Reneé Critcher Lyons attended the very first MerleFest in 1988, came back the next year with her three month old daughter, and then discovered the joys of volunteering at the festival. For sixteen years since then she has worked many of the available volunteer jobs—hospitality, instrument check-in, ushering, answering phones, and stage crew. "Goodness, I've been all over," she comments.
A native of Boone, North Carolina, Reneé had always heard of Doc and Merle Watson who lived just down Highway 421 in Deep Gap, so she was curious about MerleFest as soon as she heard about that first one. Both sides of her family had lived in the Boone area for over 200 years at the time of her birth. Since each of Reneé's parents had eight brothers and sisters, she has a huge extended family. One of her cousins was even married to Doc's brother.
Reneé is an Instructional Librarian and Reading Instructor for Caldwell Community College. She is also a School Library Media Programs instructor at both Appalachian State and East Tennessee State University. Her daughter, who attended that second MerleFest as an infant, is now a junior at Appalachian State University majoring in Health Promotion. She is also a cheerleader /athlete for the university. (Go Apps!)
Even with her busy work schedule, Reneé has many interests and hobbies. Her great love is children's and young adult literature; she both teaches and writes the genres. In the Boone area she sings for Arts Council concerts, weddings, and other special occasions. But that's not all—she also loves to dance! She is a member of the Country Magic Cloggers from Watauga County.
Of course, dancing is one of her favorite things about MerleFest. "You will always catch me at the dance tent! I clog, square, and contra dance primarily. I've danced to the music of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, Beausoleil, Laura Love, Donna the Buffalo, Scythian, and the Whitetop Mountain Band. I have simply loved the Friday and Saturday night dances in which fellow volunteers, who have become friends over the years, and I just let loose, unwind, bond to the beat, and express unfettered joy!"
Her favorite musician through the years has been Doc who she says, "Has preserved and honored the culture I call my own!" Reneé has other favorites as well. "I've always returned to hear John Cowan's incredible voice, Tim O'Brien's Celtic blend, Peter Rowan's narrative stories set to song, and the Krueger Brothers' unparalleled musicianship."
As a teacher, Reneé Lyons especially appreciates the impact funds raised from MerleFest have on students at Wilkes Community College. "Each year, when I first walk by the Eddy Merle Watson Garden for the Senses, I experience an overwhelming feeling of warmth and good will, and yes, even pride, in having played a minor role in ensuring the success of the festival. . . A special thanks to all my MerleFest friends and family, for year after year of anticipated, and very much real-to-life, sensory joy, heart-filled joy, good will."
Thank you, Reneé Lyons, for your many years of service to MerleFest. There are no minor volunteer roles at the festival, only very important ones that make it all possible.