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MerleFest Reflections 1993


Boy Scout shuttle bus

For the 1993 festival the shuttle bus system began, which made it more convenient to park and camp off campus at the former airport area. MerleFest partnered with area Boy Scout troops, who use their buses to provide the shuttle service to free parking at the Blue Lot. With the addition of all-day concerts in the Walker Center and the Austin Stage, there were eight venues.

Another significant addition in 1993 was designating Thursday night of the festival as Bill and Evelyn Young Night to honor the late Bill Young and his widow Evelyn. “I really don’t know what I would have done without Bill over the years,” says Doc Watson. “The friendship he and Evelyn showed to me and my family meant so much to us. A day does not go by that RosaLee and I don’t think of Bill and remember something we shared. We sure do miss him.” Bill Young was instrumental in laying the foundation for MerleFest by suggesting to Doc that he perform for a one-time fundraising event for the college.

The debut of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (CASC) occurred in 1993. The contest was established in memory of Boone, N.C., native Chris Austin, a talented songwriter and multi-instrument musician who was killed in a plane crash in 1991 along with six other members of Reba McEntire’s band and her tour manager. Proceeds from the contest were designated to establish the Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship to benefit students of Wilkes Community College and build the Austin Stage. To date the scholarship has helped 74 students.

Evelyn & Bill Young look on as Chet Atkins plays.
2011 CASC Finalists

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Little Pickers Family Area offers face painting and children’s activities.

The CASC consists of four categories: bluegrass, coun-try, gospel/inspirational and general. Entries are judged by a panel of professional songwriters, publishers or other music industry professionals from the Nashville music community who volunteer their time. The 12 finalists participate in the on-site contest to choose a winner from each category. The winners then have a Cabin Stage performance of their song. The contest receives approximately 800 entries each year.

Gillian Welch won the first country category of the CASC, which gave her career a significant boost. Other winners have included Tift Merritt, Michael Reno Harrell, Adrienne Young, Martha Scanlan, David Via, Sam Quinn and Johnny Williams. The contest has always had a reputation of having top songwriters to judge the on-site contest. On-site judges have included Darrell Scott, Gillian Welch, Guy Clark, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Laurelyn Dossett. Hayes Carll, James Nash and Wyatt Durrette.

Many new family activities, such as face painting, crafts, penny dig, juggling, sand art, storytelling and sing-alongs, were added to the Little Pickers Family Area. More recently, the Youth Showcase, hosted by Andy May, on the Little Pickers Stage has grown in popularity. Musicians aged 16 and younger of any talent level are encouraged to display their pickin’ skills.

Little Pickers Family Area offers face painting and children’s activities.

Beausoleil, Mary Chapin Carpenter and bluesmen Cephas and Wiggins were among the 1993 first-timers. Other MerleFest regulars included, of course, Doc and Richard Watson along with T. Michael Coleman, Joe Smothers, Bob Hill, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, Peter Rowan and Pete Wernick. Merle’s band, Frosty Morn, is a regular feature at MerleFest.