Fabulous Clarion Content columnist and photographer Meriel O’Connell gives us the inside scoop on Mergefest.
by: Meriel O’Connell
During my time interning at Merge Records, I have been pleasantly surprised and intrigued that a local record label can make such a massive impact on the music industry today. Started twenty five years ago by the self-producing band “Superchunk”, Merge Records climbed its way up the music totem pole, and after fourteen years, was able to make a widespread name for itself in the industry. This year Merge has been celebrating it’s twenty-fifth anniversary as a record label with the verve and style that has made it a powerful influence in the music world. Along with Mergefest, the biggest event entailing a four day music festival from July 23-26th, Merge has celebrated its twenty fifth anniversary by creating a subscription-based mailing of twelve exclusive 7-inch singles called “Or Thousands of Prizes” over the course of 2014, held a 25 kilometer run from Chapel Hill to downtown Durham, and reissued classic albums from January to August. Quite fortunately, I have been able to take part in the making of Merge 25, mainly assisting with Mergefest.
While slipping seven-inch special edition LP’s and four day weekend passes into clear covers, I let my imagination run in any direction possible about the week to come. Meeting any and all bands, staying up late jamming out and dancing to live shows, losing myself in the rhythm of the undulating crowd, being able to document my experiences through writing. Mac McCaughan, the singer and guitarist of Superchunk, walked by my table of over 450 passes, stopping to greet everyone in his path even though he was in the midst of preparation for the festival.
Although there hasn’t been a slow moment working at Merge, the last week before the festival was by far the busiest. From stocking up on CDs, vinyl, and shirts, to packaging passes and managing tickets, everyone was on their feet and the office was filled with an unspoken sense of hustle and bustle. On my last day of work before the festival, I felt entirely relieved to and prideful to have been able to be just a small part in helping to accomplish everything that needed to be done, which made my experience at the festival even more sublime.
I pulled into Baldwin Auditorium that following Wednesday to volunteer on the commencement day of MergeFest. I was told to give pass holders their packages that I and a few other interns assembled, and I was given a ticket for the night to see Mount Moriah and Lambchop. The two bands were perfect to kick off MergeFest, especially with Baldwin Auditorium as their designated location. I was able to differentiate their sounds, Mount Moriah pumping me up more and Lambchop being a bit more soothing, yet the two sets flawlessly flowed into each other.
I signed up to additionally volunteer on Thursday and Friday at Cat’s Cradle and was given a pass for the weekend, so I was able to see a handful of bands on breaks for those days and went to the entire Saturday show. There were six to seven bands each night, and when I wasn’t watching them in the crowd, I was listening to them as I handed out passes. Set after set, I was constantly astounded by the various sounds and tones of the music, the beating energy coursing from the artists to the crowd, and the harmonious mixture of the bands, location, and atmosphere.
As Merge Records has developed its label to become an influential force in the music industry, the bands signed with Merge have become increasingly well known. Merge has cultivated a unique and original label that simultaneously caters to a widespread group of music lovers and will only get bigger as the years go on.
Lucky us, lucky them, eh, Meriel? [ed. note]