Doc Watson

Stephenson Center for Appalachia to host concert celebrating legendary musician Doc Watson and release of new retrospective box set

Doc Watson, one of the most influential Appalachian musicians of the 20th century, will be honored Saturday, Nov. 13 by a special concert, “Doc Watson: Celebrating a Life in Music” featuring his longtime musical partner Jack Lawrence, along with other prominent Appalachian musicians.

The concert is being held in conjunction with the release of a four-disc retrospective album featuring 101 recordings from across Watson’s career, titled “Doc Watson—Life’s Work: A Retrospective.” The box set, which is being released digitally by Craft Recordings on Friday, Nov. 12, with physical copies available a few weeks later, includes an 88-page book written by adjunct professor and Grammy-nominated author and compilation producer, Ted Olson, as well as a recording from the Appalachian State University archives of one of Watson’s first performances.

Olson, who attended the Lees-McRae concert in 2009 that would be one of Watson’s final performances, will host the celebration and speak at the event. His remarks will focus on Watson’s life and his impact on American music history.

Watson was born and raised in Deep Gap, North Carolina, where he achieved local recognition for his acoustic and electric guitar skills. In 1953, he joined Jack William’s country and western swing band in Johnson City, Tennessee, and learned how to play fiddle tunes on his guitar for local square dances. The flat-picking approach, along with his use of crosspicking, became part of his signature sound.

He rose to national prominence during the folk music revival in the early 1960s and recorded his first solo album in 1964. Until 1985, Watson toured internationally with his son Merle Watson and bass guitarist T. Michael Coleman. Over the course of his career, Watson won eight Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Musicians as innovative as Doc don’t come along very often,” said Olson. “He represented Appalachian values and traditions beautifully, and he took it all over the world. He was an ambassador for Appalachia.”

The commemorative concert will feature performances by the folk musicians Jack Lawrence, Wayne Henderson, Jack Hinshelwood, Trevor McKenzie, and Mike Compton and the ETSU Old-Time Ramblers. After Merle’s death in 1985, Lawrence became Watson’s full-time musical partner, and the two recorded eight albums together. Lawrence also has a love for Lees-McRae College and considered attending before deciding to focus on his music career.

Henderson is a renowned guitar maker and musician who supports up-and-coming local musicians through his annual Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition. Hinshelwood is a championship guitarist, and the former executive director of The Crooked Road and McKenzie is the new director of the Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University. Compton, a talented mandolin player, helped found the Nashville Bluegrass Band and is an artist in residence at East Tennessee State University.  

The event is free to the public. It will be held in Evans Auditorium in the Lees-McRae Cannon Student Center from 3:30–5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13. Face coverings are required in all campus buildings, regardless of vaccination status.

The John B. Stephenson Center for Appalachia was founded at Lees-McRae to promote understanding of and appreciation for the Southern Appalachian region in students, faculty, and the wider community.  

With questions about the event, contact Director of the Stephenson Center for Appalachia Kathy Olson at

Hear a sampling of the disk set

By Emily WebbOctober 29, 2021
CommunityCampus Life