MerleFest 2017: 11 Best Things We Saw at the Roots Music Festival

From Zac Brown Band's stripped-down set to the Avett Brothers doing double duty, the highlights of the annual North Carolina hoedown

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Peter Rowan
Matt Guerrant6/11

Peter Rowan

Reverence for the venerated Bill Monroe disappeared from the MerleFest script at the appearance of Monroe's former lead singer Peter Rowan, a Blue Grass Boy in the mid-1960s, and Robert Bowling, his last fiddle player. On the intimate Americana Stage, Rowan was promoting his new Omnivore album My Aloha and good-naturedly pointed out that his former boss's classic "Kentucky Waltz" rings of an old Hawaiian ballad. Playful gossip about the bluegrass founder's mistresses and grudges peppered Rowan and his partners' fine takes on Monroe's "Uncle Pen" and the MerleFest standard "My Long Journey Home." With the set about to dissolve into memories of Big Mon, Rowan – who's performed at each of the 30 MerleFests – wisely turned to 2004's "Angel Island," which he co-wrote with the great bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice. Its message about the dreams of a long-ago Chinese immigrant reminded the audience that newcomers have always imagined paradise in America.

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