Nobody throws a birthday party like Merge Records throws a birthday party—for itself. The Durham-based independent imprint that has grabbed top spots on the charts and pulled down unlikely Grammy wins outdid itself when it turned 20 in 2009. Merge XX took over the Cat's Cradle for most of a week, running through an impressive lineup—Lambchop, Spoon, Conor Oberst, Magnetic Fields, Superchunk, etc.—in a succession of shows where the bills were all unannounced. It was a Russian Roulette of great music.
This year, Merge hits the quarter-century mark. And while it's already announced other commemorations—a 25K on Saturday going from the label's first home in Chapel Hill to its digs in the Bull City and a nerd-baiting 7-inch subscription service—the pièce de résistance will once again be an overwhelmingly stacked music festival. Merge 25 will run from July 23 to 26, spending one night at Duke University's Baldwin Auditorium before hitting Carrboro for two nights at the Cat's Cradle and an all-day outdoor concert on July 26.
The bands playing will fulfill many Merge fans' wishlists. The reunited Neutral Milk Hotel will perform, as will revered and refined country-rock outfit Lambchop, who will perform their landmark 2000 album Nixon in its entirety. The Rock*A*Teens will deliver a much more unlikely reunion set, reviving their oh-so-humid rock 'n' roll for one of the first times since the early 2000s. British pop dreamers The Clientele are also on tap, as are Wye Oak, Bob Mould, Destroyer, Caribou, Ex Hex and 16 more groups that have yet to be announced.
Passes for the festival are $195 and go on sale at 11 a.m. on Friday via the Cat's Cradle website. They will go fast.