The music festival known as MerleFest is a celebration of Traditional Music, and the organizer of the North Carolina event have pulled off a major coup with the announcement of a country music legend who defines that term perfectly. Billboard has learned that Merle Haggard has been added to the list of headliners at MerleFest, which will take place April 24-27 at the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro.
Haggard's musical style – a mixture of honky-tonk, western swing, jazz, and folk – fits neatly within the boundaries of what the festival has tried to promote with the annual gathering of musicians. The singer, known fondly as the "Poet of the Common Man," joins a lineup that includes Alan Jackson, Ricky Skaggs, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Holly Williams. Also making an appearance at the festival this year will be Dr. Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys. The bluegrass legend will soon be hanging up his traveling shoes, and MerleFest 2014 marks one of the final chances to hear his unique sound of Appalachian-based mountain music.
Organized in 1988 by iconic musician Doc Watson in honor of his son Merle (who passed away in 1985), the first MerleFest featured Chet Atkins and John Hartford, among others. The event has attracted a diverse group of artists over the years, including Vince Gill. Emmylou Harris, Bill Monroe, Ronnie Milsap, and Dolly Parton.
Last year was notable as it was the first event held sans its' founder, who passed away in May of 2012. Many tributes to Doc Watson were presented during last years' event, which also featured Leon Russell and Rhonda Vincent.
Haggard's resume is as extensive as any in country music history. Hitting the Billboard charts for the first time in 1963 with "Sing A Sad Song," he has hit the pinnacle of the singles charts an amazing 38 times during his career, with highlights including "Okie From Muskogee," 'Mama Tried," and "Big City." His most recent work is the critically acclaimed 2011 collection Working In Tennessee, released on Vanguard Records. Haggard celebrates two decades as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014.
Tickets for MerleFest 2014 are available at merlefest.org (an early bird ticket discount is available through March 10). More than 130 acts are set to perform on 13 stages during the course of the event. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.