Getting Around: The shuttle buses from the free parking lots to the main gate run frequently. At the end of the evening’s shows there’s quite a line to get on a bus, otherwise, transportation to and from your parking lot is quick and efficient. Note that local scout organizations run the buses and the tip jar provides contributions to these organizations.
The Merlefest Map gives you a good overview of the campus, but tends to underestimate the distances between venues and doesn’t suggest the hills you must climb to get to venues like the Austin Stage, Walker Center and Hillside. You should come prepared with good walking shoes that permit you to walk a lot. Don’t plan, for instance, to catch The Grascals on Friday afternoon at Creekside and then run up to Hillside for Donna the Buffalo because it’s crowded and you can’t run no matter how good shape you’re in. While it’s not necessary to choose a particular venue and stay there all day, some changes are easier than others. We tend to see most of our shows at Watson, Creekside, and Americana, but our friends the Gibson Brothers will make their debut at Hillside on Sunday afternoon, so we’ll journey up there. This leads us to another very important aid. The daily stage schedules are available here. Download them now, print them out, and study them to help you map out your day. Most of the performers at Merlefest have their own web sites and MySpace pages. You can find links to them here. Check them out, and listen to some of their music to see whether you want to hear more. Information about the artists is also available in the festival program, which you’ll pick up when you enter the grounds, but waiting until then means you’ll have to study on the run. In the past, Merlefest has published a handy pocket guide, but last year it wasn’t available. Hopefully they will have returned to it this year, as not providing it encouraged attendees to take multiple copies of the entire program in order to get eight pages of schedule. However, bringing your schedule printouts will pay dividends. Most bands appear at more than one venue, so if you can’t see them one place, you’ll be able to catch them somewhere else. As I’ve said, you have to make choices at Merlefest.
Activities for Kids: Merlefest is determined to remain a family event. Significant resources are devoted to making sure that plenty of activities and music are provided for children in the Little Pickers Area. Many of the activities are ongoing, some, like the Alberti Flea Circus, a gem of pure delight for young and old alike, are scheduled several times each day. This year, lots of bands will be performing children’s sets in the Little Picker’s Tent. Sierra Hull & Highway 111, Josh Goforth & Laura Boosinger, The Dixie Beeliners, and Little Mo McCoury are just examples. The Little Picker’s Tent is also the place to see young up-and-coming children make some of their earliest stage appearances. If you go to hear them this year, a decade from now you may be able to say, “I saw her play the fiddle when she was ten years old, and I knew, even then, she was destined for greatness.” If all this activity seems exhausting to you, and it can be, stop by the R&R tent for a brief rest. It’s a good place to grab a quick nap, get a massage, or just sit quietly for a few minutes. It’s close enough to the Watson stage so you can listen to music while resting.
at Americana Stage
Toilet Facilities: When we began attending Merlefest in 2003, large masses of porta-potties were provided. As the years have passed, the festival has begun offering increasingly elaborate portable toilet facilities with flush toilets, bowls for washing hands, and air-conditioning. While these fancy toilets are divided equally into men’s and women’s entrances, the lines are not equal at all. Women seem to prefer the privacy and cleanliness of these facilities, and they tend to have lines snaking out of the doors. Access for men is usually quite fast. Traditional porta-potties are conveniently distributed around the grounds, and are kept quite clean and odor free through frequent pumping and spraying down. Some of the buildings where there are contests and performances have regular, sparkling, tiles bath rooms. Sometimes they aren’t too crowded.
Sponsors Jams Before and During Merlefest