by Michael Streissguth
Politics looked to fill every quiet moment at this weekend's Merlefest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. With heavy names such as Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam pulling out of concerts in nearby cities over the state's HB2 legislation, fans whispered about who might skip the nation's largest roots and Americana festival. But everybody from John Prine to Jason Isbell checked in on time. As for the quiet moments, they don't do lulls at Merlefest. Over four days, nonstop music poured from eight stages, including 12 performances that we loved more than politics.
Best Soul Man: Mike Farris
Many artists, without comment, aimed selections from their catalog at the HB2 legislation, until the Grammy-winning Mike Farris and his Roseland Rhythm Revue appeared in a frenzy on the second night. Amid their mix of Billy Preston's gospel funk and Stevie Ray Vaughan-inspired blues, Farris preached, "The power of love isn't just for church people. It's for everyone." Earlier, his sober interpretation of Prince's "Purple Rain" — delivered on a perfect back-porch night — was one of the festival's passionate elegies to the gender-bending, pop-rock king.
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