Things To Do

The Late Night Jam is a MerleFest tradition that takes place on Saturday night from 10:30 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. at WCC’s 1,100-seat Walker Center. It has become quite an event for MerleFest night owls who simply can’t get enough good music during the day. Because this is one of the more popular activities at MerleFest, coveted tickets sell out quickly. Get your tickets early with the purchase of a three-day, four-day or Saturday entrance pass. If tickets are still available while MerleFest is happening, you can purchase them at the Box Office.

The Shoppes at MerleFest is a centrally located shopping village of commercial vendors, official MerleFest memorabilia, and services such as first aid, lost and found, overnight storage, internet access and a charging station. Festival guests can peruse vendor booths, check email, charge cell phones or tablets and pick up an official MerleFest t-shirt all in one spot!

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The Little Pickers Family Area is full of activities for all ages: bubble fun, pictures with Flattop, amusements, games, instrument petting zoo, sand play, face painting and so much more! Look for the big tent to find all of our crafts. Crafts include:

  • Painting
  • Play Dough Art
  • Crayon Art
  • Shimmer Bottles
  • Coffee Filter Hats
  • Sand Art
  • Mural Wall
  • Bead Necklaces
  • Scrap Exchange

The Little Pickers Stage performances include unique acts selected with children in mind, such as scheduled “meet and greet” with Flattop. Bring a camera and get your photo made with Flattop! Entertainment will be scheduled throughout the weekend on the Little Pickers Stage.

Two large Shade Tents, located within the Little Pickers Family Area, provide a place for guests to sit down and relax and for children, accompanied by a parent, to nap. Enjoy the Shade Tents when you need a little break from the MerleFest action.

Once again, MerleFest is offering Acoustic Kids Showcases for young musicians. These are showcases, not contests! Young pickers and singers of any skill level (through age 16) have opportunities to perform on the festival stage in a supportive environment. Accompanists may be any age, and bands are eligible as long as at least one featured performer is 16 years of age or younger.

As a show, the Acoustic Kids Showcases are not for kids only; they are for music lovers of all ages. Come applaud the efforts of the next generation of pickers, singers and other traditional style performers. You will be treated to an Opry-style stream of young entertainers who will warm your heart and take your breath away. And you’ll come away knowing that the future of our music is in good hands.

Registration and Instructions

Apply online on February 1, 2020.

  • Please read the full Registration Instructions before filling out the registration form. It will help you!!
  • You will need to have one to three demos ready to include with this registration. Please see the Demo Nitty-Gritty for details.
  • Participation in the Acoustic Kids Showcases does not give you or your family members free admission to the festival. Everyone over the age of 12 must purchase a ticket, and children under 12 are admitted free only if accompanied by a paying adult. Adults – feel free to volunteer for MerleFest and gain entry into the festival on the day you work. Click to learn more.

Please help us get the word out! Send this page to any eligible young musicians you know who may be interested in registering for the Acoustic Kids Showcases. For more information about the history and philosophy behind Andy May’s youth performance showcases, click here.

No jamming experience is necessary! The MerleFest Jam Camp, running Monday-Thursday pre-festival, is a unique combination of classroom instruction and small jamming or performing groups, coached by teachers led by “Dr. Banjo”, Pete Wernick, whose MerleFest camps date back to 1991! The location is Camp Harrison, a spacious, rustic, well-built Y Camp 12 miles south of MerleFest.

If you play guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, bass or resonator guitar (Dobro), you can be part of a bluegrass jam! Every camper will be placed in different groups according to experience level. The Basic Level Camp, led by Gilbert Nelson, will work with beginners through early intermediates, showing the basics to get everyone playing bluegrass together in small groups. Gilbert is the Wernick Method’s most experienced jam teacher, having graduated over 1,000 jammers! The only two requirements for the Basic Level Camp are you must be able to tune your instrument and follow chord changes smoothly between G, C, D, and A. Fast playing not expected, instrumental soloing not required (simple soloing is taught), and singing not required, though encouraged. You will be jamming right away, playing real bluegrass, but slower.

Just up the hill, the Intermediate/Advanced Camp will be conducted by Pete Wernick and his veteran staff including some of the area’s most respected musician/teachers. Designed for experienced jammers, this camp offers daily instrument classes, group coaching, and harmony instruction. Many repeat campers and others are there to learn musicianship, ear skills, band teamwork, practice techniques, and more.

For complete information or to sign up, click here.

The Pickin’ Place is more than a stage; it’s an entire venue devoted to pickin’ and grinnin’! Included in The Pickin’ Place are the Traditional Old Time Pickin’ Tent, Bluegrass Pickin’ Tent, and Anything Goes Pickin’ Tent.

Bring your acoustic instrument to this area hosted by the Wilkes Acoustic Folk Society and pick to your heart’s content!

The ultimate fan experience! These small 15 person tours begin at the Merle Watson Garden of the Senses and continue into the MerleFest museum. Our tour guides have firsthand knowledge of MerleFest and can answer all of your questions about our festival. After visiting the museum, the group heads to the Doc Watson Dressing Room that is backstage of the Watson stage. This is hallowed ground for many folks, and visiting this special room is a highlight of the tour. Just down the hall and to the right is our Greenroom, where artists get ready to play their sets. Backstage you will see many historic photos of all the artists who have ever played MerleFest, see every single MerleFest poster from the beginning, and get a sense of just how important the Watson Stage really is. After leaving the backstage area, the tour heads to the Artist Getaway tent to catch a glimpse at where the artists and their families hang out during the festival. You will receive an official MerleFest poster once the tour concludes.

Backstage tours take place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the festival. You can purchase tickets in advance or at the box office during the festival (if tickets are still available) at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $50 per person, and all proceeds go towards the Wilkes Community College Doc Watson Student Emergency Fund.

Come out and join local naturalist Ken Crouse of Peaceful Valley Gardens for an easy hike through the gardens and forest of the WCC Campus. Take a look at the wildflowers, trees, mushrooms and ferns that make the local ecology so unique. Learn about the folklore, plus the edible and medicinal uses of many of our local native plants and fungi. Walk through some of the many “theme gardens” and learn the history of the WCC Gardens.

You will also learn about some of the plants that have been the inspiration for many of the traditional songs of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

Nature walks will begin by the red Waldon Caboose and will last about one hour.

Tour Times:

  • Friday: 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
  • Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Who is Flattop?

The big friendly raccoon you will see at MerleFest is our mascot, Flattop. Why a raccoon? Merle Watson’s band, Frosty Morn, used a raccoon as its logo, based on his suggestion. A naming contest gave Flattop his name–a truly fitting one because of Merle and Doc’s mastery of the flattop guitar.