MerleFest, the annual big-tent folk music festival founded by the late Doc Watson, has already announced several big names for its 2018 iteration at Wilkes Community College on April 26-29: Kris Kristofferson, Robert Earl Keen, the Blind Boys of Alabama and Jim Lauderdale, who hosts the Midnight Jam.
Today, four new names are added to the list. Along with Rodney Crowell, Elephant Revival and Shinyribs, MerleFest announces the inclusion of Greensboro resident Rhiannon Giddens, the Carolina Chocolate Drops co-founder and MacArthur Foundation “genius” grantee. Along with her fellow Chocolate Drops, Giddens is almost single-handedly responsible for restoring recognition to African-American contributions to the string-band tradition.
Giddens has managed the rare feat of achieving critical acclaim alongside commercial success. Her role in the television drama “Nashville” and duet with country star Eric Church on the anti-racism anthem “Kill A Word” attest to points in the latter category. She’s also carried a consistent conscience into her work as a music artist, showing up to serenade Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011 and writing a song on the spot to respond to the Charleston Massacre in 2015.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops performed at MerleFest in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2014, but this will be the first time Giddens has performed at the festival as a solo artist. Giddens’ 2014 solo debut, Tomorrow Is My Turn, was nominated for a Grammy. Giddens second album, Freedom Highway — released earlier this year — closes a circle by carrying African-American string-band music into the heart of the civil rights freedom song tradition.