Held recently on the grounds of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, MerleFest celebrated its 22nd year with four days of music across 11 stages: Americana, Austin Songwriting, Cabin, Creekside, Dance, The Pit, Watson, Walker Center, Hillside, Little Pickers, and The Lounge, with a couple of ‘just get up and pick’ stages.
Spearheaded by ‘B’ Townes from Wilkes Community College and ‘Doc’ Watson in memory of his son, guitar picker Eddy Merle Watson who died 24 years ago, the festival again chose SE Systems of Greensboro and Charlotte, N.C to provide production audio, lighting, staging, and recording.
“We’ve been with the Festival from the very beginning,” states Cliff Miller, President of SE Systems. “This year’s festival saw over 100 acts take the stages including Watson, Travis Tritt, Jerry Douglas, Linda Ronstadt, Sam Bush, Emmylou Harris, the Waybacks, Cadillac Sky, David Bromberg, The Steeldrivers, just to name a few.”
Miller chose a combination of Yamaha and NEXO products for the two largest stages, Hillside and Creekside. NEXO GEO D line arrays, two Yamaha PM5D-RH digital consoles, six NEXO GEO S1210 monitors for side fill, eight NEXO PS15 floor wedges, and four PS-10 for front fill were used at the Hillside stage.
Festivalink, which offers high-quality audio downloads of festival performances, utilized an ADK LYVE Tracker for recording at the Hillside Stage. Yamaha T5n amplifiers were also used on both stages.
Meanwhile, the Creekside stage was served by a pair of Yamaha M7CL-48 consoles using six Yamaha AD8HRs with an NAI-48 on stage connected via EtherSound, as well as three arrays of NEXO GEO S1210 and S1230 loudspeakers and NEXO PS10s for front fill.
“MerleFest is always a challenge for the sound system and the front of house engineer due to the mix of mostly acoustic instrumentation and a lot of open vocal and instrument mics within a very limited space,” explains Boban Petrovic of SE Systems, who served as front of house engineer at the Hillside Stage.
“I’ve been working at the Hillside Stage for eight years and have dealt with various speaker systems, gaining experience and learning the strong and weak points of the systems, and then adjusting them for MerleFest needs,” adds Petrovic. “This year I was faced with a completely new system: the NEXO GEO D, which I hadn’t heard before. When you don’t have the opportunity to compare two systems side by side, my approach is to see how fast and how well you are able to make them work in a given circumstance, and of course, to my subjective judgment.
“Well, I was surprised and impressed with the results. Not only did it take a relatively short time to do basic EQ, but also the reproduced music was at an exceptional clarity,” Petrovic continues. “The GEO D was well-balanced, evenly spread, and wide and high across the area of coverage. What impressed me most were the vocals; beautifully defined, warm and full-bodied. The acoustic instruments had great intelligibility and separation. The NEXO system showed very high analytical character, and the low end never muddied or masked the upper range of vocals.”
Petrovic also notes that the transient response of the low end drivers were the “best he’s heard” and the cardiod pattern solved a problem presented by one of the sets.
“The non-directional bass was a problem for performers on the stage and I was forced to lower sub-levels at FOH,” he notes. “Using the NEXO cardiod subs, I was able to satisfy complaints about too much low end at the stage. I couldn’t believe how little low end spill was on the sides and rear of the cabinets. The audience is the final judge and they had nothing but praise, which is always music to my ears. The GEO D was love at first sight.”
Take our Photo Gallery Tour for more images from this year’s MerleFest