Musings on folk, Americana, country, bluegrass and newgrass

Consider this before cancelling: MerleFest has more than $12 million regional economic impact

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WILKESBORO, NORTH CAROLINA —  MerleFest organizers are agonizing over whether to cancel the music festival that attracts some 80,000 Americana fans honoring the legacies of the late, great Doc and Merle Watson. The deliberations are in direct response to Gov. Roy Cooper’s Thursday announcement about limiting crowds to fewer than 100 to stop the spread of coronavirus.

MerleFest officials wrote on the website Thursday: “We will be issuing an official statement concerning MerleFest 2020 by the close of business on Friday, March 13. Thank you for your patience and support.”

In the meantime, let’s take a look at the economic impact this music festival, which for the past 30 years has acted as the unofficial kick off to the music festival season, has on the region, keeping in mind this does not include music and merchandise sales for the artists, etc.

In 2019, MerleFest reported the following economic impact on the Wilkes Community College; Wilkesboro; and surrounding Wilkes County.

For the uninitiated, WCC closes down its campus during the last full week of April to become home to MerleFest.

Here’s what the festival means to the college, the community and beyond:

  • $12 million – Annual regional economic impact.
  • $5.5 million – Annual direct economic impact on Wilkes County.
  • $500,000 – Estimated earnings of the more than 75 civic, institutional and community groups active at MerleFest. For example, the event is the primary fundraiser for Wilkes County Boy Scout troops that provide and operate the shuttle buses and numerous churches and school groups that provide food for hungry festival goers.
  • 6,657 – Number of elementary and middle school students in MerleFest-connected outreach programs.
  • 3,000 – Number of area students hosted for a free day at MerleFest.
  • $500,000 – Value of WCC scholarships awarded since MerleFest began.
  • $285,000 – Total of donations to WCC clubs for services.
  • $1.3 million – Total income from sales by WCC clubs.
  • $15.1 million – Total in capital improvement and other educational needs for WCC.
  • 5,000 – Number of MerleFest volunteers in 2018.
  • 45,000 – Number of hours those volunteers gave the festival.

Apart from MerleFest is also the Doc Watson Student Emergency Fund, an independent project that helps students who might have to drop out of school because of hardship. The fund, supported by individual donations, has enabled 114 students to keep their education on track as of April 2019.

Music fans, volunteers and vendors alike are hopeful organizers will consider all this when making their decision.

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