First-time Midnight Jam host promises a ‘Colorfool’ experience

by Ryan Snyder

Casey Driessen will host MerleFest’s Midnight Jam and perform with his band The Colorfools on Saturday (photo by Michael Witcher).

There are few certainties associated with every MerleFest: Doc Watson’s Spirit of Sunday address is going to move someone to tears, the Hillside Album Hour will be standing room only well before the music even starts and the Midnight Jam is going to rouse at least one young picker to steal their way into the famed jam session. It was years ago that that youngster was one Casey Driessen, an aspiring violinist who took the tricky route to playing alongside his picking idols. Now, all he has to do is call them up and ask.

After years as an invitee, the 32-year old violin wizard will assume duties as the host of the festival’s sold-out Midnight Jam, happening this Saturday in the Walker Center at Wilkes Community College. It’s an opportunity that he relishes, but also not one to which he’s entirely foreign.

The Nashville resident regularly hosts his own jam sessions and parties in the talent-rich heart of Americana and country music, and he’s not short on musical association to call upon.

The lineup of MerleFest itself is loaded with artists with whom Driessen has previously worked, heroes he’s never met and artists that just seem to jump off the schedule page because of their history. Possibilities, as they often are at the Midnight Jam, seem endless. Jim Lauderdale, a jam regular and previous host, will be onsite almost all weekend.

Hot Rize leader Tim O’Brien, for whom Driessen contributed to three solo albums, will participate in daytime jams on Saturday before playing his own main stage set on Sunday. Then there are guys like Sam Bush who just seem to be everywhere at MerleFest.

Some seem like possibilities dependent upon travel schedules, namely Darrell Scott of Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, who will be traveling from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on Saturday for their Sunday performance. Then there are others that seem reasonable, but have logistical roadblocks. Dobro legend and previous collaborator Jerry Douglas, however, appears extremely unlikely because of a performance in Indio, Calif. the following day at the Stagecoach Festival. The same applies to another Driessen contributor — including on his most recent album Oog — Victor Krauss, who will join Douglas as a member of his trio and Saturday headliner Lyle Lovett as a member of his Acoustic Group.

“I try to assemble a good core of people, and I know friends are going to bring other picking friends and people are going to show up because they want to be at the jam. It’s a really organic scene,” Driessen said. “I’m doing my best to reach out to artists across all genres that are represented there. Not just bluegrass artists, but blues artists, old-time artists and performance artists.”

The core of the jam of course will be Driessen’s own band the Colorfools, an often revolving cast of players that will include bassist Alana Rocklin and drummer Jeff Sipe this weekend. They’ll play their own set Saturday afternoon, which will feature primarily Driessen’s eclectic fusion of jazz, bluegrass and folk, an ethos that’s reflected in the name of the band itself. It’s the band’s only scheduled gig before Driessen kicks off a summertime run as a special guest for the original lineup of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, with stops that include the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

“I play with so many types of folks that I don’t always do a band on my own. I might be playing with Bela [Fleck], I might be playing with Tim O’Brien,” Driessen said. “I was trying to think of something that would illustrate the types of people I would have with me both music and personality wise. Which are, they’re all colorful characters and I’m a fan of being colorful.”

Casey Driessen & the Colorfools’ Live at the Grey Eagle is available for free download for a limited time at