We were lucky enough to attend Merlefest in Wilksboro, NC this year. The festival is 25 years old and attracts between 70,000 and 100,000 folks from 48 states + Canada and the world each year. The local non-profits benefited by over $400,000 from the festival last year and the town estiimates over 10 million dollars was pumped into the regions economy! Festivals have been known to be income generators across the globe. From Minnesota to Mississippi, and everywhere in between, festivals celebrate the history, culture and spirit of the blues. Meanwhile festivals are known for fueling the economy of the host locale. Worldwide from Dubai to China music festivals range from simple fields to spectacular lighting, special effects and technologically sophicated performance enhancing elements. Recently, the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival spent over $100,000 creating a Tupac Shakoor hologram, which sent the fans and airwaves wild! The Annual Mississippi Delta Blues & Heritage Festival is looking at its 35th year. The Chicago Blues Festival (1984) is the largest free blues festival in the world and draws over half a million visitors . From purists to Americana, Roots, Rock, Jazz and Gospel - all sides of the blues can be covered at a Blues Festival.
But back to Merlefest - the history of the festival reads like an American success fairytale, small town folks had an idea and a good local cause. In 1988 the Wilkes Community College Endowment Corporation wanted to build a campus garden at Wilks Community College, a rural North Carolina community college. The garden would memorialize the memory of a fallen local musician, Eddy Merle Watson, and support his father, Doc Watson, one of the organizers of the festival. They thought a one day music festival would give them the funds to do it. Then they just did it. They called on their friends to help. Over the years they got to the right folks to help and it grew and grew. Everyone benefits. . . the music lovers, the local businesses, the local non-profits, the community college upon which the festival is held. Of course, you've got to have great music. . . I thought it telling that their World's Best Acoustic Blues Show included performers we have either already had or plan to have this year or next year. We are clearly on the right blues musical track! What impressed me most about the festival was how well organized it was, how friendly and polite the volunteers were and how everyone took personal responsiblity for getting you the correct information. I came away with an overwhelming feeling. . . we here in Falls Church can do this too. We've got great local history. . . our cause is to preserve that history, to share a proud American success story, to shine as a beacon for justice and equality. We can do it and the music can make it happen! All we need is the vision, the passion and the assistance of our local elected officials, city staff, businesses and our community. They are no different in North Carolina than we are. . . Right? Let's renew our vision for the Tinner Hill Blues Festival!