2013 Merlefest

Lets load up at say . . . .5:00am!


Easy flight through  Detroit and Raleigh/Durham. No sequester traffic controller problems.

Great dancing water fountain at the Detroit airport:


Diana and John were great tour guides of their old stomping grounds in Chapel Hill! Funny art in one of the squares.


John and Diana’s old home in Chapel Hill


It’s time to shop for provisions. First stop, a combo Orange Tree Imports/Metcalfe’s X 10! Southern Seasons, huge store with lots of . . . cheese!


How about a 85 pound wheel of Parmigianino for $1,600!


Well no . . . but maybe some Uplands Pleasant Ridge cheese from Dodgeville, WI for only $20/pound. They knew about the cows!!


The store had every food magazine you could think of . . . .


including that my favorite . . . Southern Gardens and Guns!


Let’s gets some picnic food!


It might only be 2:00pm in Chapel Hill but it’s 5:00pm somewhere!

Lets share a bottle of wine!


It’s spring down south. All of the trees are leaved out, many of the flowering shrubs are in full bloom and it is warm . . . and the loopers are out too.


Oh yeah, how about a case of wine for camp!


and one of John’s favorite breads . . .  the La Miche!


Suddenly it was 5:30 and time for a cocktail!


Followed by an appetizer of fried oysters . . .


A great southern dinner of barbeque . . . with Susie and Kim.


. . .  and of  course bread pudding!!!!!


Need to now sleep all that off. It was a long day starting at 3:30am. Tomorrow it’s more food shopping and off to Wilkesboro, home of Merlefest!

Merlefest, Day 1

We spent the night in Carrboro, a neighboring town to Chapel Hill, with Suzie, a great friend of Diana’s. The two of them started a long career with IBM more years ago than they would admit to! Both are retired and Suzie built this beautiful house in 1999. 19

Morning coffee and southern hospitality . . .


Local boy does good . . . getting a bridge named after himself!21

Soon we were on to another of John and Diana’s favorite haunts, the Open Eye Cafe to pick up some coffee for camp . . .


. . . and in true WI tradition, how about a second breakfast! emJay proves the adage . . .when in ‘Rome do as the Romans’ by enjoying grits with multiple toppings22a

We headed to the Webster Street Coop to do our final provisioning for the twelve campers. Interestingly, they must be catering to their “older” boomer generation customers by providing “spy glass” magnifiers about every five feet along the homeopathic/nutrition/supplement aisle so you one can read the fine print on the bottles!!!


Another good product line from WI.


John knew the store like the back of his hand, having shopped here two to three times a week during their time in Chapel Hill. Although there was LOTS of healthy produce . . . 25

. . .  he still knew where the goodies were kept. Vegan and gluten free too!26

One last stop before heading to Merlefest was Tom’s Seafood to pick up our soft shell crabs for tonight’s dinner.27

Captain Tom had just got off the boat and was busy cleaning fish.28

This fellar’ needed some dental work!29

Half way to Wilkesboro it was time for lunch and we stopped at Diana and Jon’s favorite roadhouse, Little Richards. emJay enjoyed the daily special, barbeque chicken!


FINALLY . . . we arrived at our Merlefest camp in Wilkesboro. Pattie and Larry, from Middleton, were the first to arrive, having driven down, and staked out our claim. Now they REALLY know how to camp. Here is a look at their 12X15 foot ‘Taj Mahal’ complete with cots and towel service!31

Sometimes it’s hard to get away from work . . . but what better place for John to take a conference call than under a shade awning, in 70 degree weather. Shortly after this shot we declared the site a ‘workfree zone’ and broke out the vino.


Here is our dinner . . . enjoying the pleasant afternoon!


Tonight’s kitchen catering crew consisted of Patti, John and Rick. We got the line cooking going  as Patti rubbed garlic over the toasted baguettes. . . . 34

. . . .John ‘delunged’ and ‘deheaded’ the little fellars . . .


. . .  and Rick fried them up in a pan!


Three down . . . nine to go!


Say good by Charlie . . . next stop the bottom of some lucky campers tummy!


Softshell crab served on a toasted garlic baguettes with basil. Doesn’t get much better!


Pam and Terry flew in from Madison and had some “luggage delay” problems due to rerouting (sequester fallout?!). They were several hours late and got to camp JUST in time to catch tonight’s main stage headliners Leon Russell and the Charlie Daniels Band. How would they find our campsite where we are staying . . . look for the Wisconsin W!


The main stage at Merlefest features the nightly headliners usually starting about 7:00pm. During the day, at any one time, there 7-9 other stages with music available. Transportation to and from the fest, which is held on the Wilkesboro Community College, is supplied by a fleet of busses owned by the local Boy Scout troop. The busses run continuously and they come by about every 10 minutes.The “fathers” work for tips only. It must be a great fund raiser for the troop!


Our WI contingent stakes out our claim. Jumbotron monitors provide great close up viewing and there is not a bad seat in the house!


Tonight’s headliners were Leon Russell followed by the Charlie Daniels Band. A real blast from the past. Our group was able to sing along to almost every song. The performers have aged . . .but their enthusiasm on skills remain very much in place.42

By 10:30 we were snug in out sleeping bags ready to face the 35 degree overnight temps and dreaming of tomorrows breakfast burritos!

Merlefest, Day 2

It was a chilly night with the a clear sky and temps dipping into the lower 30’s. Luckily, because of our normal tough Wisconsin weather conditions we came prepared with lots of down clothes, gloves and hats. There were no MIDNIGHT potty excursions tonight though!

The Y opened at 5:00am during the week, so by 5:30am your humble blogger was inside, where it was warm, drinking complimentary coffee and journaling.

They have a visitor board which emJay was quick to update with our home city of Madison. Up until then there had been no Wisconsin entries. Of course there were also none for New York, Paris and Rome. We were the first!


By the time I returned to camp it was still chilly but with the rising sun things quickly warmed up. The kitchen crew of Pam, John and Patti bean preparing the morning fare . . . breakfast burritos!. YUM!!!!


Assembly line in actions . . . “Hey, no samples for the kitchen staff!”


Plenty of accoutremonts



Long time fiend of John and Diana’s, neighbor Vic, stops by to borrow a little salt.


With every great meal comes the clean up and today Larry jumped right in and took over the operation.


We headed to the concert grounds and circulated among 5 stages, checking the schedule and popping in to to see a group that peaked our curiosity.

We spent a lot of time at the Americana stage, lounging on the grass and soaking up the sun, sites and sounds. A person can work up an appetite doing that and before you knew it . . . time for lunch!

emJay and I headed to ne of the many food tents.  mmmm. . ..what to order from the many offerings. We decided on the Pad Thai with chicken, and optional egg roll. I quickly learned RULE #1 of Merlefest food vendors’ or just southern hospitality in general. People here are generous! I should have asked to see the portions sizes first or checked out someone else’s order before ordering because one order to share would have been PLENTY!. Of course being from good German and Polish stock we could not let anything go to waste and before you know it we were full and heading over to see Donna . . .


. . . the Buffalo.


a great band from New York. They evidently were originally called something like Dawn the Buffalo, but everyone ended up calling them Donna the Buffalo, so they changed their name!


not sure if their fiddlers name is even Donna!

Seems like every group we have seen has been extraordinary talented. They must have quite a screening process for potential performers at Merlefesat. Any one of many could certainly be a national star and we have had many discussions’ about how quirky the entertainment field is and who makes it big and who doesn’t. There must be a measure of just plain old luck involved and being at the right place at the tight time. The digital world had definitely changed things too . . . for the better, who knows?

Americans love to shop, wherever they are, and this festival had many rows of vendors selling everything from tie dyed garments to homeopathic pain relievers to CD’s of every artist appearing at MF to the ubiquitous t-shirt vendors. We all agreed we didn’t  need another t-shirt but the one with that said Pink Floyd, with a pink picture of Floyd the Barber form the old Andy of Mayberry show, was tempting!


the “official” MF vendor with personalized garb just for the festival.


The performers and fan base is widespread bringing acts and visitors from all over the country. How about this favorite NC son . . .


Our routine has evolved, after only one day of heading to the festival grounds, a short 10 minute bus ride supplied by the local Boy Scout’s troops parents ( I did check Lynn and they still need to sell popcorn too in the fall as an entrepreneurial/skill building activity). Visiting several stages, maybe having a little lunch, hitting a few more stages and then returning to camp for a little cocktail social hour to discuss the days event before heading back for the evening headliners.

Camp is a VERY quite place during the day. Oh yeah, Larry and I have been hitting the fitness center located in the Y to try heading off or at least equaling the calorie intake! So far . . .probably not even close!


Diana and John’s daughter, Cate, who lives in NC, has brought her friend Erin and the two have has joined us for the next several days. Sara, daughter number 2, was not able to join the group this year because of college. The four of them have been to 6-7 MF as a family. The is no alcohol or tobacco allowed on the MF grounds to it really encourages family participation. 


Erin came prepared for the event by purchasing a new Calvin Klein raincoat, tres chiché!

Hear the crowds comments here:


Catching up on family events over an appetizer of boiled shrimp!


Cate and Erin prepare to leave for the evening events with a little “concert enhancing” beverage.


Happy campers


Let’ break a little more bread . . .


. . .   for one more round of goodies.64

It’s dark by the time we return at 10:00pm after the headlining show so its not a bad idea to have your sleeping bag ready to jump into, your toothbrush handy, etc. emJay and I like to leave our coffee cups out for the morning coffee service that is provided.


Main stage action tonight . . .


included the New Orleans Preservation Band and the Del McLaury Band playing together. A really interesting mix of music styles that were really quite complimentary.


The second headliner, Government Mule, did do much for most of us. Some thought the mule should be taken out back and shot!

Soon it was time to head back to camp. Today was BEAUTIFUL with bluebird sunny days and temps in the 70’s. It was actually too hot in the direct sun for our tender winter skin.

The rest of the festival looks like it could be interesting with increasing chances of rain through Sunday. Woodstock REDUX? We got the rain gear handy!

Merlefest, Day 3

Not quite as cold last night and everybody started stirring about 7:00am

Patti and Larry provided a great breakfast of homemade granola, strawberries and yogurt.

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Neighbor Vic return the favor of borrowing some salt by making a trip to the local Krispe Cream and leaving us a dozen sugar bombs.


m . . . healthy or not healthy, such a dilemma. Easiest solution . . try some of both!


Kate decides to try the dunk technique. Arial looks a little apprehensive!


Patti prepares some gourmet coffee


Soon we were on the bus and headed to the fest.


One of the great things about the fest grounds is the no alcohol and tobacco rule.


Fuller service festival . . . before you even get through the ticket area they have a welcome band rotating through on an hourly basis.


Part of the Bluebird Fleet that transports campers from four different areas around town.


Lets go shopping!


Free sniffing!


The weather was overcast and a little cool today, actually a nice change from yesterdays glaring sun. But it did slow down hat sales.


The fest had a great sand sculpture area located in the crossroads so you could check up on the progress several times during the day.


Pam and Terrys favorite dance band. They saw them four times!


We are hoping Wisconsin looks like this by the time we return.


While passing through one of the buildings to get to the Hillside stage, I came across this auditorium and stopped in to hear the Greencards . . . probably one of the best groups I’ve heard and I just happened upon them!

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At the Hillside waiting for Michael Martin Murphy


That’s his son Ryan playing the mandolin.


The big closing with his big hit Wildfire. Hear it hear:


The Hillside offer GREAT viewing but is very steep. Here is our happy group with our heels dug in to keep from sliding down the hill onto the stage!


The pesky raccoon, the Merlefest mascot, ha been visiting our camp kitchen all week and we finally see him during the daylight hours!


After our usual 4:00pm cheese and crackers break we headed back to see tonight’s headliner, the Sam Bush band. The were REALLY great!


We got back to camp about 11:30pm, there was a light drizzle but as we approached we could her some fantastic singing. There huddled under John’s tarps in a circle were about nine of our crew having a sing along  led by Larry and his son Grayson. We grabbed a chair and joined in for the next 45 minutes. Lots of fun! The only thing that broke it up were when several of the gang, including the guitarists, decided to head back to the festival dance tent to hear Donna the Buffalo.


The rest of us headed to bed still humming the tunes we had been singing.


A really sweet day.

Merlefest, Day 4

Our Dance Crew arrived back in camp about midnight after having worked off all the evening calories dancing the night away to Donna the Buffalo.

Rain was in the forecast for today. A pit stop about 5:30am revealed no rain but about 6:30am one could hear the gentle pitter patter on the tent.

The forecast was 100% rain for the last day of MF and for once the weather man was right.

The group decision was made to break camp, load up everything wet, pack it away and head for the music. Lots of hands make for an easy loading operation and by 10:30 we had the camp down and in the vehicles. We grabbed our rain gear and headed for the music.

The sand sculptors were just about done with their 2013 tribute to MF. Very nice . . . but you wonder what happens to it after the event. Does the clean up crew come around with wheel barrows and shovels or a bobcat?


We headed to the Creekside stage for hear the Avett Family singers. The Hillside stage is aptly named due to the steepness of the terrain. We have yet to see the creek at the Creekside stage but it may appear today in the form of a flash flood! As you can see from the photo, people come to MF to hear the music rain or shine!


Wet + Cold = Fuel for Energy, so by noon we needed to refuel and headed for the food tent. Red beans/rice and Jambalaya were our noon entrees enjoyed under the standing room only big top. By the time I got out my camera both were gone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Soon it was time to move on from MF. Although we had planned to camp over Sunday night, the 100% continued precip forecast prompted us to follow Plan B. Patti and Larry packed up their Tahoe and headed north to Wisconsin. Pam and Terry chose to spend the night in Greensboro where they would fly out on Monday afternoon.


The rest of the Fitchburgians drove back to Chapel Hill to spend the night at Suzie’s glorious “B&B”. As we drove along we listened to the Merlefest Main Stage audio broadcast on 90.0 FM until we were out of range. BUT . . . no reason to stop enjoying the tunes of MF as emJay pulled out her recently purchased new collection of music.

We arrived at Suzie’s and were able to meet her twin daughters Anna and Emily who came over for a visit. Two very delightful young women who are making their way in the world as a marketing executive and dentist. After a hot shower and a fabulous Lasagna dinner we were all tucked into our comfy beds by 10:00pm still humming the final tunes we heard at the 2013 Merlefest.

On the way home . . .

What a great final night we had at Susie’s. Great company, great food, great beverages, down bedding, comfy mattress and quiet . . . as I drifted off to sleep I thought I could hear the theme song from Andy of Mayberry, which was filmed just down the road!


By 7:30am we were all up and ready for a little pie . . .  it’s never too early for pie down south!



How are we going to spend our last day discussions ensued.


Spring has definitely sprung in the south and all the little critters were busy doing what critters do. No wonder things grow so well down here.


See Diana’s High hurdles here:


We decided to go to neighboring Pittsboro for a final shopping and eating spree. John and I headed to a used bookstore the our better halves shopped. Susie was at the gym working out and would meet us for lunch.

Being a woodworker I was interested in a shop that taught woodworking classes using of belt driven equipment. Too bad there was not a class going on at the time. It would have been neat to see it all in action.


I did meet the owners pet chicken, Gertie!


Stranger in a strange land . . .


We went to one of John and Diana’s old haunts and as is so common in the restaurant business the ownership had changed hands. The menu look interesting so we agreed to give it a try. The local beer, Bad Betty, was quite tasty as was the fried green tomato appetizer.


Fish tacos all around except for John who was craving MEAT and had the bison burger.


. . . was that carrot cake we saw when we walked in homemade? Yes! (emJay and I shared it)


Lets check out the other side of the street.


One final stop.


Funny about the south. . . .folks seems pretty laid back such as at this store . . . good luck catching them open!


. . . to this place, where like the rest of the country, it’s go, go go.


But wherever we went, people were very friendly and warm to us Yankees.


We’d like to offer thanks Diana and John for introducing us to Merlefest and including us in their 8 year tradition and to Susie for opening her home to us for two nights and being such a gracious hostess.


We are already making plans for Merlefest 2014!

Thanks for coming along.