Among the musicians performing at the 23rd annual MerleFest, which begins Thursday in North Wilkesboro, is the ToneBlazers, an acoustic quintet with roots in folk, bluegrass, country, and old-time. The group is steeped (as well as based) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The bulk of songs on its new cd, "Red Clay Roots" were written by North Carolina songwriters such as Michael Reno Harrell as well as by members of the group.
Its member have performed with well known acts like Loretta Lynn, Alison Krauss, Mark O'Connor, and Doc Watson. It actually has a few connections to MerleFest, Watson's nearly 25-year-old tribute to deceased son Merle. Guitarist/mandolin player Randy Gambill lives in North Wilkesboro and is an instructor at Wilkes Community College, the site of MerleFest. Bassist Billy Gee resides in Moravian Falls and runs a guitar repair business. One of his clients is Watson. (The original trio of Gee, Gambill, and Dale Meyer are pictured above).
The ToneBlazers will perform multiple times over the four-day festival. If you miss MerleFest the band plays the US National Whitewater Center on June 9th.
MerleFest runs Thursday, April 28th through Sunday, May 1st. The Zac Brown Band will headline opening night with the Del McCoury Band and another North Carolinian, Randy Travis. Jerry Douglas, Sonny Landreth, and the Doobie Brothers headline the main stage Friday. Sara Jarosz, Joan Osborne, Lyle Lovett, Sam Bush, Donna the Buffalo, and Watson are among Saturday's performers. Robert Plant and the Band of Joy will help close out the festival on Sunday, May 1st.
MerleFest tickets are available at 1-800-343-7857 or online.