Festival Family

It's just not Merlefest until Nora gets to meet the mascot, Flattop.
It's just not Merlefest until Nora gets to meet the mascot, Flattop.

People are friendly at Merlefest, the annual bluegrass and Americana music festival held each year in Wilkesboro. You might start out the day setting up a chair next to a stranger, but chances are that stranger will be a friend after a few bands, some sharing of sunscreen and maybe a run to the food tent or two.


At this year’s fest, last week, Nora made friends everywhere she went. She was offered line cuts by the bathrooms, the lady selling strawberry shortcakes remembered her, and Flattop, the festival’s raccoon mascot, was an old pal by the end of the four-day event.


But my favorite moment was when a lady spotted us in a sea of thousands of people one afternoon and came over to say hi.


“I’ve watched her grow up here,” she said, looking at Nora. “I remember seeing you change her diaper when she was tiny, and now look at her!” One day, the woman remarked, Nora will be one of the teenagers hanging out off on the festival’s fringes, too cool to act like they want to hear the music, but able to hear it anyway.


That’s what I love about an event like Merlefest: it’s family-friendly in so many ways. Sure, they have bubbles and an art wall and crafts and kid bands to keep the little ones occupied, and plus it’s a very safe event and easy to get around whether your kid is in a stroller or able to walk on his or her own. But the best part of the vibe is the notion that everyone there is family. I watch my kid grow up every day. But the Merlefest regulars are watching, too, and for those four days, if they can lend a hand in that process, they most often will.