|Parking lot jam
The 1990 festival did branch out from pure bluegrass to include more folk music and blues with musicians such as Gamble Rogers, Happy Traum, Roy Book Binder, Etta Baker, and Robin and Linda Williams. This trend toward a wide variety of “traditional plus” music has continued and is a major reason for MerleFest’s spectacular success. Other innovations in 1990 included big audience tents, many music workshops, mountain heritage craft demonstrations, nature walks and hay rides.
At the 1990 festival “B” asked Pete Wernick if he would host one of his banjo camps the next year. So the first MerleFest camp was in 1991 in the backstage room of the original Watson Stage. The camp soon outgrew the small backstage room and relocated to the Walker Center. Early on, campers got to play a number or two on the Cabin Stage for the Thursday crowd. By 1999 Pete had begun teaching bluegrass jamming on all instruments, not just banjos. The banjo camp became the world’s first bluegrass jam camp. In 2006, with the camp pushing the Walker Center’s limits, “B” suggested moving the jam camp to the beautiful new YMCA property called Camp Harrison at Herring Ridge in Boomer, N.C. The folks there offered a large meeting hall and a great layout of cabins where campers could stay, eat together, and jam at all hours, even by a campfire by the lake at night. In 2011, 60 musicians honed their skills at Camp Harrison.