Wilkesboro, North Carolina, USA – An extraordinary line-up greeted record crowds to MerleFest 2004, the 17th annual festival in celebration of the music of the late Merle Watson and his father Doc Watson.
Wilkes Community College presented the event on April 29 May 2 on its campus in Wilkesboro, NC. MerleFest again drew an enormous, well behaved, and appreciative audience with a preliminary estimated total participation including volunteers and school children of 82,500. This exceeds MerleFest 2002’s record 78,294 by more than 4000 and surpasses last year’s 77,359 by 5.5%. Paid attendance increased by 12% over 2003 with gains of 23% in Friday-only tickets, 12% for Saturday only, and 7% for three- and four-day tickets. Wilkes Community College will present MerleFest 2005 on April 28 May 1, 2005.
MerleFest 2004 offered food, crafts, family and children’s’ activities, and performances by nearly 100 Americana music acts, including Doc Watson and Merle’s son Richard, the Sam Bush Band, Rosanne Cash, the Derailers, Donna the Buffalo, Béla Fleck & Edgar Meyer, Vince Gill, the Gourds, David Grisman Quintet, Hot Tuna, Indigo Girls, the Kruger Brothers, Patty Loveless, Natalie MacMaster, Nickel Creek, Tim O’Brien, Mark O’Connor’s Hot Swing Trio, Reeltime Travelers, Tony Rice Unit, Savoy Doucet Cajun Band, Earl Scruggs with Family & Friends, the WAiFS, and Gillian Welch. A surprise appearance on Sunday by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones with the John Cowan Band delighted the
A very preliminary estimate calculates that the regional economic effect of MerleFest 2004 will reach roughly $15 million. MerleFest 2003 had an estimated effect of $12,286,799, a year after 2002’s record $15,045,673. Proceeds from MerleFest have permitted Wilkes Community College to make numerous capital improvements, including the Eddy Merle Watson Memorial Garden for the Senses,
the Doc & Merle Watson Theatre, fiber-optic wiring for the campus, and the endowment of scholarships for its students.
Si Kahn, Kelly Willis, Carol Elizabeth Jones, and Martha Scanlan judged the finals of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, which attracted 889 entries, 95 more than 2003. First round judging from submitted recordings produced twelve finalists who competed with the following results. General Category Finalists (325 entries): First: “Granddaddy” by A.J. Roach, Oakland, CA; Second: “Talk
Radio” by Michael Troy, Somerset, MA; Third: “Show Them” by Kristin Cifelli, Boston, MA. Country Category Finalists (271): First: “Forgiveness” by Sarah Hawker, Jersey City, NJ; Second: “Me and My Poodle” by Stayton Bonner, Austin, TX; Third: “No Need to Say it Again” by Justin Lute, Columbus, OH. Bluegrass Category Finalists (188): First: “Adeline” by Mike Finders, Iowa City, IA; Second: “Rockabye Dixie” by Abigail Washburn & Beau Stapleton, Nashville, TN; Third: “Dark Clouds” by Dave Wilson, Raleigh, NC. Gospel Category Finalists (105): First: “Come By Here,” by Laurelyn Dossett, Greensboro, NC; Second: “Always Room in His Heart” by Rita Case, Galena, OH; Third: “A Christmas Tear” by Tommy Austin, Fall Branch, TN.
First place in the Doc Watson Guitar Championship went to Brandon Bentley of Summerrest, WV, with Brandon Davis from Independence, VA once again taking second and Philip Anania of Philadelphia, PA finishing third. William Parsons, Rock, WV, captured the Merle Watson Bluegrass Banjo Championship. Donnie Little of Claremont, NC took second with Rock Hill, SC’s Hank Smith third. 2003 runner-up Scott Pearson from Warren, PA won the MerleFest Mandolin Contest, followed by Spencer Strickland, Landsburg, VA and, in third for the second consecutive year, Josh Pinkham of Odessa, FL.
MerleFest 2004 benefited from partnerships with 94 sponsors, including major sponsors: Charter Communications, Tyson Foods, Gibson Musical Instruments, Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouses, Curtis Media, the Winston-Salem Journal, Pepsi, Burger King, Hardees/Dermox, iBluegrass & the Acoustic Network, G&B Energy/C&J LP Gas, JBL, REDGUM Audio, J D’Addario, Fishman Transducers, Sugar
Hill Records, AC Phelps Mandolin & Guitar Co., WNCW Public Radio, John Pearse Strings, The Musik Room, Stelling Banjo Works, Taylor Guitars, Collings Guitars, Huss & Dalton Musical Instruments, Western Beat Entertainment, Fender Musical Instruments, Sprint, Cedar Creek Custom Case Shoppe, WUNC Public Radio, Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock, Deering Banjo Company, and Homespun Tapes. Sponsorship
support reached a record $423,289, including both cash and in-kind contributions.