Merlefest – 2014


Another cold March weekend and another excuse for a  Merle Fest planning session. Although at this bash the Merle Fest discussion only lasted about 5 minutes! Mostly just an excuse for neighbors, and Naber, to get together for a surprise shopping excursion to the new HyVee store  and to enjoy homemade grille flatbreads!!!  The evening finished with the presentation of a traditional Maris Gras celebration pastry, the King Cake. The story goes whoever gets the piece with the plastic  baby baked in it will have guaranteed good luck for the coming year. Nobody got it on the first go around and everyone was too full to try a second time! Good luck to all!x

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Of course every great adventure starts out with some planning . . . and what better way to do that than over a yummy meal on a cold February winter night. Top that with a cerebration of Charlie’s 60th birthday and it became a night to remember ( for those of us who were sober enough!)

John and Dianna opened their home for the Friday Night Porch night and away we went . . .

The spirits, both physically and spiritually, flowed like water as we nooched away.


emJay enjoys a little goat loaf sandwich!


We celebrate Charlie’s 60th Bday and the twentieth anniversary of emJay and Ricks’ FIRST DATE!


And why confine ourselves to discussion of only one adventure. A trip to Cuba is being planned as well as a possible all woman team heading to RAGBRAI this summer!



And of course what would be a birthday party without a cake?



A ‘representative’ number of candles



Click video to see the GREAT event!!

MSN to Scottsboro, IN.

Its going to be GREAT music, GREAT friendship, GREAT food and drink and supposedly GREAT weather.

Last year we all flew into Wilkesboro and it was sort of a hassle transporting all of our camping gear via FEDEx and on the plane. Being retired, I volunteered to drive everything down and meet the others, who will fly in like last year SANS gear. Charlie will make the drive back with me to MSN.

Neighbor John volunteered the use of his pickup so with a ,”college dorm move” size UHaul trailer rented, I am on the way to North Carolina with all of our gear.


The drive though CHI was the usual parking lot, seems like it is no matter what time of day, but soon I was in BEAUTIFUL Indiana, flat, and brown at this time of year.

As I went further south though, the crabs were starting to flower. NICE!

Tooling down Interstate 65, I saw the two highlights of the day. Ahead I could see a vehicle that I instantly recognized, being from MSN, and notice one of its tail lights was burned out.



One of the fleet of Wiener mobiles from Oscar Mayer!


Go Dog One!

At the same time I was passing through highlight number two, the MASSIVE wind farm generator near Wolcott, IN. Makes our 8-10 generators out by Dodgeville look like child’s play.

“The 500 MW Meadow Lake Wind Farm is a wind farm near Brookston and Chalmers, Indiana, spreading over portions of WhiteJasper, and Benton Counties in Indiana, owned and operated by EDP Renewables North America.[1] The wind farm is undergoing construction in phases, and could eventually reach a combinednameplate capacity of 1000 MW with over 600 wind turbines.[2] The farm can be seen by travelers prominently on both sides of Interstate 65, which runs through the area.” 


Go here to see the stunning movie. And yes, that is Leo LePorte, THE Tech Guy, on the podcast you hear in the background. Leo accompanied me all the way to Scottsboro, my home for the night, located just north of Louisville.

A hearty steak dinner at the bar of the Roadhouse with a bunch of construction  guys, my age, made for an interesting evening. And . . . too many beers! By 6:30am their fleet of 15 pickups were all gone. Not sure how they do it everyday. Must sleep all weekend!


. . .  and Happy Belated Earth Day . . .  don’t miss this video. It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.


Click here to see video.

Go here to see the 2014 lineup:

Scottsboro, IN – Wilkesboro, NC

Up at 6:00am and most of the construction guys were already gone and on the job! A quick breakfast, some emailing, paying bills, fueling up and it was on the road south!


We have definitely left the plains and wind generators of rural Indiana behind! Wonder if any trucker has ever had to use the truck run outs DOT have spaced every mile or so down the hill. If they do, what happens when the steepness of it brings them to a stop . . . with no brakes they would start rolling backwards!!!

3_3Some of them there mountains you can’t go up and over or around . . . got to go through them! Interesting that WV has toll roads. Not sure if they’re using the tolls to repair the roads . . . some stretches needed a little work!!!! As do those in Indiana. Holes big enough to loose a VW in, right on the interstate.

3_5Frankfort, KY where it all started for emJay with TNC over 25 years ago. I always thought she was living in some walk up in a town of 200-300 but Frankfurt is pretty cosmopolitan!!!!! Population 29,000 happy Kentuckians!


Our host for the next 4 nights, Wilkes Family YMCA. We have the run of the place. Pool, workout room, showers, free coffee and wifi.


Home sweet home as the WoHu tent is the first to go up. The rest of the gang will start arriving tomorrow afternoon. Got PLENTY of time to explore metro Wilkesboro!


Day 1

Nice night in Wilkesboro. The quiet before the storm? Did get a little chilly though . . . low of 37. I’m 800 miles south of MSN . . . are we ever going to leave this weather behind!

Headed down to Cagneys for breakfast! “Best kept secret n’ town”,  they say . . . I am telling everyone!


Merlefest is taking over the town for 4 days!


Needed a BIG breakfast because I am going to unload the trailer, solo, and each trip is the width of a football field and up and down a ditch too!


This ain’t NO BACKPACKING trip. But with a nice UHaul trailer there is room to bring all the creature comforts.


Home sweet home . . .


 . . . when are the softshell crabs airdropped into camp? The kitchen is ready!


Becky and Charlie and Diana arrived within 15 minutes of each other. Good timing!

Things were unloaded,  groceries stowed away and tents set up.


Of course, Charlie, Mr REI, had to buy a new tent for the big event. A Big Agnes! Every job needs a supervisor and here Becky ‘helps out’!


Got to keep the shrimp on ice for the Friday night shrimp boil!


Diana and John, having lived in Chapel Hill, have been coming to Merlefest for years. Their kids grew up at Merlefest with many of the ‘same Neighbor’ kids from the NE quarter of the camping area. It was old home week again for Diana . . .

4_11Friends everywhere!

Soon it was time for cheese, bread and “secret sauce”!


The girls and their special brew . .


Charlie had his own version . . .4_12

About 6:00pm we headed down to the festival grounds to see the nights line up. Tonight we hung out at the main stage, one of 12 stages, to hear the headliner Alan Jackson who started at 9:00pm. Prior to that, we heard Smythium, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Holly Williams.


Folk art for sale . . .4_9

The annual sand castle sculpture. Fun to see the progress day to day.

As dusk fell over the stage the three ‘jumbo-tron’ type monitors really came alive and gave great viewing of what was happening on stage. Here is one way to keep warm . . .


BUT . . .  as the sun set it was became cold, AGAIN!!! Sitting in lawn chairs, and not moving around, quickly convinced us to put on every stitch of clothing we had brought along for the night. About 9:30pm Kate and Joe showed up (how they found us in the throng of 80,000 people, I’m not sure!)

It was time for Alan and he put on a GREAT show. As all professionals, very polished and tight. He created a new album last year featuring  blue grass music and played many cuts off the album.  Great show . . . and before long we were back in our tents, snug in our sleeping bags.

Supposed to rain tomorrow . . . but then sunny and mid 70’s on Saturday and Sunday . . . we’ll see how goes!

Day 2

I woke up about 6:00am. It was another cold night . . . thanks heavens for a warm sleeping bag AND the new NeoAir!

Into the YMCA for a quick shower, cup of coffee and them back to the camp kitchen to get the viddles going. Breakfast burritos were on the menu and by the time I got three pots of coffee going,  all the ingredients prepped and sauteing,  the troops were starting to stir . . .


I don’t know . . . do you think we have enough cheese? A Wisconsin thing you know.


Everyone was still sleeping and I was hungry, so . . .breakfast on the veranda for one!


Becky was the first one up. Their airbed didn’t make it through the night. Good thing they brought their Thermarests too!


. . .followed by Diana . . .


Let’s eat!

5_3Full tummies . . .

5_2Kate jumps in to do clean up . . . just like at home, or so she says!


The group headed off for the music and I waited around for emJay to arrive from the Charlotte aeroporto. Soon she arrived, we got her set up in camp and off we too were to the music! But . . . not before having a nice lunchy with Kate and Joe.


We saw a variety of acts from . . . blues

5_15to Donna the Buffalo . . .5_14 Part of the ‘herd’ at Donna the Buffalo.5_13soon it was time for the time honored tradition of happy hour and snacks. . .

5_10boiled shrimp . . . YUM!5_11

. . . oh yeah, chocolate too!5_12A little windy today and some tents in camp took the wind better than others . . .5_16a few more stakes would help here . . .5_9 Here is a GREAT set up for car camping, 8X8 foot tent WITH a screen in vestibule you could put lawn chairs in and put your feet up!5_7There is evidently a lot of other ‘exercising’ going on in the YMCA parking lot too!5_17With that . . .it’s off to tonight’s headerliner, Old Crow Medicine Show!

Day 3

Great night of sleep! Quiet around camp and mid 40’s when we woke up!

I was first up, followed by Diana who right away started preparing to make her magic pancakes.


It wasn’t long before others, sensing the sweet smell of syrup warming on the stove and the smell of fresh coffee started appearing.


Some may have had a better night than others!


Today was sort of a ‘smorgyboard’ event with everyone taking a turn in the kitchen.


Diana back behind the grill . . .


 Joe took the helm and made a special ‘Mickey Mouse’ pancake for Kate. She was VERY impressed stating, “Just like my Dad used to make for me!”

6_20The cake that impressed Kate!


Ah . . . camp life, where life is slow and small things create a nice diversion. Neighbors moving in . . .

6_14The dumpster man makes a visit (at least not at 5:00am like last year) and becomes the center of attention!

6_22These people REALLY don’t want to get wet.

6_6One last cup of joe, all around, before we head over to the music fest!


6_25At our bus stop this year is “Big Woodie”! Ribs, hamburgers and the ‘Big Woodie’, a foot long hotdog!

6_12Looking forward to this addition next year. . .

6_13Lots of good music today and a BEAUTIFUL day with temps in the low 80’s and BLUE sky.

emJay made her way to the blues tent to meet up with the Roy Bookbinder, an great blues man, and friend of her brother Mark.

6_11We all split up during the day, visiting one of the 12 music stages, and seeing the artists we were interested in hearing. Here I was at the Creekside Theater listening to the Kruger Brothers, a FABULOUS group we saw last year at the Stoughton Opera House.



Go here to see a video highlighting the stages AND Becky assembling her SPECIAL REI chair!


Soon it was back to camp for our daily dose of dinner goodies and ‘secret sauce’.

Only injury in camp this year has been Kate tripping on an awning  guy line and getting a rope burn. Even chipped her powder blue ‘Mermaid Tears’ nail polish.


But she was still smiling!


Soon it was time to head back to the grounds for the headliners. Ralph Stanley, Sam Bush and the Steep Canyon Rangers all put on GREAT shows. Kate and Joe headed back for the Midnight Jam, a mix of basically any of the musicans who want to get on stage that runs to 2:15am! Ah . . . to be young again!


6_3A little snack before the Sam Bush Band . . .

. . . ah, one last stop before the bus ride back to camp. IMPORTANT NOTE: plan ahead and go BEFORE the headliner ends and you will miss this lineup!



Day 4

Nice night for sleeping with a low  temp of only 55. Woke to the sweet sounds of birds chatting back and forth.

Last day of the festival today with the headliner Merle Haggard playing at 4:30pm. The whole thing will be over by 6:00.

Diana, Kate and Joe all needed to leave about 2:00pm to catch their flights to points north.

Eggs and toast provided by Charlie and Becky, with a bowl or two of granola thrown in, provided us the energy we needed to get up and get done what was needed to get done, mainly PARTY!

Soon Becky, emJay, Charlie, Diana and I were on the bus to the festival. The crowds were definitely smaller today as many had to move on to get home and back to their daily lives leaving the magic of Merlefest behind until 2015.

Here is a map showing the layout of the whole fest. The Doc and Merle Watson stage is for the headliners and over the years other stages have been added. There are also 5 indoor stages in various buildings around campus making use of some great auditoriums made for music. A great escape if it is raining or the heat gets to you – they are all air conditioned.


The sand sculpture was finished on Saturday and the artist’s sun awning was removed so all could get a good view of the piece. Just 18 tons of sand, and a little water sprayed from small bottles to moisten the sand, was all they used. Not sure what they do with the piece on Monday morning, but I think it involves a front end loader!7_6

There are over 300 musicians, of all ages, appearing at the fest. The program they hand out when you get your wristband does a great job of describing each artist, their background and hits. emJay wanted to see Tut Taylor, a 90 year old dobro player, and his band which included his 60 year old son. Tut can still pick that dobro with the best of them!7_7

7_3Land of the wristbands. One for Merlefest admission, one for the YMCA.

Soon it was time to head over to the main stage to see and hear Merle Haggard. He put on quite a show. I only recognized two of his tunes but emJay was able to sing along to most. He’s had over 36 Number One hits in his long career. Over seventy years old he is still going strong and his band, The Strangers, have won the  Country Music Associations Best Band Award 16 times!

He really knows how to put on a show with just the right amount of chatter, storytelling and music. Not a lot of time between songs AND not much tuning! Seems some artists are constantly tuning their guitars, sometimes between every song, but Merle and a lot of the other pros just play! Sounded good to me!


No encore with Merle. He gets up on stage, does his job, and moves on!

By the time we returned to camp, had a few muchies and some ‘secret sauce’ it was time to eat. We headed downtown tonight for dinner. The town looked like it had been abandoned with at least the 95% of the Merlfest attendees on the road back home. The festival brings in over $10 million dollars to the local community, a good incentive for the locals to put up with a few (80,000) outsiders for 4 days.

We headed to the local BBQ place, Tipton’s, which had really had it’s coolers emptied my Merlfest fans. No baked potatoes, broccoli, okra or ribs left! But we all had some type of BBQ and were licking our fingers when we left.


Unfortunately, being in NC = No Beer to go with that BBQ! A Diet Pepsi was NO substitute for washing down those hush puppies. Would never fly in Wisconsin! Our wait server told us Wilkes County is not a ‘dry county’ but the Southern Baptist Church has such a strong lobby and has supported such strong legislation that most restaurants just don’t want to deal with the hassle. Still have state controlled liquor stores down here for the hard stuff.

The greatest appearance at Merlefest was a group from the norther climes known as the Tilley Sisters. They were one of the friendliest, funniest and most down to earth groups appearing on the grounds. AND we were lucky enough to’ hookup’ with them!


The lead singer Becky was appreciated so much by the locals, they named the YMCA park after her!

7_2 a

A little rain during the night meant it will probably be a wet pack-up in the morning but we’ll head into town for breakfast and deal with it as it comes towards us . . . in the Merlefest vibe!

Wilkesboro, NC to Frankfort, KY

Funny how one rolls over in the middle of the night, half awake, and thinks . . . “Is that a gentle rain I hear on the tent fly.” ANSWER: Yes!!! The forecast was for a few showers between 3 and 5 AM the the weather guys hit it right on the button. I was up at 6:00am and by then it had stopped but was overcast.

It was just emJay, Becky, Charlie and me left in camp and three other tents in the campground. The plan was for the girls to pack up and we would all all drive into town for breakfast.

Down at Cagney’s, a hearty breakfast was had by all and soon it was just Charlie and me left in camp to pack the final load into the trailer and head north. Becky was flying out of Winston/Salem and emJay was heading out of Charlotte

Becky officially returns to the ‘real world’ by literally severing her ties with Merlefest!


The forecast was for rain, on and off, all the way home.

The pack up went smooth and by 11:00am we were headed north. On the route home we decided to avoid Chicago by going north through, Asheville, Knoxville, Lexington, Louisville, Champaign, Bloomington, Rockford and on to MSN.  And . . . we were the last ones out of camp!


A beautiful ride through the mountains around Asheville, the horse country of Kentucky and soon we were in Frankfurt, our home for the night.


This was interesting . . . we passed an “Adult Store”, that looked like it was an old motel . . . and it  was BIG, but right down at the property line was this cross which seemed even BIGGER. Someone must be trying to save someones soul!


As we headed down the road and past Berea, KY, I remembered we passed through Berea, and under the interstate, on the cross country bike trip I was part of six years ago.


Not remembering exactly what had happened that day, I referred to my CGOAB journal to refresh my memory and found it was one of the funniest days of the whole trip.


Click here to read the entry. It involves savage, wild dogs and charging PIGS!


As we headed out to O’Charleys for dinner the skies finally let loose and it poured most of the night. Maybe that will be it for rain?


Frankfort, KY – MSN

It rained all night, part of the HUGE weather system that was passing through the southern states, so Charlie and I were happy to have everything loaded in the truck and be sleeping under a solid roof. We stayed at another Hampton Inn, like I did on the way down, and again they had these phoney pre-printed stickies on the headboards of the beds. Dah . . . I mean isn’t it taken for granted you would have clean bedding on the bed when you check in? Seems like a BAD marketing scheme.

9_4We had a final breakfast and Charlie was good enough to agree to a short tour of downtown Frankfort so I could see where my honey lived 28 years ago when she worked in Frankfort for TNC. Her apartment is the walk up with 4 windows and the blue/green brick. Talked to a woman who lived across the street and she said a fire had wiped out emJays apartment and the second floor of most of the block and the owner had just about completed the post-fire restoration.

9_3Frankfort is the state capital and here is their dome . . . nice setting, but not quite as majestic as Wisconsin’s!

9_2We ventured north and decided to take a route Charlie suggested, bypassing the whole Chicago thing. GREAT idea. Easy driving and really only about 1/2 hour longer which we could have certainly lost going through Chicago in the late afternoon.


9_8Illinois is BIG into wind farms too, utilizing every available space including one right in the middle of the north bound lanes. You REALLY need to swerve quick to miss it.

9_1Wonder if these folks with one in  their back yard get free electricity?

9_5 The hours flew by as we yapped all the way back to MSN where we arrived on the beltline during rush hour traffic and the worst backup we had had on the whole trip! A fast side route home on Rimrock Rd and soon it was time for the final unpack.

9_6 Only thing to do now is have our de-briefing session (READ:another party) to finish off the wine and cheese and to discuss all the interesting observations of Merlefest 2014.

Stay tuned . . .