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Musings on folk, Americana, country, bluegrass and newgrass

Rain, The Avett Brothers and The Waybacks’ Hillside Album Hour promise to be MerleFest highlights on Saturday, April 25

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WILKESBORO, N.C. — It wouldn’t be MerleFest if it didn’t rain. And unfortunately, after two gorgeous spring days of making music and memories at the 28th annual Americana music festival on the Wilkes Community College campus deep in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills, the forecast is calling for just that all day Saturday. But don’t let the weathermen (and women) deter you from heading out to what promises to be another day full of musical surprises and more.

Saturday’s performance highlights include North Carolina natives The Avett Brothers return to the Watson Stage in addition to The Gibson Brothers, Peter Rowan and the Doc Watson Tribute put together by none other than T. Michael Coleman, a Grammy-winning bassist who played with both Merle and Doc and has made it his mission to keep their memories alive.

Diehard fans of The Avetts will disagree (Tanya Marsh I am talking to you), but the highlight of Saturday for many MerleFest fans will come at 4:01 p.m. when James Nash, leader of the San Francisco-based The Waybacks, announces the much-anticipated focus of his band and their special guests — Joan Osborne, Sam Bush, Jim Lauderdale, and Jens Kruger — for the next hour (or two). The Hillside Album Hour, which began in 2008, quickly became the biggest attended event outside of the Watson Stage performances. Nash and his bandmates started giving clues for this year’s album (a closely held secret until they hit the stage for the Album Hour) on social media about a month before the festival. This year’s clues are:

CLUE #1: We promise to treat you right.

CLUE #2: Myrtle Grant, his ex, wanted nightly bar romance.

CLUE #3: Smiling rookie flips out on two joints.

CLUE #4: She was a friend of mine.

“This year’s Album Hour is our most ambitious to date,” Nash said in an interview after today’s Waybacks performance in the Walker Center. “We’re taking a classic American album and exploring its lyrical themes by juxtaposing music from other artists and time periods. The album we’ve chosen is from the mid-’80s (our first from that decade). We’ve been rehearsing with Joan (Osborne) using FaceTime.”

With more 80 acts performing on 13 stages during the four-day festival, attendees can expect the unexpected with special surprises, spontaneous jam sessions and one-of-a-kind musical collaborations like the Waybacks’ Hillside Album Hour.

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