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Wilkesboro Promotes Music Heritage as Community Builder

April 6, 2018

After three decades of MerleFest, the town of Wilkesboro is finally capitalizing on music to revive its downtown. It’s Motown, the Beatles and rock ’n’ roll — not just the usual bluegrass and folk tunes that are expected to attract more than 80,000 people to Wilkes Community College for four days of performances later this month. Headliners at the 31st annual festival, started by legendary guitarist Doc Watson to honor his deceased son, Merle, include Kris Kristofferson and Brevard’s Steep Canyon Rangers with comedian Steve Martin. Two miles away, almost every block of the downtown in this foothills city 55 miles west of Winston-Salem is under some degree of construction, redevelopment or demolition. A community commons and concert stage on West Main Street is at the center of the $2.5 million first phase of work funded by private and public sources. Wilkes Communications provided $300,000 for the 70-by-35-foot stage with bronze roofing, the downtown’s first permanent outdoor music venue. Carolina West Wireless contributed $550,000 for the open-air commons, which will host artisans and farmers markets and concerts. Both telecommunications companies are based in the town. “It’s what we’re going to hang our hat on, the musical heritage of Wilkes County,” says Andrew Carlton, Wilkesboro’s planning and community development director. “The community commons is the heart and soul of what we’re trying to do over the next 10 to 15 years, building and improving public space and quality of life to attract residents and businesses.”

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