MerleFest volunteer Ben Engel's musical tastes have come full circle in just twelve short years. Ben's first trip to MerleFest came as a seventh grader when he attended with his parents (both musicians who play Irish and bluegrass), his two sisters, and his friend Jonas. The group drove from their home in Greenville, North Carolina and camped in a tent. Ben remembers, "There was always something about bluegrass that struck a chord with me, and my first trip to MerleFest solidified my love for the music."
"After that first trip, I didn't make it back for twelve years. The memories always stayed with me but my musical tastes changed, and I started playing percussion. After college I moved to Brooklyn, New York to pursue music with my good friend Travis and started a band. After a few false starts, Travis found a banjo, I started playing mandolin, and we started getting into traditional music, especially bluegrass. Once bluegrass was on the brain again, I suggested we go down to North Carolina and volunteer at this bluegrass festival I went to years ago."
Ben's free time is dedicated to music. When he's not playing music, he books shows for monthly house parties at his place. "Believe it or not there are some GREAT traditional and bluegrass players here in the city. We have been fortunate enough to host some of them at our parties. My favorite performers, whom everyone should listen to immediately, are (in no particular order): Michael Daves, Feral Foster, The Dough Rollers, The Dust Busters, The Bill Murray Experience, and Jeron "Blind Boy" Paxton. And, of course, my band, Free Advice (http://www.myspace.com/freeadviceband).
When Ben is at MerleFest he has his favorites there as well. "There are too many to name! I'm looking forward this year to seeing Peter Rowan and Tony Rice. Doc Watson is always incredible. I also really like seeing the new artists." While at the festival, he also enjoys playing and learning from others. Ben remembers the late night jams at the campsites at MerleFest 2009. "This one night we stayed up until three in the morning meeting new players and learning tons of new songs. It was incredible to see some of the old timers and how well they could play music. This one guy has a library of at least a hundred songs in his head that he can bust out at any time."
Ben is a Stage Crew volunteer during MerleFest and has a special memory from his community outreach assignment in 2009 when he helped out at a Wilkes County elementary school. "Travis and I were setting up for Polecat Creek at about seven in the morning on our first day in Wilkesboro. We had flown in from New York City the night before and slept in the car. To go from New York City to a school in the mountains of North Carolina in less than twenty-four hours was a trip and something I'll never forget."
Ben states that he is honored to be part of a festival that is so positive for its community. "The fact that an outlet exists for talented performers, both famous and up-and-coming, is something to be cherished by society." MerleFest is proud to have Ben Engel as a volunteer.