More than 82,000 people made the trip to Wilkesboro, NC last weekend to celebrate bluegrass and Americana music during the 18th annual MerleFest, a living memorial to Doc Watson’s late son and performing partner, Merle. Paid attendance was up as well for performances by artists including Doc and Merle’s son Richard, BR549, Sam Bush, The Chieftains, Donna the Buffalo, the Duhks, the Bela Fleck Acoustic Trio (with Casey Driessen and Bryan Sutton), King Wilkie, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Loretta Lynn, the Del McCoury Band, Allison Moorer, Earl Scruggs and Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder. Steve Fishell, Caroline Herring, Hayes Carll and Darrell Scott were finals judges for the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, which produced winners in a variety of songstyle categories. There were a record 1154 entries in this year’s contest. Next year’s festival on the grounds of Wilkes Community College will take place on April 27-30, 2006.