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Every fourth weekend in April, Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro transforms from a school devoted to technical training to a festival devoted to traditional picking as MerleFest, one of the country's biggest music festivals, takes to the park-like campus. Over four days, nearly a hundred artists perform on over a dozen stages—offering attendees more than 45 hours of continuous music. Founded in 1988 as a fundraiser for the college's gardens and in tribute to the life of Merle Watson, Merle's father Doc Watson headlined the first festival, as he has every festival. In the 20 years since that first festival, where top names in roots music performed on a flatbed truck to some 4000 fans, more than 75,000 fans from around the world now come to MerleFest. The festival continues to raise awareness and funds for the college—to date more than $8 million.
In 2007, MerleFest marked its 20th anniversary with another all-star lineup of musical artists—and UNC-TV returned to capture some of the spirit and musical performances for MerleFest Moments. This hour long special takes you to a prime spot in the lawn for a VIP seat to enjoy select highlights from 2007's 20th anniversary festival. Sit back and watch full-length performances by seven fan favorites. Donna the Buffalo, from the Finger Lakes area of New York, kicks off the special with their infectious hybrid country and jam band sounds that attract passionate followers. Next up, Virginia’s traditional bluegrass band Blue Highway shows why its members are multi-award winning artists. The Waybacks, from the San Francisco Bay Area, demonstrate how the band gained fame for pushing the limits of traditional music with what it calls “acoustic mayhem.” Asheville's Steep Canyon Rangers, who recently backed up comedian/banjo picker Steve Martin, offer clear and clean classic bluegrass sounds. Grammy winner Pam Tillis, one of CMT's “40 Greatest Women of Country Music,” performs at trio of tasteful acoustic songs—including her #1 single, Mi Vida Loca. The acclaimed all-woman string band Uncle Earl combines some high lonesome vocals and tight harmonies with driving fiddle and mandolin runs. Legendary New Grass Revival lead singer John Cowan sums up the MerleFest spirit not so much by playing bluegrass, but by "playing contemporary music on traditional instruments." This roots music fusion pioneer closes out MerleFest Moments with elegant examples of his instrumental and vocal prowess.