What sets MerleFest apart is its unwavering commitment to its roots. The music festival began in 1988 as a fundraiser for a garden at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and it was named in honor of the late Merle Watson (son of Doc Watson). Celebrating its 35th run and what would have been Merle’s 100th birthday, MerleFest still takes place on the Wilkes Community College campus and celebrates the “traditional plus” music of the Appalachians: a mix of bluegrass, Americana, country, rock, blues and more.
Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Brandi Carlile have played at MerleFest over the years. For the 2023 fest, artists include country nonconformist Maren Morris, folk rock band The Avett Brothers (pictured above) and a Black musician collective known as the Black Opry Revue. Bring your lawn chairs, blankets and coolers and dress for the rain for the most comfortable listening experience. Planning to attend multiple days? In addition to nearby hotels, there are plenty of camping options at the YMCA and along the Yadkin River.
Drugs and alcohol are strictly prohibited on the festival grounds, and MerleFest remains committed to cultivating a family friendly environment. The Acoustic Kids Showcase and Little Pickers Family Area are just a few of the features that cater to the younger crowd. MerleFest’s friendly raccoon mascot Flattop is also known to make his rounds at the festival, much to the delight of kids and adults alike.
Navigating 12 stages over four days can cause you to work up an appetite, so be sure to check out some of the local vendors on the festival grounds. From fast food to lighter snacks to all-day breakfast served by nearby elementary and high schools, MerleFest has lots of food options as well as opportunities to give back to the community. Just by attending MerleFest, you’re supporting a good cause: proceeds continue to support Wilkes Community College, and the festival proves a major economic boon to the local economy.
- Over 70,000 people are expected to attend.
- Ticket pricing depends on what day(s) you would like to attend and if you prefer GA or reserved seating. The cheapest option starts at $75 for Thursday General Admission, and the full pricing breakdown can be found here. Children under 12 get free GA seating when accompanied by a paying adult.
- Download MerleFest 2023’s mobile app to access the festival map, performance schedules, artist bios and more.
- Check out Fifty Grande’s guide to North Carolina here.