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Wilkes Community College held its 34th MerleFest. The music festival is internationally renowned and the primary source of funding for the college foundation. Find out how the festival supports @Wilkes_CC students.
After four days of “music, moments and memories”, MerleFest 2022 has come to an end.
This year marked the 34th annual music festival hosted by Wilkes Community College (WCC) in Wilkesboro. More than 90 artists hit the festival stages from April 28 to May 1, including Emmylou Harris, Josh Turner, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Rissi Palmer, Old Crow Medicine Show, Eli Yacinthe Band and Scythian.
Over the past few years, MerleFest has welcomed big names to its stages including Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, John Prine, James Taylor and Brandi Carlile.
Labeled by the Rolling Stones as “the gold standard of bluegrass, Americana, and string music festivals,” MerleFest brings people together from across the country for what many say is the “best of traditional music plus.” .
But how do you explain MerleFest to someone who has never attended?
This is what the EdNC set out to do.
By this time next year, EdNC will have released an hour-long documentary film highlighting the annual music festival at Wilkes Community College. From its history to the musical artists to the fans and the impact on the college and community, the MerleFest documentary will give a faithful and authentic account of the festival that is as rich as its creation.
MerleFest 2023 is scheduled for April 27-30. Follow this page for updates and announcements.
What You May Not Know About MerleFest But You Should
Although recognized by many as a renowned “more traditional” music festival honoring music legend Doc Watson and his son Eddy Merle Watson, MerleFest is also the primary fundraiser for the Wilkes Community College Foundation.
When the event started in 1988, it was to be a one-time benefit to raise money for the gardens at Wilkes Community College. “B” Townes was then a professor of horticulture and had a vision to create 15 gardens that would serve as laboratories for his students.
But funding was a problem.
Local leaders Ala Sue Wkye and Bill Young suggested a benefit concert with Grammy-winning musician and songwriter Doc Watson. Watson lived nearby in Deep Gap and had been blind since he was a baby. The two local leaders thought the influential musician might be interested in raising money to support the gardens, especially as one of the gardens would be specifically for blind people. The horticulture professor called it a “garden of the senses”.
Townes said Watson generously agreed to do the gig, but there was a problem with the fall event’s lineup. Watson’s wife and daughter suggested the college wait until spring and have a two-day music festival.
In the spring of 1988, the first event was sold out with many of Doc’s friends playing the two-day festival.
In the early years, the event was called Merle Watson Memorial Festival – a tribute to Doc Watson’s musician son, Merle, who tragically died in a tractor accident in 1985. By 1995, the festival had been renamed MerleFest after Kay Crouch, group member. for Strictly Clean and Decent, wrote Townes a letter asking when the next dates for “MerleFest” would be. Townes liked the name so much that he asked the Watson family to rename the event, and they agreed.
Now, 34 years later, MerleFest is an “internationally renowned music and fundraising festival”.
Even with its growth and notoriety, MerleFest hasn’t lost its core mission of honoring Doc Watson and his son, providing “more mainstream” music, and raising funds for the college.
The gardens Townes originally planned to fund have since been endowed. Now, proceeds from the festival go to support scholarships, capital projects and training for Wilkes Community College’s three campuses.
“We were able to do so much more thanks to the festival. And I think that’s the takeaway – that’s how we give back to help students,” said Allison Phillips of Wilkes Community College, Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Executive Director of the Foundation. WCC.
Over the years, MerleFest funds have been used to build new classrooms and centers which are then used to train students for the ever-changing workforce. The festival funds also meet the financial needs of the students. The new SAGE Fellows scholarship program is funded by the MerleFest Mega Raffle and provides students with academic and financial support. Students in the program receive a $4,000 scholarship over two years, a laptop computer, SAGE services, and leadership opportunities.
In a college press release, SAGE member Makenzie Shumate said her success could be directly linked to the Scholars program. When Shumate found out she was pregnant, she didn’t know how she could raise a child, work, and go to school. But the SAGE program provided both the financial and academic support she needed to continue her education.
“The emotional support, encouragement, tutoring, as well as the financial assistance I received throughout the program are the reasons I will be graduating as an Associate of Commerce in May 2022,” Shumate said. in the press release.
In his account of the festival’s history, Townes, who has since retired as a college instructor and executive director of MerleFest, said, “The word community has always been bigger than the word college.
Each year, MerleFest has an annual economic impact of over $10 million in the region. According to festival director Wes Whitson, “more than 70 community and college organizations participate and benefit financially from their participation.”
The Music, Moments and Memories of MerleFest
If you ask festival-goers why they attend MerleFest, you’ll get a lot of varied answers. But two words ring true for almost everyone: music and community.
You don’t need to know who Doc Watson is to enjoy MerleFest. But if you listen closely to the artists performing on the stages, you’ll see how Watson’s music has influenced musicians over the years.
The words “traditional plus” used to describe the music at MerleFest are just words that Doc and Merle threw around when talking about their own music. Their style was the traditional music of the Appalachian region plus whatever the two wanted to play.
And that’s exactly what you’ll see at MerleFest, a mix of music that includes everything from bluegrass and Americana to country, blues and rock.
Longtime festival attendee Madison Bridges said, “MerleFest is special because while its foundations are in traditional music, it has never been afraid to evolve or add new artists to its lineup. Where else can you take a shape note singing lesson and watch a Jason Isbell set on the same day?
But it’s also special because of the people who attend. MerleFest brings together people of all ages, including children, from all over the country. The festival crosses musical genres to create a shared experience for over 70,000 people each year. MerleFest is a community.
Doc Watson always said he was just one person. But there is no doubt that Watson, because of his national recognition, impacted the lives of many when he generously agreed to play a festival at a community college in North Carolina 34 years ago. . Watson died in 2012 at the age of 89.