Merlefest 2016: Watch Tommy Emmanuel, Sierra Hull, and More Pick Out the Jams!

Knowledge and experience pay off. That’s what my mom always told me. She still does. And it goes doubly when you’re setting out to create a video montage from one of your favorite events of the year: Merlefest, that ever-growing piece of musical heaven in the sweet, rolling foothills of my home state of North Carolina. I hope you enjoy it.

I’ve been to MerleFest so many times since its inception in 1988 — at least 10, probably more — that I know almost every nook and cranny. So I put that knowledge to work this year by scouting places to get some video interviews and performances with numerous artists, including Tommy Emmanuel, Sierra Hull, Kacy & Clayton, Happy Traum, and others.


We talked on tour buses, in hotel rooms, next to a creek by the woods, at a hideaway natural amphitheater behind the big Watson Stage. I also got some footage of a few crowd performances, including the Stone Canyon Rangers and John Prine.

I couldn’t have done it without a little help from a pair of childhood friends: Buck Parker (who “managed” my first band when I was 14ish) and Cliff Miller of SE Systems. Buck and Cliff are the sound guys responsible for making the magic happen at Merlefest. They do it well. And how about a shout-out to one of their Merlefest colleagues, Wilkes Community College public relations head Amber Herman. All of them have carted me around the festival site for many years, showing me how the towering sound systems work, and where the best shortcuts are (thanks Amber!).

Oh, and much respect to the late Doc Watson himself, who kindly allowed a very average 16-year-old acoustic-guitar strummer to bring his Gibson Hummingbird backstage with him at the Old Liberty Music Hall in Randleman, NC, for a little jam session. Thanks, Doc! Music would not be the same had you never graced this big old world.

Mark Kemp
Mark Kemp

Former AG editor Mark Kemp is the author of Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race, and New Beginnings in a New South (Simon & Schuster, 2004; University of Georgia Press, 2006).