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A Chat with David Watson

By Derek Halsey (

Article Published: Jul. 16 | Modified: Jul. 16
A Chat with David Watson

David Watson, brother of the late Doc Watson, is a regular fixture at the Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove.
Photos by Derek Halsey

The Doc and Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove has long been known as Doc’s “other’ festival.

While people from all over the world travel to North Wilkesboro for the much bigger Watson-inspired MerleFest, MusicFest is where family and the High Country locals show up to have some fun.

On July 11 and 12, the Doc and Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove once again showcased the best in local, regional and internationally known bluegrass and string band artists.

The younger talent on the bill included the Snyder Family Band out of Lexington and the new string band, The Buck Stops Here, featuring talented multi-instrumentalists Gailanne Amundsen, Shona Carr, Jeffrey Amundsen and Appalachian State University alumna Julie Chiles and Rebecca Jones.

On the other end of the scale, MusicFest also featured the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Famer Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver.

Doc and Rosa Lee Watson both died in 2012, so keeping the Watson family flame alive each year at MusicFest is Doc’s younger brother, David Watson. Watson’s life journey was different than that of his sibling, Doc, even though he flirted with playing music for a short while as a young man.

“Before I went into the service, and, of course, I was drafted, I played the fiddle a little bit, but not very much,” David Watson said at MusicFest. “I’d have Doc tune it. I couldn’t tune it. I went into World War II and when I came out, I didn’t take it up again. Doc would get after me, saying, ‘David, you’d have been a good fiddler if you had stayed with it.’ Now, I do regret it, but it is way too late.”

Watson spent his time in World War II on a vessel known as a Landing Craft Support ship. Also called the “Mighty Midgets,” the 23-foot wide, 158-foot long ships were armed to the teeth and in the thick of the battle.

“Man, I’ll tell you, we had firepower,” Watson said. “We’d only go so many hundred yards into the beach. This was at Okinawa, and I was there. We were on the picket line around Okinawa, trying to stop the suicide planes. We were credited with stopping three planes. We also had firefighting equipment that we used on destroyers that had been hit and were on fire. I made it back home, and I’ll be honest with you, I’ll say it and I’m sure, it was because of my mama’s prayers. Our brother, Otis, he was with Gen. Patton going right through Belgium in the Battle of the Bulge, but he also came home.”

As his brother, Doc, became more famous in the music world in the early 1960s, Watson was in Ohio trying to make a living.

“When Ralph Rinzler took Doc on the road, I was living in Cleveland at the time,” Watson said. “My wife and I moved to Cleveland in 1953 because there was nothing going on in Boone. It was the Appalachian State Teachers College at that time, and I think there were a couple of dry cleaners. I was working two jobs. I was an orderly at the hospital and a presser at one of the dry cleaners. I wasn’t making enough money to hardly buy our groceries at the end of the week. So, we moved to Ohio in 1953 and stayed there until 1972.”

Watson said it was his parents who encouraged Doc to be as active as possible, despite his blindness, and that included getting into trouble now and again with the local boys.

“I don’t care how dangerous it was (what the other boys were doing), Doc wanted to get right in there, too,” Watson said. “Sometimes, a grapevine would hang down from a tree, and we would pull one down because it would hold you up, so we’d make swings out of them. My older brother and us were swinging on one, and Doc was back there, so he let Doc grab onto it and let him swing. At the very height of that, it was kind of steep with a lot of leaves and everything on the ground, Doc cut loose. If his hands slipped, I don’t know, but he hit the ground hard on his backside. His nose bled a little bit and we thought, ‘Oh no, we’ve killed Doc.’”

Additional Images

David Watson, brother of the late Doc Watson, is a regular fixture at the Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove.
Photos by Derek Halsey

New to MusicFest, the Buck Stops Here features the multi-instrumental talents of Gailanne Amundsen, Shona Carr, Jeffrey Amundsen, Julie Chiles and Rebecca Jones.

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