MerleFest has announced its latest round of headline acts for the 2018 edition, including Rhiannon Giddens.
The Greensboro-born MacArthur fellow will be on MerleFest’s main Watson Stage on Saturday, April 28, in North Wilkesboro. That falls two weeks after an April 14 show she’ll play at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium, her first North Carolina show of 2018.
MerleFest is April 26-29. Giddens will appear alongside co-headliners, including Rodney Crowell, Elephant Revival and Shiny Ribs. They join a previously announced list of 75 acts, among them Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, Robert Earl Keen, World of Bluegrass regulars Balsam Range in an intriguing pairing with the Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble, Blind Boys of Alabama, Jim Lauderdale and more.
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Giddens has had a high-profile stretch over the past 15 months, starting with her winning the 2016 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, a $50,000 award. Then came a role as an actress in this year’s fifth season of the CMT drama “Nashville,” and a much-praised keynote speech at this fall’s International Bluegrass Music Association conference in Raleigh.
But Giddens’ biggest accolade of all came with the Oct. 11 announcement that she had won a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” a $625,000 prize.
“It’s gonna let me live a little bit,” Giddens said about the award. “I’ll be able to pursue some things while not having to stay on the road so much to keep the lights on. I love my band and I’ll always tour, but this will let me tour a little less and work on larger projects I believe need to be done.”
One such project is writing a musical about the infamous Wilmington insurrection of 1898, in which a white mob attacked African-American neighborhoods and left scores dead. Giddens’ musical about it has been described as “the next ‘Hamilton,’” a reference to the award-winning Broadway musical.
“It’s been called a race riot, but it was a massacre and a political coup on American soil,” Giddens said. “It’s full of things that resonate with what’s going on now about the idea of democracy. As an artist, I can see the art that can be made by connecting those events and characters to today. I’ve been obsessed with it over the last year.”