The Weirbacks Shred Merlefest

by | May 27, 2006

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is held at the same time as Merlefest. Decisions, decisions. This year we went to Jazz Fest. Maybe next year we go to Merlefest. They’re good choices to have.

Anson Burtch covered the 19th annual Merlefest in Wilkesboro, NC for Jambase. His report makes me want to know more about emerging artists like The Steep Canyon Rangers, Catham County Line, The Biscuit Burners and The Avett Brothers.

According to his report, Burtch and others in attendance found two performances by The Waybacks with Bob Weir, a.k.a. The Weirbacks, particulary gratifying.

Bob Weir :: Merlefest 2006 by Willa Stein

San Francisco’s favorite jamgrass band has been making a name for itself with a unique brand of boogie. With acoustic instruments, The Waybacks meld folk-rock, newgrass, pop, and even a psychedelic jam or two. Friday night on the main stage, the group, along with Bob Weir, performed an inspired set, playing “Jack Straw” and a couple of crowd-pleasing covers, “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “19th Nervous Breakdown.” Later in the set, people were looking at each other in disbelief. Was that “St. Stephen” > “The Eleven” > “Last Time” they just heard? At Merlefest? Indeed it was. With all the attention on Bob Weir, it would be a shame to overlook the talented Waybacks. Multi-instrumentalist Warren Hood was excellent, blazing fiddle lines around the rest of the band. The set had everyone on their feet and dancing, a rarity on the main stage.

But the highlight of the weekend was the Waybacks’ extended Hillside Stage set Saturday evening. The 45 minutes that were scheduled turned into almost two hours of jamming. They hooked the crowd with a couple of tracks from their new album, From the Pasture to the Future. Then Weir joined the band for “El Paso” followed by Sam Bush for “Kazmir” and “Brown-Eyed Women.” The crowd cheered Gillian Welch and David Rawling’s appearance for “The Weight” and “Brokedown Palace.” The crowd refused to let the band leave, pushing the set long past its official time, and everyone returned for a raucous “Like a Rolling Stone.” For his magical playing at the festival and many guest spots throughout the weekend, Bob Weir earns the title of Merlefest MVP.

Wow, that’s some pro-Bobby press. After his PR disaster last fall regarding file sharing and the band’s need to crack down on it, the guy no doubt could use some glowing coverage. Jambase provides, Bobby. We on the other hand want to know more about The Avett Brothers, et al.

[thanks to Mark Ruckstuhl for the tip]