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Monday, May 3, 2010
Merlefest 2010 - Sunday
The sun beat down mercilessly on the large and eager crowd at Merlefest on Sunday. Sunday's lineup reflected an important turnaround in the demographic festival organizers are reaching out to by emphasizing youth and a rock oriented acoustic and electric vibe. The crowd appeared to be, perhaps, thirty years younger, on average, than the Sunday audience of previous years. They showed huge enthusiasm for Scythian as well as The Avett Brothers, staying long into the afternoon. We had that rarity of a Merlefest week...no rain and warm evening temperatures except on Thursday. Great weather for a festival.
This high energy group of classically trained men of Ukrainian extraction began their careers as buskers on the streets of Washington, D.C. While you might begin by turning up your nose at that description, give it another listen. They're rock tinged, personable, and extremely energetic. Their audience was hugely enthusiastic, especially considering their 11:30 A.M. kick-off.
The Fedoryka Brothers
This Asheville-based band featuring two female singers whose voices blend well and whose song writing is solid made their Merlefest debut on the cabin stage. They have one CD already out with more to come. Keep an eye out for this mellow, soulful group.
The Lee Boys & The Travelin' McCourys
The Lee Boys and the Travelin' McCourys brings two bands from different traditions and cultures together in a rousing show of rock and blues based gospel music tinged with a plugged in bluegrass sensibility. Besides providing an excellent example of how two genres can blend into a unique synthesis, the scheduled performances in support of their new CD could possibly open a willingness to consider the skills and pleasure of two important cultural traditions that don't ordinarily meet.
Alvin Cordy, Jr.
Red Molly, a New York based trio featuring strong instrumentals, even stronger vocal harmonies and a singer/songwriter sensibility with great harmonies made their Merlefest debut with lots of buzz heard around the campus. I'll be covering them with more intensity at Strawberry Park early next month, and I posted a picture of them earlier in the week.
W.P.A. is a west coast band synthesized from members of other bands which played together a good deal, only to discover that they had written enough material to produce a CD. Luke Bulla has toured with Jerry Douglas and Lyle Lovett. Sean Watkins was an important cog in the great Nickle Creek, and Glen Phillips played with Toad and Wet Sprocket, a band I'm unfamiliar with. Their music features wonderful, heady lyrics by Sean Watson, and I especially liked one song that said, "I hope you find someone more like you." This band has a very cerebral sound which provided a more mellow interlude between all the energy of the afternoon. They deserve a slot and venue more suited to their vibe.
Maura Shawn Scanlin
This Kansas City band helped ramp up the tone of the afternoon in preparation for the appearance of the Avett Brothers. They held their own for their Cabin Stage appearance.
Betse Ellis and Nate Gawron
Phil Wade and Ike Sheldon
The Avett Brothers
The crowd for the Avett Brothers built all afternoon. As their performance approached, the aisles became increasingly crowded and heavy security was brought in to keep aisles open (a failure) and space in front of the stage clear (a success). The fans were noise and friendly, ready to make a party yet never particularly obnoxious. I suspect the strong efforts at the gate to exclude alcohol helped a great deal with keeping this crowd orderly. The Avetts hit the stage with energy, volume, as well as greater depth and maturity than we had seen last time we saw them perform. The crowd knew their songs and enthusiastically greeted each one, singing along with them. Despite the dense crowd, there were relatively few people at the photo stand, and leaving down the packed aisle did not create a difficulty. We left early to avoid the crowds.
Joe Kwan and Bob Caldwell
Scott and Seth Avett
The Dine - n - Dash
We'd expecially like to thank Bobbie and Ken Glass of the Dine - n - Dash on Collegiate Drive, the street leading up to the main Merlefest gate for their continued hospitality over the years. Each morning we stop there for breakfast and a strong Internet signal that allows me to post this blog. Their food and coffee are excellent, and their friendship deeply appreciated.
I'll be posting an overall assessment of Merlefest in the next couple of days and will look forward to your thoughts and comments. Also, I want to thank the people who have become my editorial board. They're the ones who make sure that errors in fact I make get corrected. Errors in judgment remain my own. Also, I should take a little time to recognize the important role Irene takes in this effort, as an editor, an adviser, and contributing photographer. Errors I make are against her better judgment.