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Doc and Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ‘n Sugar Grove Returns After Five Year Hiatus

Fest Features All-star Lineup with Del McCoury, Kruger Brothers, Terry Baucom and More

For many years, the Doc and Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ‘n Sugar Grove was a tribute to one of the most important musicians to ever come out of the western North Carolina Mountains. Beginning as a local Doc Watson Day commemoration, the festival kept its hometown feel over the years while still bringing in the best talent found in the American roots music world.

The goal was to show appreciation for Doc Watson and his wife Rosa Lee in their home region. As far as the outside world goes, music lovers know of Doc Watson as the 7-time Grammy Award winner, a National Medal of the Arts honoree and a member of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Hall of Fame.

In 2016, however, the festival ended, creating a big gap in the High Country live music calendar. But now, the Cove Creek Preservation and Development organization has revived the festival in time to observe its 20th anniversary.

On July 16 at the historic Cove Creek School, located at 207 Dale Adams Road in Sugar Grove, NC, the Doc and Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ‘n Sugar Grove will return with a lineup worthy of a 20-year celebration

More information on tickets, seating and directions can be found at docwatsonmusicfest.org. The festival bill will include the following acts.

The Del McCoury Band – Featuring the IBMA Hall of Fame singer and guitarist Del McCoury, the group has won multiple Grammy Awards and over 20 IBMA Awards over the years including son Ronnie McCoury’s 8 IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year nods.

The Kruger Brothers – Immigrant musicians from Switzerland who wanted to be close to Doc Watson when they moved to nearby Wilkesboro, NC, in the 1990s, Jens and Uwe Kruger along with bassist Joel Landsberg have established themselves as a popular roots music act over the years. Jens Kruger was inducted into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame in 2011, and in 2013 he won the prestigious Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Bluegrass and Banjo.

Terry Baucom and the Dukes of Drive – When Ricky Skaggs and Jerry Douglas left the infamous ‘Rounder 0044” version of J.D. Crowe’s New South band in the 1970s, they did so to form the new group Boone Creek. That is when they brought in Terry Baucom on banjo, who has since established himself as one of the best in the business while winning multiple IBMA Awards. Baucom was also an original member of IBMA Hall of Famer Doyle Lawson’s legendary band Quicksilver.

Charles Welch – Welch is a throwback mountain musician who was one of Doc Watson’s closest friends and favorite musical collaborators for over three decades.

Liam Purcell and Cane Mill Road– Liam Purcell represents the new generation of top bluegrass talent. Still only in his early 20s, Purcell and his band Cane Mill Road won their first IBMA Award in 2019.

David Childers – Childers can be simply described as a North Carolina treasure and one of the best songwriters on the planet. 

The rest of this impressive festival lineup features the best that western North Carolina has to offer, from the wonderfully-blended sounds of Mason Jar Confessions to the impressive original music of Loose Roosters and Turpentine Shine to the diverse and fun Handlebar Betty

About Doc and Rosa Lee Watson – Blind from one year old, Doc Watson loved music from an early age, playing everything from the harmonica to the banjo. He began to focus on the guitar after hearing the great six-string master Merle Travis perform on the radio on WLW-AM in the 1930s. One night, while playing in a local dance band as a young man, the all-important fiddler in the group did not show up to the gig. So, Doc got the idea of playing the fiddle tune melodies on his guitar with a flat pick, and that revolutionary change in style led to him becoming one of the most influential guitarists in American history. 

Wife Rosa Lee grew up in a famous musical family that included her father Gaither Carlton, a renown fiddler in his own right. Rosa Lee performed with Doc early on, but then concentrated on raising their two kids Nancy Watson and acclaimed guitarist Merle Watson in Deep Gap, NC. Along the way, Rosa Lee co-wrote the famous song “Your Long Journey” with her husband, which was recorded by everyone from Emmylou Harris to Alison Krauss and Robert Plant and many other artists. 

Doc and Rosa Lee were married for 65 years before both passed away in 2012.   

Since the 1980s, many around the world associated Doc Watson with the festival known as MerleFest, which was dedicated to his son Merle who tragically died in a tractor accident in 1985. Happening in North Wilkesboro, NC, MerleFest grew from a few hundred people at first to upwards of 70,000 visitors watching music played on 14 stages. 

A busy weekend in April for Watson, who often performed three or four times a day at MerleFest; by the time he rested and recovered from that big event, he got to enjoy the hometown feel of the Doc and Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ‘n Sugar Grove later in the summer. The alcohol-free family festival was much smaller and had the feel of a local reunion for family and friends, and that is still true today.

To find the festival, you drive almost two thousand feet up in elevation from the MerleFest grounds in Wilkesboro to Deep Gap, the home of Doc and Rosa Lee Watson located 25 miles away. Then, you continue on Rt. 421, aka “Doc and Merle Watson Highway,” to the college town of Boone where a statue of Doc resides on King Street. Just 8 miles from Boone, you will find the home of the Doc and Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ‘n Sugar Grove at Cove Creek School, a unique and beautiful building listed on the National Register of Historic Places that was built by the WPA in the early 1940s. They still hold school classes there, and it is also home to the Doc Watson Museum.

Doc and Rosa Lee Watson’s long journey home will be honored at every Doc and Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ‘n Sugar Grove to come, beginning again on July 16, 2022.