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Huge Crowd For Doc & Rosa Lee Watson  MusicFest 2022 – “A Wonderful Restart”

The Del McCoury Band

By Sherrie Norris

A hot sunny Saturday in the middle of July on the backroads of Western Watauga County provided the perfect backdrop for the return of the Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest this past weekend in Cove Creek. Hundreds of music fans from near and far found their way back to the grounds of the historic Cove Creek School for what was referred to as the 20th anniversary of the all-day music extravaganza following a five-year absence. It was aptly described by Uwe Kruger as “a wonderful restart.”

From the opening ceremonies at 9:30 a.m. with the national anthem sung by Darlene Greene-Caudill and flag presentation by the United States Marine Corp honor guard — to the final encore by The Del McCoury Band some 12 hours later — the entire event was deemed a huge success by the crowd, and in particular a member of the Watson family, who said, “I think this is the best one we’ve ever had.”

A variety of music acts, and genres, kept the stages hot  and included most with ties to the area, either through Doc Watson and his family, to the festival itself, or as alumni of App State. 

They included: The Del McCoury Band, The Kruger Brothers, The David Mayfield Parade, Charles Welch and Jack Lawrence, Terry Baucom’s Dukes Of Drive, Liam Purcell & Cane Mill Road, David Childers, Will Easter and the Nomads, Ashley Heath, Turpentine Shine, Mason Jar Confessions and The Loose Roosters.

Heating up the side stage between music acts most of the day were several dance teams representing the High Country Cloggers, including the mother-daughter leaders of the pack, Vanessa Minton and Amber Hendley.  An active youthful member of the adult dance team, Tom Lawrence, is a 1960 graduate of Cove Creek High School with a long-time loyalty to the school and community. They were all a crowd-pleaser!

Blue Ridge Sound did an incredible job, as did emcees Cindy Baucom and David Tyner, who kept everything moving at perfect pace with little to no interruptions.

Liam Purcell, who wowed the audience with his incredible stage presence, said the festival was the first that he had ever attended as a young child with his dad in 2011. Having grown up in Deep Gap near his mentor, Doc Watson, Purcell said it was indeed an honor to perform at the event.

Headliner Del McCoury, the most awarded artist in bluegrass music in  history, shared how he first met Doc Watson in California in 1963 and shared the stage with him at Watson’s request, starting a long-lasting friendship that found them performing together multiple times through the years.

Several others, including Charles Welch and Jack Lawrence, and The Kruger Brothers, recalled personal experiences related to their time with their close friends, Doc and Merle, and what an impact the Watsons had on their lives and musical careers.

ASU alum Ashely Heath from Asheville, a solo act on the side stage minus her Americana rock band, “The Heathens,” talked about her time as an intern in 2011 with the late Tommy Walsh, the first promotor of the festival over two decades ago. It was an honor, Heath said, to return as an entertainer, having known the history behind its success and all the hard work it required.

Early to arrive to claim reserved seats under the big tent was the Thompson family from Asheville — Ben, Carol and Maura, longtime Doc Watson fans, who were attending for their first time. “We love Doc Watson,” Carol said. “We have him on our wall and Ben has always played his music.”  Ben added, “I’ve seen Doc in concert countless times over the years.”

License tags in the parking lots confirmed that fans came from everywhere  — Minnesota, Florida, Georgia, Virginia,  Ohio and beyond.  

In addition to the action under the big tent, the newly renovated Doc and Merle Watson Folk Art Museum was open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. with an impressive and updated display of photos, posters, personal items of the family and other memorabilia depicting the late musicians’ private lives and careers.

The Kruger Brothers also hosted a well-received fiddle workshop at 4 p.m. prior to their performance that always keeps their audiences awestruck.

Presenting sponsor Cove Creek Preservation and Development— a nonprofit organization working to maintain the beauty of the historic school and community — was joined by about three dozen other sponsors of various levels to make the event happen. Numerous volunteers were also on hand, giving of their time in a show of support before, during and after the festival.

Among those volunteers, Darlene Greene-Caudill with a long-time affiliation, said it was good to see the festival back on track after five years and she was thankful to be back selling the festival merchandise after the hiatus. 

She was “volunteered” from the very beginning of the festival by her mother, Betty Belle Boyd, who was one of the CCPD board members. 

During the festival’s first five years, Greene-Caudill took care of the back gate, the performer’s entrance, where she had the privilege to meet and greet “most of the great musicians.”

 Followed by a year at the front gate greeting and selling entrance passes, her mother decided she should oversee the festival merchandise tent, “Or, as I say, sell those shirts!”

Greene-Caudill said she’s always had an awesome group of core volunteers who return year after year to assist her.

Since the early 2000s, she has also been recruited to sing the national anthem during opening ceremonies. And sing, she can!

“The historic Cove Creek High School is very near and dear to me as my pa, Clay Perry, helped build the gorgeous WPA building, and my mom attended and graduated in 1955, a year earlier than her actual class of 1956. The festival helps bring in money to keep the building and grounds in good shape — and a useful building, not just another abandoned community eyesore. The current board members and staff worked tirelessly to bring back this wonderful festival.”

Special thanks was given throughout the day to the Watson family for continuing to support the museum and the festival. Also the late Tommy Walsh and Amy Shelton were mentioned for their dedication to the festival in its early days.

Vendors, mainly crafters and nonprofit organizations, were represented at the festival, offering everything from food to flowers, helpful information and lots of fun and unique items in between.

As mentioned above, all volunteers, especially the board members of Cove Creek Preservation Development, once again played an integral part of the success of  the MusicFest  — from planning, organizing, festival set-up, ticketing, security and more. Volunteers who work at least one (three) hour shift on the day of the festival are admitted free.

For a glimpse of the 2022 festival, see below.

Photos by Sherrie Norris