Kelly and Matthew VanDenBeldt
"It was that crazy love at first sight you hear about but don't believe in." That's how MerleFest volunteer Kelly VanDenBeldt describes the moment she first saw husband Matthew on the Boy Scout shuttle bus at the 2006 festival. "The short version is that he had to stand because the bus was too full, and he was leaning on my seat . . . I remember thinking how darn cute he was. He apologized for leaning on me, and I said he could lean on me any time (musta been feeling frisky) . . . We spent the rest of the weekend getting to know each other while watching and dancing to great music." After falling in love at MerleFest, Matthew and Kelly married two and one-half years later and have been inseparable ever since.
MerleFest 2009 marked Kelly's thirteenth year as a volunteer and Matthew now joins her. Both Matthew and Kelly request to work at the Little Pickers area each year where they help out at the climbing wall. They remark, "We are avid climbers ourselves, so we enjoy watching the kids and encouraging them."
When not at the climbing wall, Matthew and Kelly enjoy Doc Watson, Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Tony Rice, David Grisman, and Donna the Buffalo. They also look forward to the special guests each year. "The surprises are great!" Their friends and family come from near and far including Kelly's dad who comes from New Jersey. "One year after we all graduated from college and went our separate ways, we had a huge group of friends all get back together at MerleFest, and there were thirty-six of us from twelve different states. That was cool."
One year Kelly decided to be just an attendee, not a volunteer. "The year I graduated from college I thought, 'Well, I have a good job now so I will just buy myself a ticket.' Needless to say that was not quite as fulfilling as volunteering, so the next year I was back on the volunteer list."
Back home in Asheville, North Carolina, Kelly teaches Family and Consumer Science at the high school level and Matthew builds challenge courses. Their interests revolve around outdoor activities -- rock climbing, boating, disc golfing, bike riding, and gardening. Matthew and Kelly's honeymoon was an outdoor adventure -- bicycling 250 miles around Jamaica.
In addition to the enjoyment of being part of the MerleFest volunteer family, Matthew and Kelly get great satisfaction knowing that their efforts help students at Wilkes Community College. "I love being able to contribute time and energy to such a wonderful organization that helps so many people further their educations," Kelly comments. "Matthew and I were fortunate enough to attend college and reap the benefits of being college graduates, so being able to give back to help others succeed is a great honor."
Matthew, Kelly, family, and friends plan to return to MerleFest 2010, but this year there will be an addition -- a new VanDenBeldt Little Picker! MerleFest is proud to have been a part of this love story and can't wait to see all of them in April.