Report: MerleFest, Day 2

Della Mae
Della Mae

There were plenty of memories made on the second day of the traditional plus music festival, though footnoted with sadness as word spread throughout the day of the passing of country music legend George Jones. Many artists paid tribute to Jones with a song or memory of the man known endearingly as “The Possum.”

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Knoxville-based Americana group The Black Lillies, led by singer/songwriter Cruz Contreras, played the Americana stage, offering the audience a taste of their jubilant and haunting music. Touring in support their latest effort, Runaway Freeway Blues, The Black Lillies are playing five sets over MerleFest weekend.

MerleFest In Photos: Day 1, Day 2

The high-energy Della Mae stirred up the crowd with lively set on the Watson Stage. The five-piece are comprised of Kimber Ludiker on violin, Celia Woodsmith on vocals, guitarist Courtney Hartman, Shelby Means on bass, and Jenni Lyn Gardner on mandolin. The award-winning group are playing in support of their newest release, This World Oft Can Be.

Playing the Creekside Stage in their second set of the day were the Honeycutters, an Asheville, NC-based five-piece Americana group led by singer/songwriter Amanda Anne Platt and guitarist Peter James. They begun their performance with a song dedicated to the late George Jones, and are touring in support of their most recent release When Bitter Met Sweet. This weekend will see them play multiple sets at MerleFest.

On the Cabin Stage, folk/blues singer Chris Smither carried the audience into the sunny afternoon, giving the crowd a sampling of his four decades of making music.

Enter the Haggis, an indie rock/folk band from Toronto, Canada, rocked the Watson Stage crowd, supporting their newest album Enter the Revolution, which the band recorded an entire album of material after being inspired from reading the March 30, 2012 edition of the Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper.

Donna the Buffalo kept the roots rolling on the Americana Stage. The nonstop touring Americana group hailing from Trumansburg, New York, is led by Jeb Puryear on guitar and Tara Nevins on fiddle.

Over on the Watson Stage, DC-based Celtic tradition-fusion group Scythian energized the audience with nonstop action and enthusiasm. Led by brothers Alexander and Danylo Fedoryka, Scythian played with breakneck speed to drinking songs and dirges with melodic harmonies, and had the crowd clapping and dancing for their entire set.

After Scythian, Russell Moore and IIIrd Time Out eased the Watson Stage audience into the evening. Founded in Cumming, Georgia, the bluegrass group showed an appreciative Watson Stage audience why they’re an IBMA award-winning vocal group and Moore the most awarded IBMA vocalist.

The Steep Canyon Rangers thrilled the Watson Stage crowd into the night with their spirited performance. The Asheville, NC-based progressive bluegrass group, on the cusp of their recent Grammy win for Best Bluegrass Album for Nobody Knows You, performed songs from their past and present to. The Rangers joined frequent collaborator Steve Martin and singer/songwriter Edie Brickell on the Late Show with David Letterman stage earlier this week, and continue touring in support of Nobody Knows You and with Martin and Brickell for select dates for their joint effort Love Has Come For You.

The iconic bluegrass group the Del McCoury Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band brought the Watson Stage crowd to their feet with a rousing performance that even left the performers smiling with appreciation for what they’d just accomplished.

Phil Higgins and Corey Harris set up shop on the Cabin Stage with a melodic set featuring Higgins on harmonica and Harris’ guitar work to prepare the crowd for Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule.

Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule headlined the night Southern rock-blues band Gov’t Mule has become a festival staple over their years of touring, who, along with Haynes (notably with The Allman Brothers and The Dead) are various members of other known bands and have compiled. Haynes’ guitar solos and soulful vocals cut into the Wilkesboro night, urging the audience to “Get Behind the Mule.”

Day 3 of MerleFest continues on the Wilkes Community College with Mountain Heart, Peter Rowan, Chatham County Line among dozens of other performances in the morning and afternoon, leading into the evening headliners Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Sam Bush Band, the Sam Bush-hosted Tribute to Doc Jam, and Jerry Douglas.

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Denison Witmer