So this year we decided to try something different, like actually getting to Merlefest (relatively) early on Friday. So my sister Bonnie came up and crashed at my place Thursday night and we got up earlier than normal (which is not to say particularly early) and cruised up to the festival on Friday morning.
First off we caught a few minutes of the Infamous Stringdusters on the Americana stage, and they were pretty smokin'. My buddy Rob caught up with us there and we hung out for a bit and then meandered down to the Watson (main) stage to see a few minutes of The Waifs, a kick-ass couple of chicks from Australia that I saw a few years ago and became big fans of. Rob and I wandered through the Austin Stage to catch the finals of the Chris Austin songwriting contest. A few folks you might have heard of have been winners of the contest in past years, including David Via, Gillian Welch and Tift Merritt. I thought most of this year's finalists sounded great, but it probably says a lot about the commercial viability of the music I prefer that my pick for the winner of the country category came in third out of three. I leaned over to Rob and said "I'd buy that song on iTunes now." So of course it didn't win.
After a few minutes of that, we went over to see a little bit of Blue Highway on the Hillside Stage, then I made my way back to the Austin Stage to see Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band. I'd bought a few of their songs on iTunes last year, and was really excited to see them live. Bonnie summed it up after their set when she went up to Ryan and said "I've been coming to this festival for 14 years and I've never seen anybody have that much fun on stage." That bunch of crackers absolutely threw down, blending pop harmonies with fantastic musicianship and killer songwriting. It also didn't hurt that they tossed in an Ozzy cover and the MC Hammer dance into their set. I felt like they got some great exposure this year, scheduled as they were immediately prior to Sam Bush, Peter Rowan and Tish Hinojosa.
I had scored a seat on the benches down front for Ryan Shupe, and Bonnie almost peed herself when she saw where I had locked up a spot down front for her. She's a bit of a Sam Bush and Peter Rowan stalker, so getting to sit ten feet away from them playing together was like a dream come true for her. We'd seen Sam and Peter play separately, and gotten great seats before, but never anything like this for them together. It was everything you would expect, and if you're not a Peter Rowan and/or a Sam Bush fan, just ask me next time I see you and you can borrow my ipod. You will be after that.
All that was before 6PM on Friday night, and we still had the Sam Bush Band and the Avett Brothers to come. I'll give you the rundown on that later, along with Saturday, which rained "like pouring piss out of a boot" to use Bonnie's words.