WILKESBORO — MerleFest, presented by Window World and slated for April 27-30, announced six more additions to the 2017 lineup: The Avett Brothers, Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, Chatham County Line Electric Holiday, Mandolin Orange, Steep Canyon Rangers and Sierra Hull. This year will be the 30th celebration of this homecoming of roots music artists and fans that draws over 75,000 participants every year.
MerleFest has already announced over 75 artists for 2017, including Zac Brown Band with a very special acoustic set, Del McCoury Band, Jim Lauderdale, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Mountain Heart and many more. The rest of the packed lineup for MerleFest 2017 will roll out over the next few months.
The Avett Brothers — The Avett Brothers made mainstream waves with their 2009 major label debut, “I and Love and You,” landing at No. 16 on the Billboard Top 200, garnering critical acclaim from Rolling Stone, Paste, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Time. In 2012, “The Carpenter” hit No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200, drawing praise from People, USA Today and American Songwriter. The group appeared on Jimmy Kimmel LIVE! twice in a few months’ time. During their second performance, the Brooklyn Philharmonic joined to pay homage to Brooklyn with “I and Love and You” at Mr. Kimmel’s request. Their eighth studio album, “Magpie and the Dandelion,” debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard Top 200. They performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Show with David Letterman and accompanied Chris Cornell for a Pearl Jam tribute on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The band supported The Rolling Stones in Raleigh during 2015’s Zip Code Tour.
“True Sadness” achieves The Avett Brothers’ highest career debut to date and dominates multiple charts. The Rick Rubin-produced album hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Albums Chart, No. 1 on the Top Rock Albums Chart, No. 1 on the Digital Albums Chart and No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200. The Americana Music Association named it the No. 1 Most Played Album of 2016. The Avett Brothers will perform on opening night of MerleFest and again on Saturday.
Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy — To fans of fiddle music, Natalie MacMaster needs no introduction. Over a recording career now spanning 25 years, this Order of Canada recipient has released 11 albums that have notched sales of over 200,000 copies. She has won two JUNO and 11 East Coast Music Awards and been nominated for a Grammy; is in great demand as a charismatic performer; and has collaborated with artists as diverse as Yo-Yo Ma (on the Grammy-winning album “Songs of Joy & Peace”), Alison Krauss, Jesse Cook, and Béla Fleck. Though acknowledging that she can be “a musical chameleon,” Natalie stresses that, above all else, “I play Cape Breton fiddle.”
Her husband, Donnell Leahy, is no stranger to the awards podium himself. He is the oldest brother of the internationally acclaimed family musical group Leahy, winners of three JUNO Awards. Widely recognized as one of the best Celtic fiddlers in the world, his high-energy playing style also makes him a highly popular performer. With the release of their latest studio album, “ONE,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard World Music chart, a milestone was hit, as the release was their official first full recording as a duo. “When we married in 2002, we felt there would be some recording project in our future, but we didn’t realize it wouldn’t happen until 2014!” says Natalie. “Six children later, we’ve finally documented our musical growth together.” The talented duo will perform on Sunday.
Steep Canyon Rangers — The Steep Canyon Rangers add an authentic and distinct sound in North Carolina’s array of native musical talent, including Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, James Taylor, John Coltrane, Randy Travis and The Avett Brothers. A bluegrass band at their core, the Steep Canyon Rangers effortlessly walk the line between festival favorite and sophisticated string orchestra. They are as danceable as the most progressive, party-oriented string band and equally comfortable translating their songs for accompaniment by a full symphony. It’s that mix of serious chops and good-natured fun that earned the Steep Canyon Rangers the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album in 2013 and that drew celebrated comedian/banjoist Steve Martin to them when he needed a backing band. Fifteen years and nine studio albums since forming in Chapel Hill, N.C., the sextet, who call Western North Carolina home, returned to their roots at Echo Mountain Recording for their staggering new collection, “RADIO.” The Rangers are world-class musicians who are just as at home taking the stage at Carnegie Hall as they are knee-deep in a mountain brook, fly rod in hand. The Steep Canyon Rangers will perform on Friday.
Mandolin Orange — Mandolin Orange has steadily picked up speed and fans since releasing “This Side of Jordan,” the band’s 2013 breakthrough debut on Yep Roc Records, last year’s follow up “Such Jubilee” and its new album, “Blindfaller.” Released September 30, “Blindfaller” made Rolling Stone’s 40 Best Country Albums of 2016, debuted No. 3 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Album Chart and was featured on NPR’s “Heavy Rotation,” among others.
“Blindfaller” delivers power and devastation lurking in its quietude, the doom hiding beneath its unvarnished beauty. Listeners will hear the way it magnifies the intimacy at the heart of the North Carolina duo’s music, as if they created their own musical language as they recorded it. The album highlights songwriter Andrew Marlin’s sharpened lyrical prowess, the album touches on broad themes of growing older and feeling helpless in a world torn by injustice. There’s heartache by the numbers on “Blindfaller,” but there is also room for detours with freewheeling songs. Mandolin Orange will perform on Thursday.
Sierra Hull — Singer, mandolinist and former child prodigy Sierra Hull signed with Rounder at age 13 and distinguished herself by becoming the first bluegrass musician to receive a Presidential Scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music. The International Bluegrass Music Association named Sierra the 2016 Mandolin Player of the Year, the first woman in the show’s history to take home this honor. Now a seasoned touring musician nearing her mid-20s, Sierra Hull has delivered her most inspired, accomplished and mature recorded work to date – no small feat. She released Grammy-nominated “Weighted Mind,” her first new album in five years, in 2016. The album is nominated for the Grammy Award’s Best Folk Album. Though she is best known for her work as a mandolin player, Hull reveals on this album her abundant gifts as a composer and lyricist. Sierra Hull will perform on Friday and Saturday.
Chatham County Line Electric Holiday — For over a decade of Decembers, the single-mic-surrounding, all-acoustic Chatham County Line has hosted a special Electric Holiday Tour where the band eschews its acoustic mantle and embraces the advent of electricity. With the addition of drummer Evans Nicholson and electric bass player Jay Brown, CCL’s Greg Readling gets to moonlight on pedal steel and piano, and Dave Wilson and John Teer get to scratch their electric guitar itch. Banjo maestro Chandler Holt might even sing a song or two. The band will put new energy behind some CCL classics as well as scratch the dust off of a few AM Goldies. It has long been the band’s dream to bring the Electric Holiday out in the off season, and that is just what is happening for the 30th Annual MerleFest. CCL will perform both its Electric Holiday set as well as its all-acoustic set on Friday. The Electric Holiday set will happen on the Dance Stage.
Tickets for MerleFest 2017 are on sale now and may be purchased at MerleFest.org or by calling 1-800-343-7857. A three-tiered pricing structure is again offered for MerleFest 2017. Early Bird Tier 1 ticket discount is available through Feb. 16. Early Bird Tier 2 ticket discount will run from Feb. 13 through April 27. The third price tier will be gate pricing. Fans are encouraged to take advantage of the extended early bird discount.
MerleFest’s lineup reflects the diversity and quality of performers who are the hallmark of the festival. MerleFest is known for its unique mix of traditional, roots-oriented music from the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, Americana, blues, country, Celtic, Cajun, cowboy, zydeco, rock and many other styles that the late Doc Watson referred to as “traditional plus.” The developing lineup is viewable at MerleFest.org/lineup.