We venture to say Wilkes County is among the few communities of any size nationwide fortunate enough to have a music festival that raises over $450,000 annually for dozens of local non-profit organizations.

The financial support that MerleFest helps generate for over 70 local nonprofits is but one of the remarkable aspects of the festival, but easily is among the most important. MerleFest is the only source of funding for many of these organizations and it’s the largest for many of the others.

It’s also important that the majority of the money raised at MerleFest comes from people who live outside Wilkes County, thereby broadening the base of support of local nonprofits.

Starting with today’s issue, the Wilkes Journal-Patriot is publishing a series of articles about what MerleFest means for some of these 70-plus nonprofits to help raise awareness of this aspect of the event. Look for one such article per week, every other week, with the logo, “Because of MerleFest.”

Funds raised by these organizations at MerleFest go for too many different good purposes to mention them all here, but just a few include scholarships to Wilkes Community College, feeding families in need, coats to keep children warm, school supplies and equipment, various public school programs, services for the disabled, glasses/eye exams for vision impaired, sending Boy Scouts to summer camp and fire department equipment.

Many of the 4,000-plus people who volunteer at MerleFest do so by working on behalf of these 70-plus nonprofits, which includes food stands and providing a great variety of other services for festival-goers.

Volunteers also work as parking attendants, greeters, perimeter security, ushers, stage ushers. They also conduct surveys, help check-in students on school day and in a variety of other areas.

The many opportunities for volunteering at MerleFest and the benefits, including free festival admission, are explained at https://merlefest.org/volunteer.

On Fridays at MerleFest, local fifth-, eighth- and 12th-graders receive free admission. Up to 3,000 students come for the day and are exposed to a mix of music such as bluegrass, root-based, country, blues and rock.

MerleFest artists, including some of the best Americana musicians around, also perform at local public schools on the first day of the festival.  

These aspects of MerleFest provide wonderful educational and fun experiences for many students who otherwise might not have these types of opportunities.

MerleFest has helped inspire many young people – local and from around the country – to pursue musical interests.

MerleFest’s outreach to young people and the very active participation of nonprofit organizations and their volunteers help to create the wholesome, family atmosphere that festival-goers appreciate and have come to expect each spring.

It’s hard to over-state the importance of MerleFest as a facilitator of fundraising  for nonprofit organizations that make a huge difference in the lives of Wilkes Countians year-round.

More details on MerleFest 2020, which is April 23-26 at Wilkes Community College, are at https://merlefest.org.

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