Americana Music Bluegrass Music

MerleFest/AmericanaFest/World of Bluegrass

September will prove to be a busy time for roots music, and the losers will be everyone involved.

For years, the AmericanaFest has happened in Nashville during the second full week of September, while the IBMA World of Bluegrass conference/festival takes place during the final week of September/first week of October. For some, it was a bit conflicting, but if one worked his/her vacation schedule right, both could be enjoyed. My previous job screwed me over the last three years I was there, so WOB was a no-go. Add to the fact that WOB was moved from Nashville to Raleigh, NC, which was a strain on driving 14 hours from Detroit, then 14 hours back.

This year, AmericanaFest has been moved to September 21-26, while WOB will be September 28-October 2. The move may be due to the fact that MerleFest, which is usually held in April, has been scheduled this year for September 16-19. So three different major roots-music festivals will be happening three weeks in a row in September. I have also been informed by a good friend in the music business that a popular European music conference is also scheduled during this time.

Now, we all know that last year as well as this Spring have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of festivals and thousands of concerts were cancelled. That hurt a lot of artists in the pocketbook. Both the AmericanaFest and WOB went virtual last year just to stay in touch with their fan base and business membership. Many artists did the same, hosting mini-concerts on Zoom or Facebook.

MerleFest lost out last year, being cancelled right at the start of the pandemic. This year, while the pandemic has been subsiding, the festival was not feasible for the usual April scheduling. Thus, the promoters and planners decided to schedule it for September. Well, now everyone is screwed.

Many fans enjoyed Merlefest in April, as it divided up the time long enough so that they could attend AmericanaFest and/or WOB in September. With all three festivals following each other in consecutive weeks, most of these fans are going to have to decide which ones to attend. Only the few privileged that are financially secure and can afford the time off, or the retired that have money available, will be able to attend more than one of these events.

I thoroughly enjoy MerleFest, but it is this event that is throwing a monkey wrench into the gears. It could have done what the others did and gone virtual for the year, or could have re-scheduled for dates not so close to AmericanaFest and WOB, perhaps in June or July. MerleFest is in North Carolina, as is WOB. Perhaps it could have been scheduled for early- or mid-October, being able to secure some of the WOB crowd for staying that extra weekend in the area.

As for me, I will only be attending AmericanaFest this year. My new job has limited vacation time available to me for September, and I have attended the conference for over 20 years. I have made numerous friends there, and have served as a volunteer in various capacities for the past 10 years. AmericanaFest already had some competition with a small roots-music festival in Bristol, TN every year, so this just hurts it even more.

The pandemic has screwed over a lot of people, businesses, and organizations financially the past year. This type of self-righteous scheduling only makes it worse.

Chew on it and comment.

By Matt Merta/Mitch Matthews

Musician and writer (both song and print) for over 30 years. Primarily interested in roots music (Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk). Current contributing writer for Fiddler Magazine, previous work with Metro Times (Detroit), Ann Arbor Paper and Real Detroit Weekly, as well as other various music and military publications. As songwriter, won the 2015 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (Bluegrass Category, "Something About A Train," co-written with Dawn Kenney and David Morris) as well as having work performed on NPR and nominated for numerous Detroit Music Awards.

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