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18th MusicFest to Feature Veteran Performers, Rising Stars, Tribute to Doc This Weekend

By Jessica Isaacs

The Fourth of July weekend has passed, but that doesn’t mean the fun has to stop! One of the High Country’s most celebrated annual music festivals returns this weekend, so get ready to head over to Cove Creek and keep the party going.

The 18th annual Doc and Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest N’ Sugar Grove will bring up-and-coming artists, bluegrass greats and world-renowned recording artists together for a truly unique festival experience on Friday and Saturday (July 10-11) at the Historic Cove Creek School.

Doc Watson
Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson (1923-2012)

Legendary musicians and rising stars will take the stage to carry on the memory of Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson (1923-2012) and the festival’s commitment to community development in western Watauga County.

MusicFest Chairman J.D. Dooley has been a part of the event, and in sharing Watson’s legacy, since its inception in 1997.

“The late Tommy Walsh asked me to help with promoting the festival and to photograph Doc. I’ve been involved in one way or another ever since,” Dooley said. “Doc was very special to this community. He not only represented us musically, but was a cultural ambassador of sorts.

“Wherever he went, he represented us in a good light. There are a lot of talented musicians out there, but when you look at all that Doc was, it’s very special.”

Dooley said there are many reasons that festivalgoers have been enjoying this two-day event for years, including its inherent “down home feel.”

Music Fest N Sugar Grove
MusicFest N Sugar Grove 2014

“Its not incredibly large and the musicians mingle with the festivalgoers. There is also a mix of musical styles within the string band genres,” Dooley said. “It’s very affordable as well as accessible — tickets are $20 for al day Friday and $25 for all day Saturday, and some single shows are that much. There is also a good mix of music in three venues, all close by, that allow listeners to experience a wide array of music.”

This year’s event boasts an impressive lineup of all-stars including the Lexington, North Carolina-based Snyder Family Band, European natives The Krüger Brothers, internationally-recognized Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Asheville’s own Town Mountain, local powerhouse Amantha Mill, newcomer Savannah Smith and more.

Many local favorites will return to the stage this year, including veteran MusicFest performer Gary Trivette. He’s played at the festival nearly every year with bands like Southern Accent and Carolina Crossing, but he’s bringing some new blood with him this time.

With Trivette on bass, his new band, ClayBank, features 23-year-old Tyler Thompson on banjo, 16-year-old Jacob Greer on guitar and 14-year-old Zack Arnold on mandolin.

“There’s an energy here that you don’t get most of the time with older bands. ClayBank’s sound is very youthful, besides me,” he said with a laugh. “It’s traditional bluegrass with a modern twist. We play traditional instruments, but we put our own style to it.”

The guys in ClayBank have only been playing together since February, but can already boast some impressive accomplishments. In April, they earned first place in the band competition at Fiddler’s Grove, “the oldest continuous old time fiddler’s contest in North America.” They’re also in the studio now working on their first album together.

They’re regulars at Boone’s ongoing Red, White and Bluegrass Jam series and performed for the first time as a group in a festival setting at West Jefferson’s Christmas in July on Saturday.

Trivette said the guys are glad to be taking the stage at MusicFest and are eager to share an original song, “Up on Clay Bank,” written by group’s two youngest members.

Charles Welch plays a few tunes on the back porch of the original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis at a MusicFest N Sugar Grove press conference in June, 2015. Photo by Jessica Isaacs.

“Zack and Jake have written a really cool song and we’re looking forward to performing that for everybody,” he said. “All of this is kind of new to us because we’ve only been together for a short time, so we’re excited to get our feet on the ground and show everybody what we can do.”

If you plan to be at MusicFest, you’ll also enjoy a memorable tribute to Watson by one of his closest friends and fellow musicians, Charles Welch. His performance will include some of his favorite songs that he performed with Watson, like “Shady Grove” and “Deep River Blues,” and stories of the time they spent together.

“He was much more than a great musician. He used this mountain music and made it into a music that everybody wanted to hear and listen to, and everybody wanted to learn his style,” Welch said. “Doc was a good friend of mind and our friendship went way beyond music. I would just like for everybody to know what a good person he was and I just always want to keep him in our memory.”

There’s no doubt about it, the 18th annual Doc and Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest N’ Sugar Grove will be one for the books.

Click here to see the full line-up and read more about the festival’s history.

Click here to get your tickets, read performer bios and more.