Friday, April 30, 2010

Merlefest 2010 - Thursday

The largest Thursday crowd I've ever seen built during the afternoon and early evening in anticipation of the closing performance of the Zac Brown Band, a two hour extravaganza, which, as we began listening on the way  back to our camper, seemed to be a package show featuring several subsidiary acts as they built toward Brown's appearance.  People only arriving for this mammoth country music act missed a lot a the finest music Merlefest is well known for.

The day was warm, dry, and sunny. I had left Pete Wernick's Jam Camp early to be able to get a good set of photos of the camp's appearance on the Cabin Stage later in the afternoon.  I went through the ticketing area with good speed, as the crowds had not yet appeared and strolled toward our seats, until I realized that Balsam Range, the festival's opening act was on.  For them I picked up my pace, rushed to my seat, grabbed my camera and began the day's shooting.  As usual for these posts done during the festival, I want to cover the highlights with, perhaps, less detail and commentary, reserving that for some retrospective looks at the festival over the next couple of weeks.  If opening day is any indicator, 2010 looks like a banner year for Merlefest, in its 23rd iteration.

Balsam Range

Balsam Range is a very fine, rising bluegrass band from Asheville, NC that deserves a much wider audience than it has.  They hit the stage with drive and conviction, which never wavered during their tight, and very high quality performance.

Tim Surett

Buddy Melton

Darren Nicholson

Caleb Smith

Mark Pruett

Cindy Baucom - Afternoon Emcee

Andy May on the Cabin Stage
 The Belleville Outfit

This is an exciting young band which will appear several times at Merlefest this year.  Lead singer Phoebe Hunt is supported by a fine band that is tuneful and lively.

Phoebe Hunt

Connor Forsyth

Jeff Brown

Marshall Hood

Rob Teter

Dancin' Dave - A Festival Institution

Pete Wernick's Jam Camp Staff Band

Pete Wernick's Jam Camp takes place from Monday through Thursday at Camp Harrington, a lovely YMCA facility in nearby Boomer, NC.  I'll be writing an extensive piece about the Jam Camp experience within the next few weeks.  Meanwhile, the culmination of Jam Camp is an appearance at the Cabin Stage on Thursday afternoon where the week's work is put on display for the afternoon festival crowd.

Jam Camp on the Cabin Stage

The Duhks

The Duhks have become a Merlefest favorite over the years.  Changes in personnel don't seem to make much difference.  Casey Driessen substituted for Tanyia Elizabeth on fiddle.

Leonard Podolak

Sarah Dugas

Casey Driessen

Bill Young Tribute 

6:30 in the Food Tent
Rhonda Vincent and the Rage

Rhonda Vincent has been struggling against a case of bronchitis for a couple of weeks and was not in good voice last night.  Fortunately, her strong band and vibrant personality filled the gap well, and their set was satisfyingly strong.

Rhonda Vincent

Hunter Berry

Aaron McDaris

Mickey Harris

Ben Helson

The Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers have a great new CD topping the Bluegrass Unlimited charts, have recently returned from a successful appearance in Germany, and have steadily grown a loyal and large fan base.  This could very well be their year to achieve industry recognition as one of the major winners of an IBMA award.  More coverage of them tomorrow.
Eric and Leigh Gibson

Mike Barber

Clayton Campbell

Joe Walsh

Taj Mahal

I've never seen Taj Mahal before, and surely wasn't disappointed as the veteran blues singer hit the stage with energy and sustained a fine set.  Great stuff!

Early Stages of the Merlefest Sand Sculpture

The Shoppes at Merlefest

Opening day at Merlefest was exciting and enjoyable.  The mixture of bands, styles, and sounds is always interesting.  We hear blends and combinations that aren't heard anywhere else.  More tomorrow.