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Making Way for MusicFest

By Jesse Campbell (

Article Published: Jul. 2 | Modified: Jul. 13
Making Way for MusicFest

From left to right, Brandon Holder, Rebecca Jones, Trevor McKenzie and Alexa Rose take part in a jam session during last Thursday’s Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove press conference at the Jones House Community Center in downtown Boone.

Photo by Jesse Campbell

In the Appalachian Mountains, the importance of preserving the traditions of old-time and bluegrass music is pretty high on the priority list.

In fact, you could say that protecting the streams that flow through the hills and the wildlife that inhabit it are the only treasures that spark passions even higher than the beloved tunes of Doc Watson and other musical legends.

Last week, organizers of the Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove and attending musicians gathered at the Jones House Community Center to reflect on those values, as well as provide glimpses of what to expect at this year’s festival.

While toe-tapping to their favorite tunes, fans of the festival were treated to an intimate performance in the front room of the Jones House.

In between performances, the musicians shared their thoughts on what this style of music means to the people of Appalachia.

“It’s part of a living tradition,” area fiddler Trevor McKenzie said. “These same traditions are intertwined with the community and Appalachian State University. A lot of professors are from that culture. They thought it was something to preserve.”

Rebecca Jones is making her third appearance at the festival.

“This is also my third time with a different band,” Jones said. “It’s fun to bring out different sounds with different people. We will be doing a fusion of bluegrass and old-time music.”

For Jones, the festival offers her a close, intimate connection with the audience.

“It’s just a great feeling (that) you can bring acoustical instruments and have people fall in love with it,” she said.

McKenzie concurred.

“Whether you have family connections or not, it’s music that evokes a sense of place and history,” McKenzie said. “This is something that makes you feel at home. This is why so many people are drawn to Doc Watson’s (persona), even if they don’t have any inkling what the music is about.”

The 17th installment of the festival runs the weekend of July 11 to 12 at the Historic Cove Creek School in Sugar Grove.

“What’s wonderful about the festival is that young people are becoming interested in the genre and are pushing it forward,” festival organizer Willard Watson said. “You don’t need an amp or an electric guitar to get that feeling of family at the festival.”

J.D. Dooley, chairman for the festival, said the MusicFest operates under a “traditional-plus” format, a term coined by Doc Watson to describe the music and he and his friends enjoyed performing — traditional, along with whatever else they felt like playing at the time.

“When we were putting the festival together, we knew it couldn’t just be a bluegrass festival,” Dooley said. “Doc defied typical stereotypes. When we set out to bring back bands, we were diligent in choosing the best in what we heard from a chosen category.”

This year’s edition of the festival varies only slightly from previous showcases.

On Friday, the festival will kick things off with The 23 String Band and Chatham County Line, which Dooley said are two bands that typically appeal to younger audience members and college students.
Friday’s lineup, spanning three stages, also includes Jeb Wooley, Andy Ferrell, Liam Purcell, Mike Preslar, Polly Lorien, Trevor McKenzie, Savannah Smith, He Said…She Said…, Alexa Rose, Charles Welch, Spirit Fiddle, Carolina Crossing, The Lost Ridge Band, Strictly Strings, ETSU Pride Band, Upright & Breathin’, The Buck Stops Here, Andy Ferrell and Oncoming Train and The New River Boys.

Saturday’s lineup, however, will shift gears to more traditional tunes, with headliners including Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver and Willie Watson, formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show. Other Saturday performances include Jeb Wooley, Mike Preslar, Brandon Holder, Andy Ferrell, Savannah Smith, Trevor McKenzie, Polly Lorien, General Watson and the Demonbow Ramblers, ETSU Pride, Carolina Crossing, He Said…She Said, Sweet Treats, Strictly Strings, The Buck Stops Here, The New River Boys, Upright & Breathin’, Spirit Fiddle, Whitetop Mountain Band, The Cockman Family, Mark Schimick’s Sassagrass Reunion, The Snyder Family Band, Charles Welch and Sons of Bluegrass.
For a complete lineup and ticket information, visit

MusicFest Preview

On Friday, July 4, MusicFest presents a free preview show, featuring General Watson and the Demonbow Ramblers and Alexa Rose playing from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Bald Guy Brew in downtown Boone.

Admission is free and open to the public. Bald Guy Brew is located at 585 W. King St. in downtown Boone.

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