High Country Info

Merelfest Blue Grass Festival

Merlefest Blue Grass Festival


MerleFest is an annual "traditional plus" music festival held in Wilkesboro, North Carolinaon the campus of Wilkes Community College. The festival, which is held the last weekend in April, was hosted by Grammy Award winner Doc Watson prior to his death and is named in memory and honor of his son, Eddy Merle Watson, who died in a farm tractor accident in 1985.




Doc Watson (photo by Austen Millkulka)


The festival, founded in 1988, is the primary fundraising event for Wilkes Community College and attracts crowds exceeding 79,000 in number, making it one of the largest music festivals in the United States as well as the 3rd largest tourist attraction in the state of North Carolina.[citation needed] The music is spread across 14 different stages and four days, which promises non-stop excitement for festival goers. Its annual economic impact on northwestern North Carolina exceeds $10 million and the festival has contributed nearly $9,000,000 to Wilkes Community College.


MerleFest offers a mix of traditional and contemporary roots music, a music blend that Doc himself named "traditional plus." It brings together Bluegrass, contemporary acoustic, bluesfolkold-time musicCajunjazz, country, Celtic, Americana, rock and singer-songwriter music. Artists can often be enjoyed in on-stage jam sessions featuring unusual combinations of musicians, such as Bob Weir, formerly of the Grateful Dead singing with Sam Bush and Gillian Welch with the Waybacks.


Record-breaking crowd at MerleFest during Avett Brothers Performance (photo by Jacob Caudill)


Other artists who have performed on MerleFest's 14 stages over the first 24 years have includedDolly PartonWillie NelsonEarl Scruggs, The Kruger Brothers, Carolina Chocolate DropsJohn PrineAlison Krauss and Union StationDonna the BuffaloNatalie MacMasterVassar Clements,Hot TunaDavid GrismanRicky SkaggsEmmylou HarrisJerry DouglasDel McCouryJunior BrownMary Chapin CarpenterElvis Costello, Howard Armstrong, Randy TravisLyle LovettThe Doobie Brothers, Robert Plant and the Band of Joy, Sharon GilchristThe Avett BrothersTony RiceOld Crow Medicine ShowSteve MartinZac Brown Band, Dierks Bentley, Linda Ronstadt, Levon Helm, Taj Mahal, Bruce Hornsby and Vince Gill.

Committed to producing a high quality diversified American roots based musical experience that attracts a broad audience and reunites guests, supporters and performers in an annual celebration of Americana music.




Phone: 800-343-7857 • Outside USA 1-336-838-6267


Fax: 336-838-6263


Mail: PO Box 120;
Wilkesboro, NC 28697


Email: merlefest@wilkescc.edu