WILKESBORO — MerleFest, presented by Window World, is going international for its 30th celebration by hosting the The Transatlantic Sessions Tour live at this year’s festival. MerleFest 2017 is scheduled for April 27-30 at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro.
“Transatlantic Sessions” is a series of musical productions that brings together innovative Irish and Scottish artists with the best American roots artists, under the musical direction of American Dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas and Scotland’s supreme traditional-style fiddler Aly Bain. The live concerts are typically recorded in beautiful and intimate spaces throughout the United Kingdom — primarily in Scotland — and are broadcast on public television in the U.K. and the U.S. This will be the first time a “Transatlantic Sessions” performance has taken place outside the U.K., and this lineup will not perform anywhere else. The Transatlantic Sessions Tour at MerleFest will feature hosts Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas with guests folk-rock legend James Taylor, Sarah Jarosz, Maura O’Connell, Declan O’Rourke, Karen Matheson and Joe Newberry.
In addition to the featured guests, each “Transatlantic Sessions” performance has a core group of musicians who form the “house orchestra.” At MerleFest, the Transatlantic Orchestra includes American bluegrass musician Russ Barenberg, Scottish fiddle legend Phil Cunningham, seminal Irish guitarist John Doyle, Scottish artists Donald Shaw and James MacIntosh of Capercaillie, premier Scottish fiddler John McCusker, British flute/whistle master Michael McGoldrick and British bassist Danny Thompson.
The Transatlantic Sessions Tour will take place Friday night on the Watson Stage from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Each guest will perform a small set of their own music, and then all guests and the hosts will join together on stage at the end for a grand finalé.
“We are very excited to host The Transatlantic Sessions Tour at MerleFest for our 30th celebration. This is a first for MerleFest and a first for ‘Transatlantic Sessions.’ We are especially grateful to MerleFest veteran Jerry Douglas, a 30-year MerleFest veteran, and his manager, D.J. McLachlan, for making this set possible,” said Steve Johnson, artist relations manager for MerleFest. “It’s going to be a great Friday night on the Watson Stage as Jerry Douglas and Aly Bain invite special guests — some surprises and some fan favorites — to perform over the two hours. It’s something we know Doc, Merle and Rosalee would appreciate, and we know the fans will as well.”
Jerry Douglas — Internationally recognized as the world’s most renowned Dobro player, Jerry Douglas undoubtedly ranks among the top contemporary maestros in American music. Douglas has garnered 13 Grammy Awards and numerous International Bluegrass Music Association awards, and he holds the distinction of being named Musician of the Year by the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music and the Americana Music Association.
Aly Bain — Aly Bain’s traditional-style fiddle playing is unique — driving, impassioned and pure — with vibrant, unmistakable tone that has earned him a following of ardent fans throughout the world. Born in Lerwick, Shetland, in 1946, Aly began playing the fiddle when he was 11. In his early 20s, his dramatic playing, with great tone and technical ability, brought early recognition as an outstanding musician of the folk music revival and almost overnight, raised the level of expectation for music lovers throughout the country. Aly embarked on a life of intensive playing, recording and travel that continues to this day. He helped establish the folk band Boys of the Lough with whom he toured extensively and recorded for many years. Simultaneously, Aly pursued a solo career in collaborative and television projects. Although Aly’s musical base is in Scotland, his extensive travels have led to an appreciation and mastery of many kinds of music.
James Taylor — As a recording and touring artist, James Taylor has touched people with his warm baritone voice and distinctive style of guitar-playing for more than 40 years, while setting a precedent to which countless young musicians have aspired. Over the course of his celebrated songwriting and performing career, Taylor has sold more than 100 million albums, earning gold, platinum and multi-platinum awards for classics ranging from “Sweet Baby James” in 1970 to “October Road” in 2002. In 2015 Taylor released “Before This World,” his first new studio album in 13 years, which earned him his first ever No. 1 album on the Billboard Charts and a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album. He has won multiple Grammy Awards and has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the prestigious Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2012, Taylor received the distinguished Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government and the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony. In November of 2015, Taylor was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. In December of 2016 Taylor received the Kennedy Center Honors, which are presented annually to individuals who have enriched American culture by distinguished achievement in the performing arts
Sarah Jarosz — A gifted multi-instrumentalist, a singularly expressive vocalist, and a songwriter of rare insight, Sarah Jarosz has been described by the New York Times as “one of acoustic music’s most promising young talents; a singer-songwriter and mandolin and banjo prodigy with the taste and poise to strike that rare balance of commercial and critical success.” After receiving a mandolin for Christmas when she was nine years old, Jarosz worked tirelessly to master the instrument and learned to play guitar and clawhammer banjo along the way. She performed at her first bluegrass festival when she was 11. Over the next few years, she gained an impressive reputation as a young phenom on the festival circuit, absorbing a world of traditional influences while honing her own highly original songwriting sensibility. Jarosz has achieved a lot in the music industry. She won two Grammy Awards in February: Best Folk Album for her album “Undercurrent” and Best American Roots Performance. In 2014 she was nominated for two Grammy Awards: Best American Roots Song for “Build Me Up From Bones” and Best Folk Album for the “Build Me Up From Bones.”
Maura O’Connell — Maura O’Connell affectingly renders songs that vary across genres. Some are from occasional tones of old Ireland to sparkling new jazz or pop; others are revisited classics by Van Morrison or Lennon and McCartney to songs of new American songwriters, unheard until she found them. There is at least one recognizable pattern in most all of them: lyrics that set the stage for the song, laying down a context in surroundings or mood or the passing of time, and then honing in on a very specific vignette of love and life.
Born and raised in County Clare, Ireland, she was the third of four singing sisters. But it wasn’t ancient Celt folk tunes in which that household was drenched but their singing mother’s collection of light opera, opera and parlor song records. Thus, O’Connell inhabits the song’s situation. Seeing the songs as drama has led her repeatedly to certain writers, such as Patty Griffin, precisely because of their ability to create characters in swift strokes. All because the marriage of music and narrative was part of O’Connell’s world almost from the beginning.
Declan O’Rourke — Declan O’Rourke was a latecomer to the Dublin singer-songwriter scene. But, in his mid-20s, within months of discovering Dublin’s bustling songwriter open-mic circuit, O’Rourke found himself in the mix with the likes of Paddy Casey, Gemma Hayes, Damian Rice and many other Irish singer-songwriters. Such was the critical and commercial success of O’Rourke’s 2004 debut album, “Since Kyabram,” in Ireland that it opened the doors for him internationally, earning him accolades from the likes of Snow Patrol, Kate Rusby and deejays Jonathan Ross and Edith Bowman, each of whom were rapturous in their praise of Declan’s deep-honey voice and astute song writing abilities. O’Rourke’s songs have been recorded by a host of highly respected, successful artists like Josh Groban, Eddi Reader (MBE), and Swedish pop sensation Peter Jöback.
Karen Matheson — Widely recognized as the compelling vocals of Celtic supergroup Capercaillie, Karen Matheson’s life in the limelight began with her performing as a child in her local village hall in Argyll on the west coast of Scotland. There she was brought up immersed in the deep well of traditional songs that have been her inspiration for over 30 years of recording and performing worldwide. Fast forward to last summer where her stunning rendition of ‘Ae fond kiss’ stole the show at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and to a televised audience of over a billion people.
Her new solo album, “Urram” (September 2015), is a musical love letter to her families’ Hebridean roots, with a collection of timeless Gaelic songs that evoke the character and atmosphere of island life through waulking songs, love songs, lullabies, mouth music and evocative poems to the surroundings.
Joe Newberry — Joe Newberry is a Missouri native and North Carolina transplant who has played music most of his life. Internationally known for his powerful banjo work, he is a prizewinning guitarist, fiddler and singer as well. Joe’s songwriting is characterized by the same clean, elegant style as his banjo playing. Musicians in the folk and bluegrass world often record his songs. The Gibson Brothers’ version of his song “Singing as We Rise,” featuring guest vocalist Ricky Skaggs, won the 2012 IBMA Gospel Recorded Performance award. A frequent guest on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” Joe is a founder of the string band Big Medicine and, along with Mike Compton, performs with Bruce Molsky and Rafe Stefanini as the Jumpsteady Boys.
Joe grew up in a family full of singers and dancers. He took up the guitar and banjo as a teenager and learned fiddle tunes from great Missouri fiddlers. He came to North Carolina as a young man and quickly became an anchor of the incredible music scene in the state. Still going strong more than 30 years later, he does solo and studio work and plays and teaches at festivals and workshops in North America and abroad.
Tickets for MerleFest 2017 are on sale now and may be purchased at MerleFest.org or by calling 1-800-343-7857. An advance ticket discount runs through April 27. Gate pricing begins on the first day of the festival.
MerleFest’s lineup reflects the diversity and quality of performers who are the hallmark of the festival. MerleFest is known for its unique mix of traditional, roots-oriented music from the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, Americana, blues, country, Celtic, Cajun, cowboy, zydeco, rock and many other styles that the late Doc Watson referred to as “traditional plus.” The developing lineup is viewable at MerleFest.org/lineup.