|Donna the Buffalo
In 1994, the main festival entrance was moved to its present location in front of the pond. This added much needed space to the growing festival. The Dance Stage was separated from the Traditional Stage, and the Hillside Stage debuted, making a total of 10 venues. Doc’s three-hour All-Star Jam on Friday night ended with a lively set featuring bluesmen John Cephas and Phil Wiggins. Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys also played at the festival that year. During a special set on Sunday they were accompanied at different times by Doc, Larry Sparks, Ricky Skaggs and EmmyLou Harris. Newcomers to the 1994 festival included Sweethearts of he Rodeo, Junior Brown, J.D. Crowe and the New South, Iris Dement, Eustace Conway and MerleFest favorite Donna the Buffalo.
For the first five years the festival was known as the Eddy Merle Watson Memorial Festival. However, that was about to change. After playing at the 1994 festival, the band Strictly Clean and Decent broke down in Boomer, N.C. While waiting to get back on the road, band member Kay Crouch wrote a song called “Boomer Breakdown.” Crouch wrote a letter to “B” that included the song and asked “B” for the dates for the next “MerleFest.” “B” was intrigued by the term and brought the idea of renaming the festival to the Watson family. With their blessing and enthusiasm, “MerleFest” stuck and is now recognized worldwide.