MerleFest 2005 Draws Record Participation of 82,666

Wilkesboro, North Carolina, USA – An extraordinary line-up
greeted record crowds to MerleFest 2005, the 18th 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 28 – May 1 on its campus in
Wilkesboro, NC. MerleFest again drew an enormous audience with a preliminary
estimated total participation including volunteers and school children of
82,666. This surpasses last year’s 81,592. Paid attendance increased by 0.8%
over 2004 to 39,595 including a gain of more than 2500 in Sunday tickets. Wilkes
Community College will present MerleFest 2006 on April 27 30, 2006.A preliminary estimate calculates that the regional economic effect of MerleFest
2005 will reach $14,554,991. MerleFest 2004 had an estimated impact of
$13,749,915, two years 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. MerleFest has pledged $920,000 to the Next Step
Campaign, the first phase of which includes the Science & Technology Building
for which ground was broken on March 22, 2005.

MerleFest 2005 offered food, crafts, family and children’s’
activities, and performances by nearly 100 Americana music acts, including Doc
Watson and Merle’s son Richard, Balfa Toujours; BR549, Sam Bush; The Chieftains;
John Cowan Band; Rodney Crowell; Donna the Buffalo; the Duhks, Béla Fleck
Acoustic Trio featuring Casey Driessen & Bryan Sutton; Corey Harris; King Wilkie,
Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas, Robert Lockwood, Jr.;
Loretta Lynn; Del McCoury Band; Buddy Miller; Allison Moorer, Railroad Earth;
Tony Rice; Earl Scruggs; and Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder.

Steve Fishell, Caroline Herring, Hayes Carll, and Darrell Scott judged the
finals of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, which attracted a record 1154
entries, 250 more than 2004. First round judging from submitted recordings
produced twelve finalists who competed with the following results. General
Category: 1st: “Living in the Good Ol’ Days” by Zane Williams, Nashville, TN;
2nd: “Lay On The Tracks” by Stephen Simmons, Nashville, TN; 3rd: “Please Love My
Baby” by Connie Leigh, Newport, AR; Bluegrass Category: 1st: “T.V.A.” by Sam
Quinn, Johnson City, TN; 2nd: “Behind Those Big Closed Doors” by Connie Leigh,
Newport, AR; 3rd: “Old #9” by Randy Barrett, Falls Church, VA; Country Category:
1st: “Hurry Home” by Zane Williams, Nashville, TN; 2nd: “Traded My Diamond” by
Korby Lenker, Bellingham, WA; 3rd: “O.K.C.” by Paul Kelly with Salvatore Guido,
Jr., Santa Fe, NM; Gospel Category: 1st: “That First Stone” by Mike Finders,
Iowa City, IA; 2nd: “Lessons of the Book” by Lorraine Jordan, Garner, NC; 3rd:
“Start with Amazing Grace” by Zane Williams, Nashville, TN.

First place in the Doc Watson Guitar Championship went to Chris Hale of
Blacksburg, VA, with Brandon Davis from Independence, VA yet again taking second
and 2004 Mandolin champ Scott Pearson of Warren, PA finishing third. Bruce
Stockwell, Putney, VT, captured the Merle Watson Bluegrass Banjo Championship.
Donnie Little of Claremont, NC took second, as he did in 2004, with Mount Holly,
NC’s Alana Nicole Flowers third. 2004 runner-up Spencer Strickland of Lambsburg,
VA won the MerleFest Mandolin Contest, followed by Dominick Leslie, Evergreen,
CO, and Rebecca Lovell of Calhoun, GA.

MerleFest 2005 benefited from partnerships with 97 sponsors, including major
sponsors: Al Moss Promotions, American Express,, 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, Fender USA; GHS Strings; Gibson Musical Instruments,
Hardees/Dermox, Homespun Tapes Ltd., iBluegrass & The Acoustic Network, JBL, J
D’Addario & Co, John Pearse Strings, Kaffe Magnum Opus; Lowe’s Home Improvement
Warehouses, Pepsi Bottling Ventures LLC, Sprint, Stelling Banjo Works, Sugar
Hill Records, Taylor Guitars, Tyson Foods, Inc., Western Beat Entertainment,
WFMX-FM 105.7, Winston-Salem Journal, WNCW Public Radio, and WUNC 91.5 FM. Total
Sponsorship support reached a record $430,897, including $181,190 in cash.

More than a week before its April 28 start, MerleFest 2005 had received
74,459,275 impressions in more than 1350 published articles in publications from
more than 35 states and three foreign countries. The previous MerleFest record
was 34,753,953. Public television system UNC-TV rewarded pledges with 360
MerleFest 2005 tickets. Ninety-seven radio stations in 16 states and Canada
participated in MerleFest 2005 promotions, giving away $86,290 worth of tickets
to their listeners. Including media sponsorships with that total, MerleFest 2005
bartered for $184,550 worth of radio airtime, magazine, website, newspaper, and
cable TV advertising. XM Satellite Radio and Wilkes Community College station
WSIF again broadcast live from MerleFest.

MerleFest’s website,,
received a complete overhaul for MerleFest 2005. Between November 9, 2004 and
April 25, 2005, the MerleFest site received 10,486,436 hits from 303,200
visitors, an average of 1804 visitors per day. In early April we posted the .pdf
files of the MerleFest Program and Pocket Schedule to the web. During less than
three weeks, visitors downloaded 22,877 copies of the Program and 15,047 copies
of the Pocket Schedule. While more than 95% of the visitors came from American
addresses, the MerleFest site drew visitors from 96 countries, including almost
4100 from the United Kingdom, 746 from Australia, and 644 from China.

The smooth operations of MerleFest 2005, the 18th annual festival in celebration
of the music of the late Merle Watson and his father Doc Watson at Wilkes
Community College, resulted from a coordinated team approach to managing the
event, according to WCC Dean of Development B. Townes, who serves as Interim
Festival Director. “I want to take this opportunity publicly to congratulate
and thank the Development staff and other key Wilkes Community College employees
who served as the lead for demonstrating exceptional team work in producing
MerleFest 2005. By using teams that parallel each component of MerleFest, we
have achieved greatly enhanced communications and collective problem solving.
Additionally, we are fortunate to have the support of thousands of volunteers,
clubs, and organization who work tirelessly before, during, and after the event

[Photo 1: Doc Watson, Photo 2: Railroad Earth].

Author: World Music Central News Department

World music news from the editors at World Music Central