MerleFest returns with vaccine or negative test requirement

WILKES COUNTY, N.C. — MerleFest is back and taking a page out of Lollapalooza’s playbook. The four-day music festival in Wilkes County is returning after an 18-month hiatus. Festival-goers will have to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours to attend.

“It’s a great feeling to know that I can share my music with so many people,” performer Presley Barker said. “It’s such an honor for me to be an artist on the lineup here at MerleFest.”

Barker is no stranger to MerleFest. The 17-year-old has been performing in Wilkes County since he was 8 years old and was sad to see it canceled last year due to COVID-19.

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“There wasn’t a lot of places to play during that time,” he said. “I just feel like I really tried to hone in my craft and put a lot of work in.”

He’s one of the dozens of performers who will take the stages from Thursday through Sunday. The festival will welcome tens of thousands of people to the campus of Wilkes Community College.

Festival director Ted Hagaman said the push for vaccination or a negative test requirement came from artists.

Several said that without the requirement, they wouldn’t be able to perform.

“We feel like it was the right thing to do, and we feel like we have a much better opportunity to keep people safe this way,” he said.

COVID-19 tests will be offered on-site for those who need it, but Hagaman is recommending people take care of it in advance.

“If you take care of it now, when you get here, we think we can make this a seamless situation to get through the gates,” he said.

It’s been a long 18 months since music has rolled through the hills of Wilkes County, and Hagaman can’t wait.

“It’s kind of like waiting for Christmas to get here,” he said.

Barker is excited to perform.

“I am just excited to get to share my music with people here at MerleFest,” he said.

Merlefest runs through Sunday. Headliners include Sturgill Simpson, Melissa Etheridge and LeAnn Rimes.

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