Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson was an 8-time Grammy award winning musician from Deep Gap, North Carolina. He was considered a “national treasure” by President Jimmy Carter and was awarded with the National Medal of the Arts by President Bill Clinton. To the residents of Watauga County and many others, he was an “American Hero,” but if you were to ever ask Doc himself, he would say that he was “just one of the people.”
Doc Watson started playing on the streets of Boone, NC when he was young but quickly rose to fame as a musician playing nationally and internationally. He became a master of flatpicking guitar and was steeped in folk, traditional, and bluegrass music. Despite his ongoing fame and recognition, Doc was a humble man who always made fellow musicians he played with and audiences he played for, feel as if they were sitting in his living room.
In 1998, the first Doc Watson Appreciation Day was held at the grounds of the Historic Cove Creek School in Sugar Grove, NC. Doc would often play benefits and concerts in and around Watauga County in order to raise money for local families and organizations. The intent of the Doc Watson Appreciation Day was to honor Doc and his many contributions to our community, but the festival was also used to raise money to help restore the Historic Cove Creek School, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Doc Watson was instrumental in helping to preserve Western Watauga County history and the facility is now used for continued community programs.
The festival has continued for many years and is now titled, the Doc and Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest ‘N Sugar Grove. The festival is still held on the grounds of the Historic Cove Creek School which is also home to the Doc and Merle Watson Folk Art Museum. The music festival has hosted multiple World-renown and Grammy nominated and award-winning performers, including Sam Bush, Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, and of course, Deep Gap-native Doc Watson. The music festival has also been the starting point for many local and regional Grammy Award winning artists including, Old Crow Medicine Show, the Steep Canyon Rangers, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Although Doc passed away on May 29, 2012 at age 89, the Cove Creek Preservation and Development Board continues to promote the legacy of Doc Watson and his impact on our community and the music world.