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Willie Watson headlines MusicFest Saturday

By Derek Halsey (

Article Published: Jul. 10 | Modified: Jul. 16
Willie Watson headlines MusicFest Saturday

Willie Watson, formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show, will perform his solo act at MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove.
Photos by Monkeybird

These are heady times for Willie Watson, who will be on the bill at this weekend’s Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ’n Sugar Grove.

For many years, Watson was an original member of the band, Old Crow Medicine Show. About three years ago, he flew the coop and has now resurfaced with an acclaimed new solo album, called “Folk Singer Vol. 1,” produced by David Rawlings.

This year’s lineup at the MusicFest will feature Watson, Bluegrass Hall of Famer Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Chatham County Line, The Buck Stops Here, The Snyder Family Band, The Cockman Family, Sons of Bluegrass, 23 String Band and many others. The festival takes place on July 11 and 12, and more information can be found at or by calling (828) 297-2200.

Watson is no stranger to Sugar Grove — or to Boone and Beech Mountain, for that matter. The story of the discovery of Old Crow Medicine Show back in the day is now legendary, as it involves a High Country musical hero in the form of the late Doc Watson.

After moving into an old farmhouse on Beech Mountain, Willie Watson and crew were performing on the corner in Boone one fateful afternoon when Doc Watson’s daughter, Nancy, walked by.

“We were in front of Boone Drug, and we all went down that day,” Willie Watson said. “We sat there and did our thing and played for a while, and we were doing OK. We were all playing, and this woman comes up. She is standing there, watching us play a few songs and says, ‘Hey, you guys are great. I love your music. My daddy plays this kind of music, too. He’s lived here his whole life, and he would just love you guys.’

“We were like, ‘OK. That’s cool,’ but we didn’t think much of it. We didn’t know who she was. She watched another song and said, ‘I should probably go and get my daddy. He would just love you guys.’”

As the afternoon continued, the band was taking a break from busking, when the unexpected happened.

“Boone Drug had a little lunch counter in there; it was like an old fashioned general store and pharmacy, and all of the guys went in to eat some lunch,” Watson continued. “I think I might have eaten some lunch, and then I went out by myself. I was standing out front, playing something on the fiddle with my eyes closed. I peak out of the corner of my eye and look down the sidewalk, and here comes that lady, and she has Doc Watson on her arm, leading him down the sidewalk. I’m like, ‘Oh, my God.’ I think I might have played for a second, and I got nervous, because I wasn’t much of a fiddler at the time and was probably a little scratchy. I said, ‘Hey, hold on one second. I want to go get the guys.’”

After Watson told the boys that Doc and Nancy were standing by, any ideas of relaxing and finishing their lunch immediately went out the window.

“I ran inside and got the guys and said, ‘That lady is back, and she just came back with Doc,’” Watson said. “Everybody jumped up and ran outside. We played ‘Oh My Little Darling,’ and I remember that we played it really good. Doc liked it a lot. We stopped playing the song, and there was a little moment of silence, and he said, ‘Well, boys, that’s some of most authentic old-time music I believe I’ve ever heard in my life. I believe I’m about to cry.’ We were all pretty happy about that statement. He had to take off, but he said, ‘Nancy, lets book these guys at MerleFest this year.’ He said it right then and there.”

It was a day that would change Willie Watson’s life.

“That was our little doorway into MerleFest, which eventually led us to Nashville,” he said. “The music that I play and everything that I’m involved with, which is a huge part of my life, I wouldn’t have it, and it wouldn’t be the same thing, and it wouldn’t be what it is without Doc. I’m so excited to return to Sugar Grove. It’s been a long time, and I hope I see some familiar faces. I’m looking forward to driving on those old roads, hitting Route 321 and seeing those mountains again. It’s going to be a blast.”

Willie Watson will headline MusicFest’s Saturday lineup, performing from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on the Main Stage. For more information on Willie Watson, or to check out “Folk Singer Vol. 1,” visit

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