MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove

By Frank Ruggiero (

Article Published: Jul. 10 | Modified: Jul. 14
MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove

Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver will return to 2014's Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest 'n Sugar Grove.

Photo submitted


The Lineup 'n Sugar Grove

(Note: Schedule is subject to change)


The Mountain Times Pickin’ Parlor
1:00 – 1:35 – Jeb Wooley
1:45 – 2:20 – Andy Ferrell
2:30 – 3:05 – Liam Purcell
3:15 – 3:50 – Mike Preslar
4:00 – 4:35 – Open Jam

Solar Stage
12:15 – 12:45 – Polly Lorien
1:00 – 1:35 – Trevor McKenzie      
1:45 – 2:20 – Savannah Smith
2:30 – 3:05 – He Said... She Said...
3:15 – 3:50 – Songwriter Showcase
4:00 – 4:35 – Alexa Rose
4:45 – 5:20 – Charles Welch
5:30 – 6:05 – Spirit Fiddle
6:15 – 6:50 Carolina Crossing
7:00 – 7:45 – The Lost Ridge Band

Friday Main Stage
12:00 – 12:15 – Opening Ceremony
1:00 – 1:45 – Strictly Strings
2:00 – 2:45 – ETSU Pride Band
3:00 – 3:45 – Upright & Breathin'
4:00 – 4:45 – The Buck Stops Here
5:00 – 5:45 – Andy Ferrell & Oncoming Train
6:00 – 6:45 – The New River Boys
7:00 – 8:30 – The 23 String Band
9:00 – 10:30 – Chatham County Line
10:30 – Jam

Saturday, July 12

The Mountain Times Pickin’ Parlor

11:00 – 11:35 – Jeb Wooley
11:45 – 12:20 – Mike Preslar
12:20 – 12:50  -  Brandon Holder
1:00 – 1:35 – Andy Ferrell
1:45 – 2:25  – Savannah Smith
2:30 – 3:05 -  Trevor McKenzie
3:15 – 3:50  – Polly Lorien
4:00 – 4:35 – Open Jam

Solar Stage
11:00 – 11:35 – General Watson & the Demonbow Ramblers
11:45 – 12:15 – ETSU Pride
12:25 – 12:50 Carolina Crossing
1:00 – 1:35 – He Said... She Said...
1:45 – 2:20 – Sweet Treats
2:30 – 3:05 – Strictly Strings
3:15 – 3:50 – Songwriter Showcase
4:00 – 4:35 – Andy Ferrell4:45 – 5:20 – Buck Stops Here5:30 – 6:05 – The New River Boys6:15 – 6:50 – Upright & Breathin'

Main Stage
10:00 – 11:00 – Spirit Fiddle
11:15 –12:00 – Whitetop Mountain Band
12:15 – 1:15 – Cockman Family
1:30- 2:30 – Mark Schimick’s Sassagrass Reunion
2:45 – 3:45 – Snyder Family Band
4:00 – 5:30 – Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver
5:30 – 5:45 – Doc & Rosa Lee Watson Scholarship Presentation
6:00 – 6:45 – Charles Welch's Tribute to Doc & Rosa Lee Watson
7:00 – 8:30 – Willie Watson
9:00 – 10:30 – Sons of Bluegrass
10:00 – Jam

1:00 – 2:00 – History of Appalachian Music workshop with Trevor McKenzie
2:00 – 3:00 – Fiddle Workshop with Bob Kogut and members of Amantha Mill

Three stages plus two dozen bands divided by two days equals one surprisingly intimate festival.

The 17th annual Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove returns to the Historic Cove Creek School July 11 and 12, bringing all of the above and much more.

“I’ve been going to festivals all my life, in just about every genre, from Jazz Fest in New Orleans to MerleFest (in Wilkesboro),” MusicFest chairman J.D. Dooley said. “It comes back to the intimacy in this one.”

Even though the festival’s lineup includes a veritable bounty of performers, from nationally celebrated acts to regional stalwarts and ever-rising local groups, Dooley said MusicFest somehow retains an inviting, close-knit atmosphere.

“We have good solid artists, but it’s in a much smaller environment,” he said. “Anyone who comes gets to meet the artists by the merchandise tent, either before or after they play, and you’re up very close, no matter what seat you have in the house.”

This weekend, festivalgoers can hear — and possibly meet — the likes of headliners Willie Watson, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Chatham County Line and The 23 String Band. But for Dooley, the lineup holds many highlights.

“I got to see Willie Watson earlier this year … and really wanted to hear him in a festival environment,” Dooley said. “Chatham County Line, I just love those guys, and they keep coming around on my Pandora playlist. And I always love to hear Doyle Lawson. When they hit the stage, their precision, accuracy, harmony and everything they do is just spot on. And they’re high-energy every time, whether it’s bluegrass, gospel, whatever they’re doing.

“Locally, Andy Ferrell and Oncoming Train, they just got back from a tour out West in Venice, Calif. (Ferrell) is a young songwriter who writes well beyond his years. Even some of the acts on the Solar Stage really caught our eye. Alexa Rose is a great songwriter, and I’m looking forward to hearing her set.”

All the same, Dooley has a hard time picking favorites.

“There’s a lot of them,” he said. “We were really fortunate to listen to a lot of stuff to make our selections earlier this year. I don’t think there were any compromises anywhere — just a great complement of artists, and we pack it all in on three stages.”

Stages of MusicFest

As Dooley noted, the Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove features three stages — the Main Stage, the Solar Stage and The Mountain Times Pickin’ Parlor.

The Main Stage is situated under the grand tent, featuring reserved and free seating, whereas the Solar Stage can be found at a nearby picnic shelter, powered by the sun — and Appalachian State University’s Department of Technology and Environmental Design. The Mountain Times Pickin’ Parlor welcomes festivalgoers as they enter the grounds, inviting them to hear some tunes or take a pick to take part in the jamming. As such, folks up for a jam or three are encouraged to bring their instrument of choice.

Willard Watson, MusicFest public relations specialist, is particular happy with the lineup’s diversity, which draws heartily from the High Country’s well of talent.

“We conducted exit surveys after last year’s festival … and that has been reflected in our band choices this year,” Watson said. “There’s so much wonderful talent in this community and the greater High Country area. We tried to pick out the crowd favorites that are locals, while also bringing in some new blood.”

Like so, Friday will see the festival taking on some fresh sounds.

“Friday is going to be our young’uns taking over,” Watson said, “with Chatham County Line, The 23 String Band, The Buck Stops Here and even our youngest group, Strictly Strings, which formed at the Jones House jams. Liam Purcell is in that, an 11-year-old wonder at bluegrass.

“We’re bringing in some younger blood to show people that young people care about traditional music and keeping it alive.”

On Saturday, MusicFesters can expect some of their favorites from years past, including The Snyder Family Band, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Whitetop Mountain Band, Carolina Crossing and more.
The “more” includes art of a different ilk — culinary. On both days, festivalgoers can enjoy a variety of festival food to appease virtually any palate.

“There’s always going to be great food here,” Watson said. “Most of our food vendor spots just roll over from year to year, and we’re really pushing people to have options for all diet needs. Usually, when you think about festival food, you think about fried food and burgers. We’ll have all that, but we’ll also have healthy, vegan and vegetarian options, as well.”

Folks can work it off with a series of instrument workshops in the Doc & Merle Watson Folk Art Museum, located in the Historic Cove Creek School. Bob Kogut will lead a fiddle workshop, and Trevor McKenzie will lead a session on the history of Appalachian music.

“It all comes back to maintaining tradition, keeping it alive by playing music,” Watson said. “Also inside the museum, people will be greeted with a taste of history, learning about Doc and Merle’s lives, as well as the history of the Cove Creek community.”

Remembering Doc & Rosa Lee

Doc Watson, the legendary flat-picker from Deep Gap, and his loving wife, Rosa Lee, both died in 2012, and MusicFest organizers have since strived to honor them with a family-friendly festival — no alcohol is permitted — that celebrates the music both held dear.

Doc Watson coined the term, “traditional-plus,” describing the music he and his friends enjoyed performing — traditional, along with whatever else they felt like playing at the time.

Watson family friend and fellow musician Charles Welch will lead the “Tribute to Doc & Rosa Lee” set Saturday on the Main Stage, from 6 to 6:45 p.m.

Prior to the tribute, however, ASU Sustainable Development will present the Doc & Rosa Lee Watson Scholarship to an Appalachian sustainable development student.

Proceeds from the festival benefit both the Cove Creek Preservation & Development organization, which organizes MusicFest annually, and the Doc & Rosa Lee Watson Scholarship Fund, which provides an annual scholarship to a local student with financial need. For more information on the scholarship, or to contribute, visit

MusicFest in Memoriam

Following the deaths of Doc and Rosa Lee Watson, MusicFest suffered another blow in 2013 with the loss of festival founder and organizer Tommy Walsh, volunteer extraordinaire Amy Shelton and barbecue master Hugh Hagaman.

“Three people who have been involved since the festival’s inception passed away in 2013,” Watson said. “The three of them were really keystones for the efforts that have been going on the past 17 years, so we really miss their presence and their wisdom.”

MusicFest, however, carries on, and Watson said the festival is a testament to their hard work and love for their community.

“It’s a time to really appreciate their legacy even more, because they taught so much to so many people,” he said. “We’re able to see new leadership emerge and carry on in the memory of Tommy, Amy and Hugh. Amy was always present and smiling at every festival, Hugh was one of the ‘Dirty Old Men’ cooking barbecue, and Tommy was always in the principal’s office there, sitting in his high-backed chair and talking to everybody.”

A memorial to the three is currently on display in the Doc & Merle Watson Folk Art Museum as an exhibit.

“Since we’re on the heels of losing three of our best friends, it’s kind of reignited the fire for everyone at MusicFest, letting us know this is a very important project,” Watson said. “These three people, it was their life, and they worked harder than anybody else to make it happen. It wouldn’t be right for any of us at the festival to not put that zeal into it.”

Dooley agrees.

“Going forward, my hope is that we can continue to provide … the highest quality entertainment in these fields and still bring out the young performers to give them a step up,” he said, “so that anyone who comes will never be disappointed, regardless of the age, the band we have out, how many Grammies they’ve won, so that every time someone takes a stage, everyone seated will be happy and never disappointed. That’s our goal.”

Preservation & Development

The Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove was founded by Cove Creek Preservation & Development, under Walsh’s leadership.

Created to protect and preserve community landmarks, the organization successfully saved both the historic Cove Creek Post Office and later the high school, a Works Progress Administration-era building that was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

To raise funds for its efforts, while honoring a then-living legend, CCP&D presented Doc Watson Appreciation Day that same year, featuring performances by Doc and friends. Doc Watson Appreciation Day then evolved in the MusicFest that continues today.

“It’s just wonderful,” Willard Watson said. “There’s much more than music going on at the festival, and you don’t get to see that until you’re already there. When you get there and meet the people who work on it … you really see it’s something special for them and the community. It transcends its beautiful setting. You get a real sense of community, a sense of people caring about each other. You can come here and feel welcome.”

Tickets and More

Tickets cost $20 for Friday, $25 for Saturday and $55 for two-day reserved seating. Children 12 and younger are admitted free with adults.

Tickets are available online and at the gate. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit, or call (828) 297-2200.

Additional Images

Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver will return to 2014's Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest 'n Sugar Grove.
Photo submitted

Willie Watson, formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show, will perform at this year's Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest 'n Sugar Grove.
Photo by Monkeybird

The 23 String Band will make its MusicFest debut this weekend.
Photo submitted

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