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by Ryan Snyder

upcoming shows you should check out

SOME DOOBIES, A PLANT AND MAYBE SOME DEAD MAKE FOR ONE FAR OUT MERLEFEST

If you’re wondering what kind of music they have at MerleFest, well, they have both kinds: country and western. And bluesgrass, gospel, folk, jam, rock, Celtic, Cajun and old time, but no one’s nitpicking over all that. Up top, the festival’s 23 rd installment has one of the best lineups in years, starting on Thursday night with the return of Zac Brown Band. The youngest headliner of the weekend will play for the late, late comers, but don’t sleep on the chance to hear the golden voice of Marshville’s own Randy Travis. The festival’s 11 different stages will start to get a lot busier on Friday morning with acoustic duo Jeff & Vida, followed by the magnificent Jim Lauderdale with a crew of guests. Also check out blues historian Paul Geremia, whose uncanny resemblance to Wilford Brimley alone might scare you into getting tested for the beetus. He plays a mean eight-bar also. The main stage starts rolling early Friday afternoon with the great Jerry Douglas gets maybe a little too funky for this fest, as he’s joined by bassist Victor Krauss and drummer Omar Hakim. Douglas and company are followed by bluesman and Buffett sideman Sonny Landreth, but the biggest draw of the night are the Doobie Brothers, who are sporting the near classic lineup with Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons and Michael Hossack these days. Still no Michael McDonald, however, who’s apparently still busy with his backup vocal duties on Christopher Cross’s “Ride Like the Wind.”

The best band name of the festival goes to Asheville’s Blind Boy Chocolate & the Milk Sheiks, whose music is just as silly as their name sounds. They’ll pick up the dance tent on Saturday morning opposite Donna the Buffalo on the main stage. Amidst the slew of clogging demonstrations and guitar workshops, make some time for the fine acoustic quartet from Asheville called Town Mountain on the Hillside Stage. They sure can write a song and make a fine old-timey sound. Later on, also on the Hillside Stage is a happening that needs no introduction. The Waybacks will have undoubtedly the biggest crowd of Saturday afternoon for their Hillside Album Hour. What’ll it be this year? You won’t really know until the first notes are played, but the presence of Joan Osborne says the good money is on something by the Grateful Dead, with odds favoring American Beauty. Some might say Led Zeppelin, with Robert Plant playing the next day, but it’s unlikely he’ll be there yet having played New Orleans Jazz Fest the day before. If it’s too crowded there, head over to see dynamite fiddler Casey Driessen’s band the Colorfools. Driessen will also take the reins of the midnight jam, thankfully, after Zac Brown’s mediocre job last year as host. Sam Bush opens for Lyle Lovett & his Large Band on the main stage that night, with Donna the Buffalo hosting the Saturday night dance.

The choices get a little easier on Sunday, but whatever you do, make sure it includes the Spirit of Sunday with Doc Watson. Some like to head over to the Creekside Stage to see him deliver it in person, but there’s something about the way it sounds over WKNC. It’s a low-key day that almost demands sticking to the main stage for the Infamous Stringdusters, a set by Hot Rize frontman Tim O’Brien and the illustrious Robert Plant and his Band of Joy to close it out. Tickets for all days (except for the Midnight Jam) are still available at www.merlefest.org.

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