Doc Watson's 100th Birthday Drives The Celebrations At MerleFest 2023


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MerleFest Event poster
Event poster

(IVPR) As the stages are broken down and the gear is packed up, fans from across the country and the world are coming down from their annual MerleFest excitement. The centerpiece of MerleFest 2023-which took place this past weekend, April 27-30, in Wilkesboro, North Carolina-was the all-encompassing celebration of what would have been MerleFest founder Doc Watson's 100th birthday. In addition to the Doc-themed jam, artists from all genres of music paid homage to the man himself and his spirit echoed through the hills of Wilkes Community College where his legacy thrives in festival form. From Thursday to Sunday, across twelve stages, MerleFest magic unfolded with world-class performances, spontaneous sit-ins, and unforgettable collaborations from the likes of Jerry Douglas, Black Opry Revue, The Waybacks, and The Travelin' McCourys and friends featuring Del McCoury.

Festival Director Wes Whitson commented, "MerleFest 35 was something special. We can't thank everyone enough for their support of Wilkes Community College and MerleFest. To the Artists and to the fans that support them, and to our amazing staff and the small army of dedicated volunteers who work hard each and every year to make MerleFest the premier roots based music festival in the country - please know you made a big difference for our students by being a part of MerleFest. MerleFest is back and firing on all cylinders, and we are so excited for what is already in the works for 2024. See you next spring!"

MerleFest, presented by Window World and held on the campus of Wilkes Community College, is the primary fundraiser for the WCC Foundation, which funds scholarships, capital projects, and other educational needs.

Thursday: Local rising star Presley Barker opened MerleFest 2023 on the Watson Stage with a bluegrass set paying homage to Doc Watson, followed by guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel. Rock legends Little Feat brought a star-studded jam, inviting Tommy Emmanuel back up on stage as well as Miko Marks and Jerry Douglas. Brothers of a Feather with Chris & Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes closed out the Watson Stage, performing a special acoustic set.

Friday: Yasmin Williams wowed festival-goers at the Hillside stage with her incredible guitar skills; the clouds cleared just in time and a rainbow appeared above the Cabin Stage for sets from Dom Flemons, John Paul White, and Bee Taylor. Black Opry Revue kicked off the night on the Watson Stage with a cavalcade of special guests including fan-favorite Miko Marks. Marcus King infused the crowd with energy and soul with his signature electric, horn-forward set, inviting his dad Marvin to join for closer "Goodbye Carolina." North Carolina natives The Avett Brothers closed out the night, performing an hour and a half of fan favorites along with a tribute to the late Calypso legend Harry Belafonte, adding their unique twist to "Jump In The Line."

Saturday: Mark Bumgarner hosted the Band Competition, crowning Ashes & Arrows as the 2023 winners on the Plaza Stage. The Waybacks played an hour and a half long set with their renditions of The Who's Who's Next for the annual Album Hour, another highly-anticipated MerleFest tradition. My Name is Merle, a documentary chronicling the rise and continued legacy of MerleFest, premiered at the Walker Center; if you missed it, you can watch below. Hosted by the Kruger Brothers, Doc's 100th Birthday Jam featured a variety of special guests including Jerry Douglas, Mitch Greenhill, Peter Rowan, T Michael Coleman, and many more. Acclaimed songwriter Lori McKenna charmed the crowd at The Cabin Stage with the massive hits that she's penned and co-written, including "Girl Crush." Maren Morris closed out The Watson Stage with her energetic, larger-than-life vocals and instant country-pop classics. Scythian kept the party going with their eclectic jam at the Dance Tent.

Sunday: The Travelin' McCourys and friends featuring Del McCoury took to the Watson Stage in the afternoon, taking the place of Nickel Creek who unfortunately had to cancel due to a doctor-mandated vocal rest for Chris Thile. Del McCoury, the living link to Bill Monroe, charmed fest goers while his sons, Rob and Ronnie McCoury, proved yet again that the future of bluegrass is in good hands. The "and friends" portion was a who's who of the best pickers and playing, including Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, and more. Country royalty Tanya Tucker had fans up and dancing, her signature sass and spunk on full display closing out the festival on a high note.

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