MerleFest reaches out, delivers music to schools

By John Trump

MerleFest, the iconic festival each year in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, is all about the music, in one form or another.

Delivered in a variety of ways.

Held at Wilkes Community College the last weekend in April, MerleFest attracts scores of legendary and coming acts. Organizers also reach into and out to the community to fulfill some the event’s core missions, namely education and enlightenment.

Much like Mountain Faith, artists including the Kruger Brothers, The Gravy Boys, and Steve and Ruth Smith will visit schools this year as part of the MerleFest Outreach Program, which began in 1991.

The Outreach Program started with a few performances at Wilkes County elementary schools and grew to as many as 30 performances over a two-day period, organizers say.

Among the artists who have taken part are Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, The Avett Brothers, The Waybacks, and Old Crow Medicine Show.

Shows come at no cost to the students.

“The program has introduced tens of thousands of children to the rich musical heritage of this region,” a festival news release says. “It has enriched their lives and exposed them to genres of music that many would never have the opportunity to experience.”

Merlefest is the largest fundraiser for Wilkes Community College.

Another outreach effort, MerleFest School Day, gives area children a unique opportunity to visit the festival. Each year on the Friday of the festival, the release says, more than 3,300 students arrive on buses to spend the day.

“The experience, provided in partnership with area schools, allows students to enter the festival and enjoy the music, activities, and local arts and crafts.”

Joe Bullis is director of Federal Programs and Cultural Arts for Wilkes County Schools. The partnership with MerleFest, he said, can’t be discounted.

“The Merlefest Outreach program is a unique opportunity for our students to personally experience the culturally rich tradition of Merlefest. Yes, Merlefest is an integral part of Wilkes County’s history. and many of our students grow up hearing the announcements and seeing the banners throughout town during this time of the year. However, for some, this would be their only exposure to this awesome event if not for Merlefest Outreach and Merlefest Student Day.  We greatly appreciate the hard work of Merlefest Artist Relations and the performers who put forth the extra effort to make sure that all our students have the opportunity to be a part of this Wilkes County event.”