October 2011 - Volunteer Spotlight - Matt Smartt
MerleFest volunteer Matt Smartt of Lilburn, Georgia, learned about MerleFest soon after the first one ended in 1988. He had been at Jazz Fest in New Orleans that weekend, but a friend who attended MerleFest told Matt that he had missed something amazing by not being in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. His friend advised him to head north rather than south the following April. Matt and that friend, Ed Midgett, have been to MerleFest almost every year since.
“As a fan of Doc Watson since the ‘70s, I’ve always understood the musical significance of MerleFest. But over the years, I’ve come to appreciate its greater importance in the life of the entire region,” Matt comments. “For residents of Wilkesboro, these past twenty-four years have witnessed an amazing identity transformation—from NASCAR nation to bluegrass and beyond. The fact that so many students are blessed year-round from the effects of a four-day event every spring is a testimony to the power of the music and the giving spirit of the community behind it. I am very honored to be a part of that community.”
Matt attends MerleFest as a stage crew volunteer and as a musician who learns from the talented artists he sees performing. His MerleFest memories revolve around those artists. “My first year as a volunteer, I was assigned morning clean-up duty in the Traditional Tent. A pickup rolled up in the rain, and I dropped the broom to help unload gear with a wet-headed, round-faced young fiddle player who barely looked old enough to drive. I had not yet heard her band. It was Alison Krauss and Union Station’s first appearance at MerleFest.” Another favorite memory is of his Midnight Jam volunteer shift where he found himself in the middle of a jam session backstage with Chris Thile and “eight smoking-hot pickers shredding on a fiddle tune.” He continues, “Needless to say, I paused in the center of that circle for a moment of acoustical ecstasy I’ll never forget.”
When Matt is not picking and listening to his favorite music, he runs an advertising agency and graphic design firm, which he owns. The agency serves organizations of all shapes and sizes who are seeking to make the world a better place. He is also a “sports junkie.” As an Atlanta-area resident, Matt had the thrill of singing the National Anthem with his acapella vocal group a few years ago before a Braves game.
He is married to a “wonderfully tolerant wife” who he brought to MerleFest many years ago. When she didn’t complain about being cold, soaked and splattered in mud, he knew he had found the perfect partner! They have a fifteen-year-old daughter. “She proudly professes her bluegrass allegiances among peers who prefer hip-hop and techno. I am truly a blessed man,” Matt says.
Not only is Matt a blessed man, but MerleFest is blessed to have dedicated volunteers like him.