April 27-30, 2017
MerleFest, a four-day event, which USA Today described as a “happy, family friendly festival that’s loved by musicians who come to play and those who come to add their energy by listening, as well,” will once again take place on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. MerleFest is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans, gathering to celebrate the memory of musician Eddy Merle Watson, beloved son of American music icon Doc Watson. MerleFest also provides family activities, heritage crafts, food, dance, and shopping in a safe, alcohol-free environment. MerleFest has evolved into the most important annual ticketed event in northwest North Carolina and the world’s foremost Americana music festival. In so doing MerleFest has defined and lead the way for that field called Americana music.
MerleFest, which starts on the last Thursday in April, takes its name from Merle Watson, who died in a tractor accident in 1985. A noted finger-picking guitarist in the folk, blues, and old-time country styles, Merle performed with his legendary guitarist father, Doc, from 1965 until his death. Conceived as a benefit concert to raise funds for the Eddy Merle Watson Memorial Garden for the Senses at Wilkes Community College, MerleFest has grown into a significant economic engine.
With Arthel "Doc" Watson's passing on May 29, 2012, Merlefest will definately continue on. Doc Watson was clearly a folk life and acoustic music icon of legendary proportions who richly deserves his place in history. He performed and recorded for five decades and during that time won seven Grammy Awards. On February 8, 2004, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by NARAS, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Despite his enormous success, Doc remained one of the most fundamentally modest and humble men ever and he will be missed for many years to come.
One of the hallmarks of MerleFest has been the musical diversity, was inspired by Doc’s eclectic interests. Doc filled his concerts with hot flat-picking tunes, slow romantic ballads, gutsy blues numbers, delicately picked melodies and an old-time gospel song or two. From its two-stage beginning, MerleFest has evolved to no less than a dozen stages spread across the 151 acre Wilkes Community College campus. Each year, many performers visit the public schools in the area to further educate and cultivate the musical interest of young people.
The initial lineup reflects the diversity and quality of performers that have become the hallmark of the four-day festival. MerleFest is known for its unique mix of traditional, roots-oriented music from the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, Blues, Country, Celtic, Cajun, Cowboy, Zydeco, Rock and many other styles that Doc Watson has referred to as “Traditional Plus.”
Throughout the 30 years, one of the major factors that has built MerleFest is the quality of the artists and performances that our guests see over the four days of the festival, adds Ted Hagaman, Director of the Festival. That, in turn, creates another important element of MerleFest’s success: people truly feel that the festival is a great value. That’s probably best expressed by the fact that so many music fans and families return year after year, making MerleFest a regular spring tradition. We’re tremendously proud of what we’ve built and that tradition will continue.
During MerleFest, an event the Town is equally proud of is the annual campground sponsored by the Wilkesboro Fire Department. The campground was begun about fifteen plus years ago to offer a place for MerleFest patrons to camp. Since that time, the campground has evolved into an institution of its own and has been dubbed "Sewerfest." Free hot showers, a shuttle to MerleFest, and late night pickin’ sessions all combine to make the campground a great place to stay. More than 2,000 people will stay at the campground during MerleFest. The campground is located about 2 miles from the festival. Wilkesboro firemen work very hard to provide a pleasant experience for campers and the money made at the campground goes toward the firemen retirement fund.