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MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove

MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove

Published: 8:36 AM, 07/05/2012
Last updated: 12:01 AM, 07/15/2012

Small stages, big music.

It’s time for MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove.

The annual celebration of Appalachian music and cultural heritage is set for July 13 and 14, as MusicFest enters its 15th year.

Set on the grounds of the historic Cove Creek School in Sugar Grove, MusicFest is known for its intimate, family-friendly atmosphere, featuring three stages, fresh food, vendors galore and much more.

This year’s, however, is more of a bittersweet celebration.
“A void has been left in the heart of every person lucky enough to know and love Arthel Lane ‘Doc’ Watson,” festival co-chairman Willard Watson III said.

Doc Watson, a Grammy-winning musician and Deep Gative native, died May 29. The festival was founded 15 years ago as “Doc Watson Appreciation Day,” later evolving into the Doc Watson MusicFest and then MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove – and Watson was a headliner and highlight at all of them.

Festival organizer and co-founder Tommy Walsh remembers Doc Watson Appreciation Day well.
“There were several artists and musicians … who were wanting to play with Doc,” he said. “Doc didn’t come out with his guitar, so he borrowed one.”

Practically all the musicians in attendance couldn’t pass up a chance to play with Watson, Walsh said, resulting in an impromptu jam session. Fittingly, an end-of-the-night jam session is a MusicFest highlight, featuring numerous performers teaming up to pick, grin and perform the music Watson called “traditional plus, meaning the traditional music of the Appalachian region plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play.”

“This year’s commemorative festival is only the beginning in our celebration of the wonderful man and flat-picking legend that inspired the first MusicFest in 1997,” Willard Watson said. “Please join family, friends and fans, as we pay tribute to his music, his life and his legacy.”

Area bluegrass outfit Amantha Mill intends to do just that.

“We’re going to miss him here this year and just hope we can honor him,” Amantha Mill’s Kevin Eller said.

Gary Trivette of Carolina Crossing, also returning to MusicFest this year, agrees, calling Watson “a big influence. If you’re a musician and if you patterned your life after Doc, you couldn’t go wrong.”

“The whole festival is going to be two days of tribute to Doc Watson and his legacy,” Willard Watson said, adding hat each performer will perform a Watson tribute in their own unique fashion.

For the popular jam session, musicians will perform on the main stage, alongside an empty, spotlighted chair – Watson’s former seat.

“In (Doc’s) spirit, there are going to be sounds carrying from this part of the county for a long, long time to come,” said Jim “Andy” Andrews of Cove Creek Preservation and Development, which hosts MusicFest.


This year’s lineup, which is subject to change, features the Carter Brothers, Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Kruger Brothers, Carolina Crossing, Synder Family, Slice of Bluegrass, Dashboard Hula Boys, Cockman Family, Amantha Mill, The Blue Ribbon Boys, The New River Boys, Forget-Me-Nots, Elkville String Band, The Dollar Brothers Band, The Teacher’s Pets, Dave Haney and Lisa Baldwin, Sweetbriar Jam, Steve and Ruth Smith, Mountain Laurels, Darin and Brooke Aldridge, The Major Sevens, Brian Swanson, Made of Suede, Matt Sellars and The Mason Jars, Ashley Heath, Copper Into Steel, Price and Sheppard, Uphill Both Ways, Upright & Breathin’, Lorien and Early, He Said…She Said and Wolf Creek.

Performances will take place on three stages – Main Stage, Solar Stage and The Mountain Times Pickin’ Parlor, where festival-goers are encouraged to bring their instruments along to play with the pros in a laid-back atmosphere.

And more

As the festival’s organizers attest, MusicFest promotes community, preservation, tradition and sustainability, with proceeds benefiting the historic Cove Creek School, which houses the Doc and Merle Watson Folk Art Museum, and the Doc and Rosa Lee Watson Scholarship Fund.
During the festival, the school also hosts musician workshops, featuring the Kruger Brothers and Carolina Chocolate Drops.


MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove runs July 13 and 14, starting at noon Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday.
Two-day reserved seats cost $55. Advance tickets cost $15 for Friday and $20 for Saturday and are available by calling (828) 297-2200 or visiting Boone Drug at Deerfield, Mast General Store in Boone or Valle Crucis, Cove Creek Store in Sugar Grove, the old Cove Creek School, Boone Drug in Foscoe, Ashe Arts Council in West Jefferson, the Mountain City (Tenn.) Welcome Center, Piedmont Federal Bank or online at

Tickets will be available at the gate for $20 Friday and $25 Saturday. Special group rates are available by calling (828) 297-2200.

For more information, visit