Founded in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College and to celebrate ‘traditional plus’ music, MerleFest brings MUSIC, MOMENTS and MEMORIES to its 30th year in 2017. Held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina from April 27-30th, MerleFest, long regarded as one of the country's premier music festivals, brings together varied and well-regarded artists including Chris Jones, who along with his band The Night Drivers, will be playing MerleFest this April. In advance of the festival, Jones kindly talked about what MerleFest means to him, his new album and more.
MerleFest is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. How many years have you been playing the festival?
This will be my second time. I enjoy MerleFest for its ability to bring high-quality and diverse artists to the stage, its focus on original music, songwriting contests, and heritage. As a Bluegrass band who plays original music, it’s really nice to be associated with this festival and as a Doc and Merle Watson fan, it means a lot to me personally to be involved.
Will you have the opportunity to take in other artists while you are there?
Definitely, especially with the quality of artists represented. There are artists there we don’t get to see very often and some I have never seen. I’m really hoping to catch Donna the Buffalo and the Kruger Brothers, both of whom are MerleFest regulars. I also have a fondness for fiddle music and am looking forward to seeing Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy. I’m also a big fan of Celtic music in general, so I hope to catch John Doyle, an Irish guitar I like very much. There’s just a really impressive lineup.
You and your band, The Night Drivers, released your new album Made To Move on February 10th. Being that you yourself are over a dozen albums in, did you do anything different this time?
This is our second record with the label Mountain Home and the first with our new banjo player, Gina Clowes. For every record, I always start from scratch. I think it’s hard to follow things up, so I just try to look at things from a fresh perspective, keep the quality of the songs, and exceed whatever we have done previously. It’s always a good feeling to release an album, but after all this time, I’ve never felt better about a release than I do with this one. It’s hard to have objectivity, but I think the true test is if you’re happy with something..and I am so, it’s a great bonus if others are as well.
“I’m a Wanderer” is your recent #1 single on the Bluegrass charts. Can you share the story behind the song?
Our longtime bass player Jon Weisberger wrote that with a couple other songwriters in Nashville. John played the demo for me and I loved it. It was one of those songs that spoke to me and felt natural when we played it as a band. I’m definitely a traveler, so I related completely to the lyrics, particularly when it says, “I’m grateful for the road ahead and grateful for the miles to come”- on my best days I feel like that.
That song, the title, and the cover art all imply a traveling theme.
We’re not unusual in this, but we are very spread out as a band. I am in Northern Alberta, one member is in Nashville, another is in Virginia and the fourth is in Illinois - so we have to be made to move because we have far to travel when we meet up. But I also think the title fits nicely with the theme of some of the other songs as well, such as “All The Ways I’m Gone” and “I’m A Wanderer.”
The stamps and such were actually taken from the inside pages of my passport. There are some odds and ends I had kept from tours, like a street car ticket from Prague and a Swiss train ticket, that are really out of my desk drawer making the cover meaningful in a personal way.
Playing MerleFest, touring the states and going to Europe - is there anything that you and the band will be experiencing for the first time this year?
We are heading to Europe for a tour in May. We will be playing a festival in Germany, some places we have been, and some that are new to us. European audiences are wonderful to play for, especially the Czech Republic. They have a huge interest in, and have a great knowledge of, Bluegrass music. There are lots of musicians in the crowd and there’s always something new and exciting going on. We’re looking forward to heading back.
For all of the information on MerleFest including tickets, the full line up, and more visit HERE
For more information on Chris Jones and The Night Drivers visit HERE