INTERVIEW- Doc's orders: No heavy metal at MerleFest
Flat-picking guitarist Doc Watson was already a crucial part of folk music's popular rebirth by the time he started MerleFest in 1988. Every year, the popular Americana festival gathers some of the brightest stars in folk, country, and bluegrass for a concert in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, to honor the memory of Watson's son and guitar buddy Merle, who was killed in a tractor accident after launching a musical career of his own. The festival is still going strong after nearly 20 years, exhibiting the same resilience Watson himself continues to show as one of the few remaining champions of authentic mountain music.
The Hook: Tell me about how MerleFest started.
Doc Watson: One of the head people at Wilkes Community College and a friend of ours, Bill Young, came up to our house in 1987, after we lost Merle in that accident, and asked me if I would do a concert to put in a memorial garden on the Wilkes Community College campus. My wife, Nancy, said, "Why don't you hold it in the spring and hold a festival so that Merle's friends can come and play?" And it mushroomed; it was a simple thing that grew into something known worldwide. I guess this last one was the best we've had.
The Hook: Why?
Doc Watson: I don't know. It's a clean festival; the whiskey and the drugs are kept out as best they can. There's all kinds of music there– except the hard rock.
The Hook: Who have been some of your favorite artists to emerge from the festival?
Doc Watson: Well, I don't have anything to do with choosing the talent. We had Riley Baugus and Dirk Powell at the last festival. People loved them, and they're really old-time.
The Hook: How important is preservation to what you do?
Doc Watson: It's very important, because a lot of the music from the past has something to say. Those are the kind of songs I like. The traditional music preserves a lot of that and keeps it alive.