MerleFest 2006 Sets Records for Participation and Economic Impact

Wilkesboro (North Carolina), USA – Magical moments greeted
record crowds at MerleFest 2006, the 19th 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 27 30 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 82,618, according to Managing Director Ted Hagaman. This surpasses
last year’s 80,104. Paid attendance increased by 14% more than 2005 to 44,031
partially reflecting a change in formula to reflect attendance more accurately.
Without that adjustment, paid participation would have still jumped by 5%.
Wilkes Community College will present MerleFest 2007 on April 26 29, 2007.

A preliminary estimate calculates that the regional economic impact of
MerleFest 2006 will reach a new record of $16,374,948. MerleFest 2005 had an
estimated impact of $14,554,991, three years after 2002’s former record of
$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.

MerleFest has pledged $1,220,000 to the Next Step Campaign, the first phase
of which includes the Science & Technology Building scheduled to open this fall.
Over its first 18 years, MerleFest contributed $5.7 million to Wilkes Community
College.

MerleFest 2006 offered food, crafts, family and children’s’ activities, and
performances by nearly 90 Americana music acts, including Doc Watson and Merle’s
son Richard; the Avett Brothers; Rory Block; David Bromberg Quartet; Alison
Brown Quartet; Sam Bush Band; Guy Clark; John Cowan Band; Jerry Douglas Band;
Béla Fleck & The Flecktones; Eliza Gilkyson; Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion;
Emmylou Harris; Hot Tuna; Robert Earl Keen; The Lee Boys; Laura Love Band;
Nickel Creek; John Prine; Tony Rice Unit; Peter Rowan; Darrell Scott; Mike
Seeger; Pete Seeger; Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers; Gillian Welch; and
The Waybacks featuring special guest Bob Weir of the Dead. For the first time,
many live sets from MerleFest 2006 will be available, some as early as Wednesday
May 3, for sale as downloads from
www.festivalink.net
.

Sarah Lee Guthrie, Jason Harrod, Dave Wilson, and Holly Lowman judged the
finals of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, which attracted a record 1172
entries, 18 more than 2005. First round judging from submitted recordings
produced twelve finalists who competed with the following results. General
Category: 1st: “Short Time Here” by Scott Pearce, Winterville, NC; 2nd: “Under
My Skin” by Maura Fogarty, Bronx, NY; and 3rd: “Rather Have Sooner” by Billy
Deiz, Portland, OR; Bluegrass Category: 1st: “Rita Mae” by Connie Leigh,
Newport, AR; 2nd: “Guns, Coins, Jewelry & 2nd Hand Hearts” by Timmy Massey and
Rick Pardue, State Road, NC; and 3rd: “That’s As Close to Lonesome” by Jimmy
Moore, Marlboro, NJ;. Country Category: 1st: “Losing Faith” by Audrey Auld
Mezera, Stinson Beach, CA; 2nd: “Light at the End of the Bottle” by Megan
Laurie, Lubbock, TX; and 3rd: “12 Gauge Education” by Wake Eastman, Polk
Shelton, Jay Cook, and Jill Gilliam, Hamptonville, NC. Gospel Category: 1st:
“Hallelujah Time” by John Milroy and C.J. Milroy, Ferndale, MI; 2nd: “Truth
Cries Out” by Mary James with Dan Barker, Lakeside, CA and 3rd “A Little Deeper”
by Paul Kelly with Salvador Guida, Jr., Santa Fe, NM.

Brandon Davis from Independence, VA, runner the past three consecutive years,
won first place in the Doc Watson Guitar Championship. Tony Watt from Nashville,
TN took second with John Creech of Fayetteville, NC finishing third. Jody
Hughes, Marietta, GA, captured the Merle Watson Bluegrass Banjo Championship.
Eric Hardin of Warrensville, NC took second, with Bryson City, NC’s Seth Taylor
third. Rebecca Lovell of Calhoun, GA, third place in 2005, won the MerleFest
Mandolin Contest, followed by 2005 runner-up Dominick Leslie, Evergreen, CO, and
Nick Keen of East Bend, NC in third.

From May 2, 2005 through April 18, 2006, the
MerleFest web site received more than
20,600,000 hits from an average of 1569 unique users per day. More than a week
before its April 27 start, MerleFest 2006 had received ticket orders from 48
states and 12 foreign countries. Since July 1, 2005, MerleFest 2006 had received
170,455,782 impressions in more than 900 published articles. The previous
MerleFest record for an entire year was 100,844,019.

One hundred eight radio stations in 18 states and Canada participated in
MerleFest 2006 promotions. Including media sponsorships with that total,
MerleFest 2006 bartered for $222,000 worth of radio airtime, magazine, website,
newspaper, TV and cable TV advertising. Mvyradio.com and Wilkes Community
College station WSIF-FM 90.9 will broadcast live from MerleFest. For the first
time, www.festivalink.net will be offering sales of live downloads and CDs from
MerleFest 2006.

Major MerleFest 2006 sponsors include BluegrassCountry.org; Burger King; C&J
LP Gas Company/G&B Energy; Cedar Creek Custom Case Shoppe/TKL; Charter
Communications; Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock; Collings Guitars; Curtis Media;
Deering Banjo Company; First Quality Musical Supplies; GHS Strings; Gibson
Musical Instruments; Hardees/Dermox; Homespun Tapes Ltd.; iBluegrass & The
Acoustic Network; J D’Addario & Co; John Pearse Strings; Knee Deep in Bluegrass;
Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouses; mvyradio.com; Pepsi Bottling Ventures LLC;
Sprint; Stelling Banjo Works; Sugar Hill Records; Taylor Guitars; Tyson Foods,
Inc.; WBRF-FM 98.1; Western Beat Entertainment; WFMX 105.7 FM; Winston-Salem
Journal; WNCW Public Radio; WUNC 91.5 FM; and WXII-TV 12. Total Sponsorship
support reached a record $475,718, including $180,120 in cash.

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