Donna the Buffalo hosts Midnight Jam at MerleFest
Josh Daniel

The Saturday night Midnight Jam is one of the most highly anticipated events at MerleFest every year. This year the jam is hosted by one of the roots festival’s most popular bands, Donna the Buffalo. With a huge groove, a multi-genre approach and tons of energy, DtB, as the band is called by fans, is known for getting audiences excited.

The Midnight Jam is held from midnight until 2:30 a.m. (or so), with an opening act (as yet unannounced) at 11:30 p.m. in the Walker Center, an indoor venue on the Wilkes Community College campus where MerleFest takes place. The Jam requires a separate ticket which can be purchased by holders of four-day tickets and Saturday-only tickets, available through the MerleFest website. The Midnight Jam is sponsored by The Bluegrass Situation, a major voice for the bluegrass, Americana and folk scenes, which produces an online magazine as well as festivals and events around the country.

Midnight Jams are famously spontaneous but do have an invited list of musicians that serve as a base. In addition to Donna the Buffalo, artists scheduled to appear at this year’s jam include a mix of festival regulars and new acts. In the first category are Peter Rowan, who has been touring with DtB in support of Ben Cohen’s Stamp Out Money in Politics campaign, as well as Jim Lauderdale and Joe Smothers, both MerleFest veterans with numerous performances during the weekend, and the South Carolina Broadcasters, who’ll share their traditional foothill bluegrass at seven other appearances during MerleFest.

Other artists confirmed for the Jam include Australian fingerpicker Tommy Emmanuel, North Carolina comers Mipso, and Becky Buller, big winner at 2015’s International Bluegrass Association. Buller came away from the Raleigh event with three awards including Emerging Artist Of The Year, Songwriter Of The Year, and Recorded Event Of The Year for her cover of the previously unreleased Bill Monroe song “Southern Flavor.” Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, Wood & Wire, Billy Strings, and Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys are newcomers, looking to build their audiences and have a good time doing it.

But really, you never know who will show up on stage at the Midnight Jam. The events are famous for legendary artistic collaborations and one-of-a-kind superstar jams as musicians playing at the festival show up to join in. You just have to be there.

Donna the Buffalo will make several other appearances during MerleFest, as is the band’s custom. When DtB books a festival, they are there to play. On Thursday, Dtb gets the festival off to a fast start with a performance with Peter Rowan and Jim Lauderdale on the Watson Stage from 4:15-5:15 p.m. On Friday, DtB makes its traditional appearance on the Hillside Stage from 4-4:45 p.m., always one of the festival’s best attended events, then closes out the night in the Dance Tent, playing from 10:30 p.m. to midnight. They rest up on Saturday for the Midnight Jam, but return on Sunday morning for a final performance on the Americana Stage, 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.

A full schedule of performances and ticket availability can be found on the MerleFest website.