MerleFest 2021 had an energetic start with strong attendance Thursday and Friday, setting the pace for more of the same on this last weekend of summer.

“The good Lord blessed us with good weather and that certainly has made the weekend enjoyable,” said MerleFest Director Ted Hagaman, speaking Saturday morning.

Thursday’s lineup on the Watson Stage included MerleFest favorites Peter Rowan and Scythian. Rowan came with the latest version of his Free Mexican Airforce, joined by the Los Texmaniacs.

Eastern Kentucky native Sturgill Simpson closed out Thursday night on the Watson Stage with a strong country sound.

Music on the Watson Stage turned more eclectic Friday with sets by indie-folk band Oliver Hazard, husband and wife duos Johnnyswim and Tedeschi Trucks and the powerful voices of LeAnn Rimes and John Cowan.

Of course, MerleFest always features a diverse selection of Americana music on several additional stages scattered across the Wilkes Community College campus.

MerleFest’s annual “Album Hour” Saturday on the Hillside Stage featured the music of the late John Prine, performed by the Waybacks, Sam Bush, Jim Lauderdale, Cordova and others.

Prine died April 6, 2020, less than a month after MerleFest 2020 was canceled due to the large number of COVID cases locally and elsewhere. He was scheduled to perform at that year’s festival.

Instead of being held in late April as usual, MerleFest 2021 was delayed to September because of COVID.

Organizers implemented numerous precautions, including requiring a COVID vaccination card or documentation of testing negative for the virus within the prior 72 hours to enter the festival grounds for MerleFest 2021. Testing is available on campus, but organizers urged having this done in advance if needed to help avoid delays.

Hagaman said this year's MerleFest benefitted from attendees arriving well-prepared and embracing the COVID-19 safety protocols. He said numerous people thanked him for these extra steps to keep everyone safe.

“We’ve had a very good festival. Fans are very happy to be here and very kind and respectful of each other.”

Hagaman added, “We deeply appreciate all who worked to make this happen.”

MerleFest continues through Sunday afternoon, with one-day tickets available at the gate. Sunday’s headliners on the Watson Stage include Melissa Etheridge, Mavis Staples and Shinyribs.

Also on Sunday, "Gospel Songs of Doc Watson with Jeff Little Trio" is on the Creekside Stage from 11:30 a.m. to noon and "Sunday Blues with Roy Book Binder" is from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the Americana Stage. “Women Who Play and Sing and Play Traditional” music is from 3:30-4:15 p.m. Sunday on the Traditional Stage.

There is much more Sunday.

Merlefest 2022 is April 28 to May 1.

North Wilkesboro-based Window World is the event’s presenting sponsor.

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