after the death of his beloved grandfather. Raised on bluegrass, he lists Texas legends like Guy Clark and Billy Joe Shaver among his essential inspirations but also notes the undeniable influence of country superstars like Alan Jackson and George Strait.
With the arrival of Wish You Were Here, Walker won lavish praise from outlets like NPR Music and began opening for such artists as Colter Wall and Charley Crockett, in addition to headlining tours in the U.S. and Europe.
Over the years, Walker has continually captivated crowds with his magnetic live show, a feat that finds him joined by musicians like bassist Billy Bones and drummer Trey Pendergrass (both of whom played on See You Next Time).
About Woody Platt & Shannon Whitworth (Appearing Friday): Husband and wife duo, Woody Platt and Shannon Whitworth of Brevard, North Carolina, each has a unique history of musical accomplishments. A silver lining of the global pandemic was more time at home, which has allowed them to play, write, record, and perform together. They have curated a set of music comprised mostly of Whitworth’s original songs. Shannon Whitworth’s swoon-inducing musical style found its first showcase in her Asheville-produced solo debut, 2007’s No Expectations. Followed by 2009’s critically-acclaimed Water Bound, an album that drew comparisons to Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball. Whitworth is a songwriter, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist. She has garnered praise in outlets ranging from People Magazine to Garden & Gun. Her honest reinterpretation of ‘Americana,’ a la Mark Knopfler meets Norah Jones and the ghost of Julie London, has garnered Whitworth prime appearances from Philadelphia Folk Festival to Yosemite’s Strawberry Music Festival to Nashville’s own Ryman Auditorium. Shannon is also an acclaimed artist and spends much of her time in her art studio these days. She was quoted in Walter Magazine saying, “My art is how I see the world,” says artist and singer-songwriter Shannon Whitworth. “And my music is how I hear it.” Woody Platt was a founding member of the Grammy Award-winning band Steep Canyon Rangers. The band toured the world on their own, and alongside the well-known actor/comedian/musician Steve Martin. During Woody’s tenure with Steep Canyon Rangers, the band won multiple awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), a Grammy Award with 3 total Grammy Nominations and was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Since retiring from the Steep Canyon Rangers in the summer of 2022, Woody has been working on solo recording projects including a debut single “One Last Goodbye” which features an all-star Bluegrass lineup and was written by Chris Stapleton and Barry Bales. “One Last Goodbye” spent several months in the number one position on the Bluegrass charts. Shannon and Woody are honored to be joined on stage by Grammy-winning Bassist Barry Bales of Allison Krauss and Union Station, master fiddler Casey Driessen, and mandolinist Daren Shumaker.
About MerleFest: MerleFest, presented by Window World, celebrates its 35th year on April 27-30, 2023. MerleFest started in 1988 as a fundraiser for the Garden of the Senses at Wilkes Community College to memorialize world-renowned flatpicker Doc Watson’s late son, Eddy Merle Watson. In keeping with the MerleFest traditions, 2023 will offer jams honoring MerleFest’s past, present, and future. The celebration also aligns with the late Doc Watson’s 100th heavenly birthday year. The festival plans to celebrate the life of Doc & Merle Watson and the history of MerleFest both visually and musically through vintage videos and artist collaborations.
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