Various Artists

Merlefest Live! The Best of 2003

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Acoustic guitar whiz Merle Watson, son of American musical treasure Doc Watson, died in a farm accident in 1985. A memorial concert was held at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in April of 1988, and it proved so successful that it grew into an annual event. Dubbed Merlefest, the concert grew to four days in length, with some 13 stages, over a hundred performers, and as it approaches its 20th year, regularly draws in excess of 80,000 people, making it one of the most respected folk festivals on the circuit. This disc collects highlights from the 2003 Merlefest, and it should come as no surprise that Doc Watson turns in a couple of the best performances here, since the man has never made a bad recording in his life. His versions of "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor" and "Match Box Blues" have the easy and natural grace we've come to expect from Watson. Other standouts here include Guy Clark's deceptively simple "Black Diamond Strings," an intimate and hoarse-voiced Ralph Stanley on "A Robin Built a Nest on Daddy's Grave," an elegant and polished rendition of "Main Street Blues" by the Red Stick Ramblers, and the chugging, rocking "Conscious Evolution" by Donna the Buffalo. It doesn't replace being in attendance at Merlefest, but these are wonderfully recorded tracks, and the joy and intimacy on display is a true testament to the memory of Merle Watson.

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