July 2017 - The Birthplace of Country Music
Loading station info...

The Summer of 2017: The 90th Anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions

In the summer of 1927, the movie The Jazz Singer was released and heralded as the first talkie (a film featuring dialogue between characters). Charles Lindbergh also flew the first transatlantic flight. It was an eventful and innovative time, as writer Bill Bryson marvels about in his book One Summer: America, 1927.*

It was also the summer that Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company came to Bristol and recorded the now-famous Bristol Sessions.

This year the Birthplace of Country Music marks the 90th anniversary of those sessions with several special events, including films, concerts, and special admission prices to the museum. Recently we held a symposium about the 1927 Bristol Sessions that included special events to honor family members of the artists who recorded for Ralph Peer back in 1927. The symposium reflected on the convergences of technology, talent, and business prowess that made possible one of the most significant recording sessions in commercial music history.

Symposium speakers Ralph Peer II and Liz Peer, author Barry Mazor, and American Epic producer Allison McGourty and director Bernard MacMahon. © Birthplace of Country Music, photographer: Billie Wheeler

We were honored to have as keynote speakers Ralph Peer II and his wife Liz Peer, whose family continues the Peer legacy of music publishing at peermusic. They were accompanied by their three children, Mary Megan Peer, Elizabeth Ann Peer, and Ralph Peer III. From the film American Epic, director Bernard MacMahon and producer Allison McGourty gave a talk and screened parts of their film, which documents a journey that painstakingly recreates the recording technology of the 1920s and then creates new recordings with this technology. This PBS film is a visually stunning, carefully documented, and beautifully creative way of honoring early recordings. The symposium also featured scholars and authors Barry Mazor and Ted Olson, whose research and writings highlight and explore in detail the important history surrounding the 1927 Bristol Sessions.

Symposium speakers Dr. Jessica Turner, Dr. Ted Olson, Barry Mazor, Ralph Peer II, Liz Peer, Allison McGourty, and Bernard MacMahon. © Birthplace of Country Music, photographer: Mark Logsdon

There are no photographs that document the Bristol Sessions. Only a handful of musical instruments remain that were recorded in the Sessions, and few artifacts exist that can be traced back to those recordings. Yet the Bristol Sessions continue to shape country music history through our musical lineages and in our imaginations. And the 1927 Bristol Sessions form the key content of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, to which we anchor our permanent exhibits and which we continue to dig into and explore.

Those recordings capture a musical moment that is arguably one of the most influential country music recording sessions in history. The Sessions launched the careers of The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. They illustrate the versatility of Ernest and Hattie Stoneman, whose long career in country music is reflected by the fact that the Stoneman Family has songs on every recording format there is, from wax cylinders to digital files.

They reflect traditional Appalachian music styles and sacred music as these styles were just beginning to be recorded, such as the holiness music recorded on the Bristol Sessions. And they capture the variety of music styles before early country music was more standardized – before bluegrass even existed – and are full of creativity, replete with entrepreneurialism, and filled with many voices.

Those voices carry on in many of the communities from which they came, and we were honored to be joined at the symposium by many family members of Bristol Sessions artists. Museum staff spent the morning doing oral history interviews with family members for our archives (and for future blog posts!), and we honored our guests with a special luncheon. Members of The Stoneman Family, The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers Family, Blind Alfred Reed Family, Ernest Phipps Family, Alfred Karnes Family, and Georgia Warren Family (Warren was 12 years old when she sang with the Tennessee Mountaineers at the Sessions) were present, all of whom carry the legacy and memories of the many musicians who came to Bristol in 1927. It’s these connections – to our past, to our history, and to the family members who carry on this musical legacy – that made this symposium extraordinary, and make our jobs, where we delve into these connections every day, truly special.

Clockwise from top left: Donna and Roni Stoneman; Nancy Taylor, LeAnne Davis and Timothy Davis, family members of Georgia Warren of the Tennessee Mountaineers; Ernest Phipps’s granddaughter Teresa Phipps Patierno and daughter Amie Brittain; and Blind Alfred Reed’s family members Tina Hunter and Jane Kelly. © Birthplace of Country Music, photographer: Billie Wheeler
From top, left to right: Karnes family members speaking with Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty, with Liz Peer; Ted Olson and Dale Jett; an attendee speaking with Donna Stoneman; playwright Doug Pote speaking with Jimmie Rodgers family Austin Court, Karen Court, and James Cody Court; Ralph Peer III chats with an attendee. © Birthplace of Country Music, photographer: Billie Wheeler
Participants in the symposium. © Birthplace of Country Music, photographer: Billie Wheeler


Descendants of 1927 Bristol Sessions artists with the Peer Family and symposium participants. © Birthplace of Country Music, photographer: Billie Wheeler

* Interestingly, Bryson doesn’t mention the 1927 Bristol Sessions in his book, though he does focus some attention on early sound technology including developments in radio. Curator René Rodgers pointed out this omission in correspondence with Bryson, and he graciously acknowledged the need to visit Bristol to learn more. Perhaps he will do so. We’d love to see him here!

Jessica Turner is the Director of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

Hit the Road, Jack – But Please Come Back! Farm and Fun Time on the Road


This month Radio Bristol took Farm and Fun Time on the road for a special live broadcast from the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, New York. It was the first time Radio Bristol ventured north of the Mason-Dixon, and what a trip it was! You may ask: “Why take Farm and Fun Time, a regional radio program, on the road?” Well, it’s a good question that deserves some thought.

Kris Truelsen and Nathan Sykes, two members of the Radio Bristol team on location at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. Courtesy of Kris Truelsen

We at the Birthplace of Country Music believe Radio Bristol’s mission is something that has the potential to resonate not just regionally or nationally, but internationally. The programming that we meticulously craft through our various platforms is designed to celebrate, promote, and educate our listeners about the diverse and truly unique music culture of our region. We believe this is something listeners from outside our region deserve to hear and experience for themselves. Providing an inclusive space and platform for listeners wherever they may be is at the very center of our mission – and that’s where taking Farm and Fun Time on the road comes in to play.

Farm and Fun Time is one of our station’s flagship programs, one that is built around our region’s music and food culture. Not only is Farm and Fun Time relevant today, but the program played a significant role in defining the sound and format of live country music broadcasting in the 1940s and 1950s. It is Radio Bristol’s goal to carry on that tradition today. The opportunity to be a part of Grey Fox, one of the largest and most widely acclaimed bluegrass festivals in the United States, allowed Radio Bristol to share our region’s music and radio history more widely while at the same time illustrating its relevance today. Folks at Grey Fox took notice and the show was an overwhelming success.

If you didn’t make the trek to join us, here’s a recap so you can see just what you missed!

There was a packed house at the Creekside Stage for the live broadcast of Farm and Fun Time. Bill and the Belles set a high-energy tone as they opened up the show. Courtesy of Kris Truelsen

Bill and the Belles kicked the show off with some sweet harmonies and popular melodies of days gone by. It was an interesting juxtaposition to hear the Delmore Brothers number “In the Blue Hills of Virginia” sung high from the Catskills! Following Bill and the Belles, Eric and Leigh Gibson – aka the Gibson Brothers – took the stage for the “Heirloom Recipe” segment of the show. Many might not know that before the Gibson Brothers won countless awards and accolades for their music, the brothers spent much their childhood days on the family farm in Plattsburgh, New York. They recalled their days of hard work on the farm and the sweet reward that often awaited them at the end of a hard day’s work: a piece of mom’s blackberry pie. In honor of the Gibson Brothers hilarious recollections of their hard work picking berries, Bill and the Belles sang “Nobody Wants to Pick, but Everybody Wants Some Pie,” reminding the audience that hard work often results in a sweet reward when everyone does their part.

Our first musical guests of the evening were Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion alumni The Michael Daves and Tony Trischka Band. Accompanied by virtuoso musicians Brittany Haas, Dominick Leskie, and Mike Bub, Daves and Trischka performed a rocking set of music, including the old-time standard “Drunken Hiccups” and “Fox Chase,” a Trischka original inspired by the harmonica playing of Deford Bailey. For the finale of their set, the band was joined by Ruthy Ungar and Mike Merenda from The Mammals to perform “Train on the Island,” a classic fiddle tune that was first recorded by J. P. Nester and Norman Edmonds at the 1927 Bristol Sessions.

The Michael Daves and Tony Trischka Band laying it down during their set. Courtesy of Kris Truelsen

For this month’s “ASD Farm Report” segment, we introduced our audience at the Creekside Stage to the work that Appalachian Sustainable Development does to support farmers in our region. Sylvia Crum, the Director of Communications and Development at ASD, called in and explained ASD’s work supporting the continuation of family farming in the Appalachian region.

Wrapping up the evening’s performance were musical guests The Mammals. Though normally a full Americana band with drums and electric guitar, the band performed a captivating stripped down acoustic set for the Farm and Fun Time crowd. From a cappella tunes like “My Baby Drinks Water” to raucous string band classics such as “Fall on My Knees,” it is easy to see why the diverse sounds of The Mammals are popular with a growing audience across the east coast and beyond. To close out their portion of the show, the band called on a host of fiddlers to join them onstage for a beautiful rendition of “Ashokan Farewell,” a tune written by Ruthy’s father, Jay Ungar.

To close the show, Bill and the Belle’s sang “Take Me Back to Tennessee,” a fitting end to an amazing show on the road as our thoughts started heading towards home. We will be back in Bristol at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum’s Performance Theater on Thursday, August 10 at 7pm for another Farm and Fun Time show, featuring two great North Carolina bands – Asheville-based bluegrass band Town Mountain and Jonathan Byrd and the Pickup Cowboy. And be on the lookout for more Farm and Fun Time broadcasts on the road in the near future as Radio Bristol takes the show to our growing audience and spreads the message of good music and preserving our region’s culture and heritage to music fans across the nation and beyond!

The green room on the road was a lot greener than we are used to! Courtesy of Kris Truelsen

Kris Truelsen is the Producer at Radio Bristol and a member of Farm and Fun Time house band Bill and the Belles.

No Bouncy Houses? No Problem! Bristol Rhythm Children’s Day Focused on Family Fun

“It’s hot. We’re hungry. Why are we just standing here?”

Whiny, yet totally legit complaints heard at every summer festival in existence since the advent of festivals. Why not move on? Find some shade? Go get a snack? You can’t. Because you and your whole family are trapped, covered in flop sweat, held hostage in long lines to an attraction some parents consider the kid equivalent to a cage match – the bouncy house.

Is all that waiting in line really worth it when there are so many other awesome things to do?

Children’s Day at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion happens annually on Saturday mornings of the festival from 10:00am—2:00pm. It’s free and open to the community, so nobody needs a ticket to attend. Last year the event underwent a change when the staff at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum took over the organization of Children’s Day so it could better serve our mission of music.

As scholars do, museum staff asked a lot of questions about Children’s Day: How was this mini-event honoring our music heritage? Was it creating lasting memories that would make families want to return? What could they do to make it more fun? At the end of the day, the decision was made to bounce anything families couldn’t participate in together, sooo…bye-bye bouncies. And you know what? Nobody really missed them.

Since the first Children’s Day began with the 4th annual Bristol Rhythm in 2004, we have been blessed to have dozens of local nonprofits, organizations, and businesses generously donate their time and an array of fun crafts, games, and activities for the event. Last year we saw more families interacting with these activities than ever, and we are so grateful to those organizations for being part of Children’s Day, adding so much creativity and making it even more special.

We were thrilled to see the young ladies of YWCA Bristol TechGYRLS work their booth – a fine example of youth leadership for all the kids attending Children’s Day! © Birthplace of Country Music

Families gathered at the Upper Tennessee River Roundtable booth to make art with recyclables and did hands-on gardening with the volunteers from Appalachian Sustainable Development. There was also lots of interest in the Keep Bristol Beautiful mobile classroom, and everyone wanted to make a cool terra-cotta pot wind chime, thanks to the Sullivan County Soil & Water Conservation District. Whether families were making puffy letter art, necklaces from small discs of wood, paper plate tambourines, or shaker drums from cups, they all got to be creative and bring back a memento to keep or give as a gift.

A treasured make-take-and-do item – wind chimes made from terra-cotta pots! At another booth, kids used Sharpies to customize wooden discs recycled from small tree limbs for the centerpiece of a colorful, beaded necklace. © Birthplace of Country Music

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum’s special exhibit We are the Music Makers: Preserving the Soul of America’s Music was on display inside the museum during last year’s festival, so an extension to the exhibit was placed outdoors for the duration of Bristol Rhythm. The temporary and waterproof display introduced families to the striking images in the exhibit and also invited kids to make music with the attached spoons and Boomwhackers. The museum also hosted a separate Boomwhacker station where groups of children and adults played a variety of songs together, which proved to be a huge hit!

Song notes were projected on a screen in the Boomwhacker station to teach families how to make music with these simple instruments. ©Birthplace of Country Music

Of course, our favorite Children’s Day activities involve music. And there were lots of musical options at last year’s festival. Families square danced and dosey doe’d with the Empty Bottle String Band and frolicked to the sounds of Silly Bus, while the kids from local school Sullins Academy performed for the audience with big smiles and a sweet dash of sass – appropriate for their tribute to the great Loretta Lynn!

A sight we love to see: the entire family dancing together! During a later part of Children’s Day, Millie Rainero performed a solo with the Sullins Academy kids. © Birthplace of Country Music

Each year we look for new and entertaining additions to Children’s Day. Last year Jalopy Junction took everyone on a wild ride with death-defying balancing acts and feats of strength – an adrenaline rush for the performers and audience alike.

Children’s Day brings so much value to our festival each year – an opportunity to partner with and highlight the many wonderful nonprofits and organizations in our local community, a chance to extend our mission beyond our brick-and-mortar doors, and most importantly as a way to share a deep love of music with children. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll see some of them on our festival stages!

So we invite everyone to come out to Children’s Day at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in 2017, bring the whole family, put on your dancing shoes, and get ready to have fun!

Contortionism and breathing fire were just a few tricks the vaudeville troupe Jalopy Junction performed during Children’s Day. In another area of the event, the music brought people out to dance together. © Birthplace of Country Music, photographers: Dyan Buck and Jonathan McCoy, King University Department of Digital Media Art & Design

Charlene Tipton Baker is a Marketing Specialist at the Birthplace of Country Music.

Things Come Together for Things Come Apart

Whew! It’s been a long few weeks – even months – here at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. We’ve planned and designed materials. We’ve hammered and painted. We’ve found parking spots for tractor trailers and forklifted huge crates into the museum. We’ve hung photographs and artfully arranged objects. We’ve made messes and tidied up.

All of these efforts have been working towards our new special exhibit Things Come Apart, which comes to us from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and opens today. The exhibit features the work of artist Todd McLellan – 39 extraordinary photographs, 4 disassembled objects, and 5 short videos, all exploring the inner workings of common, everyday possessions. From a record player to a telescope to a two-seater light aircraft – and more – the images and objects invite the viewer to reflect on how things are designed and made and how technology has evolved over time. The exhibit also includes three fun and educational activity kits created by the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation’s Spark!Lab.

Three of the photographs by Todd McLellan from Things Come Apart: Lensatic compass made by Indian Nautical Instruments in the 2000s, component count: 33; Flip clock made by Sanyo in the 1970s, component count: 426; Power drill made by Ryobi in 2006, component count: 216. © Todd McLellan

Things Come Apart is not our “usual” type of exhibit, one where the focus is on the history of early country music, the musical legacy of this region, or other related social and cultural topics. However, one of our aims with the museum’s Special Exhibits Gallery is to also choose interesting and engaging exhibits that will serve to bring new audiences into the museum and expand the educational resources offered to our local community. With this type of exhibit, we also work hard to find ways to relate the exhibit’s subject to our content or to music, for instance through panels and artifact supplements or the related programming and outreach.

Things Come Apart effectively fits those goals through its distinctive subject matter – one that should appeal to a different audience along with our everyday visitors – and through its focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) content. The activity kits are a tangible and hands-on manifestation of that STEAM focus, perfect for working with schools and youth groups, and combined with the exhibit, they offer a unique supplement to the curricula in our local schools. And while we have spent months bringing Things Come Apart to fruition and are wonderfully excited to have this very special Smithsonian exhibit here at the museum, it’s been the supplementing that has really caught our imaginations and given us opportunities to create some truly interesting displays and plan a host of engaging programs.

The exhibit highlights several musical instruments and sound-related gadgets in its exploration of design and technological innovation, which gives us a great opportunity to relate the exhibit to our content. For one thing, the photographs of the piano and accordion taken down to their component parts will hopefully prompt our visitors to also consider the complexity and functionality of the instruments used in the 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings – from the Frankenstein-like harp guitar to the more basic kazoo.

Secondly, the focus on technology in Things Come Apart can be related to an important part of the story told in our permanent exhibits – that of the importance of technological developments to the success and legacy of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, and how technology was instrumental in the distribution of these early commercial country music recordings.

In the museum’s permanent exhibits, a harp guitar is on display with several other instruments, and a timeline highlights important milestones in sound and radio technology. © René Rodgers

We also decided early on in the planning process that we would include an object or two related to the museum’s content, taking apart and displaying them to go along with the four disassembled objects already present in Things Come Apart. The first object we tackled was a circa 1900—1910 phonograph, donated to us by Bob Bledsoe, a favorite friend of the museum and an expert on all things to do with early cylinder players and phonographs, and his son John. We spent a happy morning with them both, taking a Columbia Graphophone phonograph down to its three largest components: base, top and turntable with attached motor, and horn, along with a second non-working motor down to its smaller components. It was dirty but interesting work – two days later I still had 100-year old grease underneath my fingernails! We also took apart a broken guitar, even sawing it in half so that the inner struts, bracing, and tone bars could be seen by our visitors.

Mr. Bledsoe taking apart the phonograph now on display with Things Come Apart. © René Rodgers

Planning museum programs is always a challenge as there are so many “moving parts” – creating engaging activities and experiences that tie into the museum content and mission; tapping into limited staff, volunteer, and financial resources in order to hold those programs; marketing the events effectively and widely; working with partner organizations; and so much more. For Things Come Apart, we spent a lot of time thinking about those challenges and how best to share the resource of this exhibit with a wide variety of visitors. We decided to focus on the invention / maker side of things, including participating in the Kingsport Mini Maker Faire, screening films about Edison, Tesla, and the making of a Steinway piano, and hosting our own Family Fun Day maker-type event. The Family Fun Day is the event I am most excited about – a chance for us to do a different type of programming and work with some great partners to pull together a host of activities including an introduction to 3D printing by the folks at the Bristol Public Library, an “art from found objects” demo by local artisan Terry Clark, and a recycling craft from the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Green Team – and more!

For the museum, an exhibit like Things Come Apart presents a golden opportunity to bring a really wonderful educational resource to our community, one that they might not otherwise be able to access, and to invite new – and old – visitors into our space to experience this wonderful exhibit and our museum. But it also gives us the chance to learn more ourselves and to stretch outside our usual wheelhouse, which is always exciting.

This exhibit is a visual display of what we do as a museum every day: take things apart and dig deeply into their content, look at how things fit together, and ask visitors to share in those experiences. At our museum, it’s the ongoing taking of things apart and exploring them that brings real meaning to our work. These are the things that keep us going!

René Rodgers is Curator of Exhibits & Publications at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. You can visit the Things Come Apart exhibit from July 15 to October 8, 2017.

Volunteers: The Glue that Holds Us Together

Every year, volunteers across the country lend a hand to help organizations, charities and nonprofits, schools, and churches to do their work and to carry out their missions. In museums alone, volunteers give over a million hours of volunteer service every single week!

As a small nonprofit, the Birthplace of Country Music is fortunate to tap into the time and talents of hundreds of volunteers each year. We recruit these dedicated people throughout the year – from calls for volunteers for Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion to regular training sessions at the museum.

Our volunteers act in dozens of important roles supporting all three elements of our organization: the museum, the festival, and the radio station. They are docents and gallery assistants, work behind the scenes in our archives, tackle the logistical puzzle of our 3-day music festival, greet and transport performing musicians, help facilitate our live radio shows, and so much more. There is no doubt that they are integral to our success.

There are many reasons to love our volunteers – I could definitely write a hugely long post about this – but, for now, here are our top 5!

1. We consider our volunteers to be the equivalent of members of staff. Every day we see their professionalism on display, and we know that they take their responsibility to our visitors seriously. By sharing their input with us, helping us when our paid staff cannot fulfill all the organization’s needs and roles, and holding themselves accountable on a daily basis, it also means that they make our work easier. This allows us to focus on other necessary tasks knowing that whatever they are doing is in good hands. And because they are immersed in our work – and truly understand the depth of that work – our volunteers are our very best advocates, sharing our story and our mission with visitors, the local community, and even further afield.

Volunteer gallery assistant Kathe shares her passion for Tennessee Ernie Ford with our visitors. © Birthplace of Country Music

2. Our volunteers are interesting! We have volunteers from all walks of life – from retired schoolteachers to neurologists, high school and college kids to history buffs, and artists and musicians. Every day we get the chance to have a fascinating conversation with a volunteer, learn something new about a topic we previously knew little to nothing about, or tap into their many skills, making all the difference to our work.

3. Volunteers help make our grant applications even stronger. The significant amount each and every one of them gives to our organization can be viewed as in-kind donations from our community. Each year we have over 800 volunteers on the ground from the break of dawn until late at night at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival; we also have volunteers working on the planning committees for the festival all year round. Since the Birthplace of Country Music Museum opened in August 2014 and Radio Bristol launched in August 2015, our museum and radio volunteers have given almost 10,000 hours to help us on a daily basis. Volunteers also pitch in with other outreach projects like the annual Border Bash concert series and our support of Bristol Motor Speedway’s Speedway in Lights program every winter. All of the time and support given to us by our volunteers is a tangible marker of community support and engagement, which is integral to successful grant applications – and successful grants help our organization to develop and to deliver our mission.

4. Not only are our volunteers good at what they do, but they also know how to have a good time – and how to make our lives fun! From getting into the spirit of a volunteer party theme by dressing up like country musicians to sharing the best-tasting potluck dishes in town at our annual Christmas party, you can count on our volunteers to bring good cheer and good fun to every occasion.

While helping to set up an outdoor display during Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, volunteer Bob tried his hand at the spoons. © Birthplace of Country Music

5. Most importantly, because our volunteers are dedicated, welcoming, and knowledgeable, they have a direct and meaningful impact on our visitors. Our festival may be a blast, our museum may be engaging, and our radio station may make your toes tap, but it is our volunteers who make your time with us special.

René Rodgers is Curator of Exhibits & Publications at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. If you are interested in volunteering at the museum, new volunteer training is being held on July 25 and August 1.

I’m Running Out of Wall Space! The Poster Artwork of Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

The primary marketing piece for any music festival or event is the commemorative poster. Companies like Nashville’s Hatch Show Print, Knoxville’s Status Serigraph, and Asheville’s Subject Matter Studio have built their businesses – and stellar reputations – creating distinct artistic visions of their clients’ brands. For music fans, posters are a sentimental reminder of a good time and great music; they are also an essential collector’s item.

Since the inaugural festival in October 2001, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion has commissioned a variety of local and regional artists to create designs that we feel capture the essence of the event. A few of our most popular are now out of print, though they occasionally pop up on ebay for purchase at a higher price than they originally sold.

If you have been collecting Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion posters since the beginning – that’s 17 posters and counting this year – you might find that wall space has become an issue. To help with that challenge, and for those who want to collect on a smaller scale, we started producing a collection of festival poster note cards. The note cards are small, frame-worthy, and run through the 16th annual event so you can display them without taking up a lot of space. And, of course, they are great cards to send to friends and family to encourage them to come to the festival!

Even we are running out of wall space in our office! © Charlene Tipton Baker

For those of you who collect and frame, we recommend having your favorite posters professionally framed using museum quality glass to keep the colors vibrant. Can’t decide on a favorite? Have a frame shop cut a piece of museum quality glass to fit a store-bought frame so you can change posters out on a whim. If sticker shock is an issue, think of it as an investment. We have no plans to reissue out-of-print posters so they retain value and, with care, the glass is something you’ll have forever even if you switch out frames.

We’ve pulled together all the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival poster designs we’ve collected over the years (with those that are no longer in print indicated) below so you have the chance to see each and every design. Hats off to all the wonderful artists for their inspired visions of our event – they showcase a variety of styles and themes from funky graphic music-related designs and historic references to playful story art and striking hand-pressed prints.

These three posters use a combination of historic images of Bristol, drawings of old and new musicians, and other photographs and artwork. 2001 poster: Concept, design, and photography by Malcolm J. Wilson and Jennifer Wilson (out of print); 2002 poster: Concept, art direction, and design by Katherine DeVault, vintage Bristol photographs by Bristol Historical Association, and photograph of the 1926 Martin 00-45 12-fret guitar courtesy of Gruhn Guitars Inc. (out of print); 2005 poster: Original art by Willard Gayheart, and graphic design by Saundra Reynolds.


The 2003, 2008, and 2009 posters used graphics focused on instruments within their design. 2003 poster: Original painting by Malcolm J. Wilson, and design by Jennifer & Malcolm J. Wilson (out of print); 2008 and 2009 posters: Graphic design by Chad Carpenter.


The posters created for the 2004, 2007, and 2012 festivals were also very graphic design-based and went for a more “decorative” look and feel. 2004 poster: Design by Katherine DeVault; 2007 poster: Original art by April Street; 2012 poster: Graphic design by Bobby Starnes.


Local artist Charles Vess – an internationally acclaimed fantasy and comic illustrator – has created original artwork for three of our festival posters: 2006, 2010, and 2015. The artwork for each poster is filled with detail and energy, and they reflect Vess’s graphic style and the use of nature as a major theme in his art. Vess’s posters always prove hugely popular with festival-goers and collectors – the 2006 and 2010 posters are both out of print.


The artwork for the 2011 and 2016 posters was also created by two local and regional artists: P. Buckley Moss and Leigh Ann Agee. Moss – a well-known artist whose wonderful renditions of rural life, especially in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, are highly collectible – has created other pieces of art for the Birthplace of Country Music, including a commemorative poster for the museum’s opening in 2014. Her festival poster from 2011 is out of print; the graphic design for this poster was done by Charlene Tipton Baker. Muralist and artist Agee, originally from Bristol, based the 2016 poster on her popular Moon Bound Girl artworks. The graphic design for Agee’s poster was done by Hannah Devaney Holmes.


Three of the most recent posters – for 2013, 2014, and 2017 – reflect a wonderful vintage style and are all individually hand-pressed on manila paper. Instruments are central to the designs of each of these posters, and the 2014 poster takes inspiration from the roots in Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. 2013 and 2017 posters: Graphic design by Justin Helton, Status Serigraph (2013 is out of print); 2014 poster: 
Graphic design by Drew Findley, Subject Matter Studio (out of print).

Charlene Tipton Baker is a Marketing Specialist at the Birthplace of Country Music. Please note that some posters are not sold in our online store, but you can call our office at 423-573-1927 to see if they are available.

Country Music Icons: Immortalized and Celebrated in Stamps

July 1 is National U.S. Postage Stamp Day, a day to celebrate these miniature works of art and their important role in correspondence and communication.

While letters and messages have been sent throughout history, the first ever pre-paid postage stamp was issued in the United Kingdom on May 6, 1840. This stamp bore the profile portrait of a young Queen Victoria and was known as a “Penny Black” due to its cost and the ink color used for the printing. The first stamps issued in America were a 5-cent Benjamin Franklin stamp and a 10-cent George Washington stamp, both produced in 1847.

U.S. postage stamps are often used to commemorate important events and people in American history – the first American commemorative stamps were produced in 1893 to celebrate the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus. Since then, there have been numerous commemorative stamps and stamp series, including ones to honor the people who made a mark on country music.

Jimmie Rodgers

The 13-cent Jimmie Rodgers commemorative stamp was issued on May 24, 1978, and its first-day city was Meridian, Mississippi, Rodgers’s birthplace – it was issued during the town’s annual Jimmie Rodgers Festival. The design of the stamp celebrates his nickname as the “Singing Brakeman,” a persona based on his railroad career and reflected in a character he played in a short film of the same name. The film, produced by Columbia Pictures and Victor Talking Machine Company in 1930, features Rodgers singing three of his songs at the “Railroad Eating House” after a long day on the rails. As with many stamps, the Jimmie Rodgers stamp was part of a series, the first issued in the U.S. Postal Service’s Performing Arts and Artists series.

Jimmie Rodgers Stamp © 1978 United States Postal Service. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission. Third-party permissions courtesy of Karen Court at Jimmie Rodgers Properties I LP.

Legends of American Music Series: Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, The Carter Family, and Bob Wills

From 1993 to 1999, the U.S. Postal Service produced the Legends of American Music Series. This series covered a host of genres and contributions to American music, including rock-and-roll, jazz and blues, gospel, opera, folk, and popular music; songwriters, conductors, composers, big band leaders, and Hollywood and Broadway songwriters and composers; and, of course, country music icons. The country music stamps, all issued in 1993, featured Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, The Carter Family – A. P., Sara, and Maybelle, and Bob Wills. The stamps were presented at various dedication ceremonies, including one highlighting the Hank Williams stamp at the Grand Ole Opry, which was attended by his son. Williams Jr. noted that his family was thrilled about the stamp, adding that he had told his children that their grandfather now had his picture in the U.S. Post Office, and not on an FBI poster!

Artist Richard Waldrep designed the stamps, creating the artwork for them at 400% of the actual stamp size using gouache that had been thinned so it could be applied with an airbrush, creating a smoother surface showing no brush strokes; he then filled in the minor detailing with brush and colored pencil. The results are vibrant portraits of these artists, capturing their personalities and performance. Waldrep has created 38 stamps for the U.S. Postal Service, including several other commemorative series. He remembers in particular his work on the Centennial Olympic Games stamps of 1996 when he was asked to sign 30,000 sheets of the stamps – he says his signature has never been the same since!

Roy Acuff

Rather than artwork, the 37-cent Roy Acuff commemorative stamp bore a photographic likeness of the “King of Country Music.” As with the Legends of American Music stamps, the Roy Acuff stamp was printed using the gravure process, a type of printing where the image is engraved on a metal plate for use on the printing press – 52 million Acuff stamps were produced. The stamp was first issued in Nashville, Tennessee, and it was presented at a dedication ceremony during a live Roy Acuff tribute show broadcast from the Grand Ole Opry on September 13, 2003. By coincidence, Johnny Cash had passed away the day before, and the former Postmaster General Marvin Runyon promised he would do all that he could do to be sure Cash was also memorialized through a U.S. postage stamp in the future.

Roy Acuff Stamp © 2003 United States Postal Service. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

Johnny Cash

The promise made at the Roy Acuff issue ceremony came to fruition in June 2013 when the U.S. Postal Service released a Forever stamp commemorating Johnny Cash, part of their Music Icons series that also included Lydia Mendoza and Ray Charles. The dedication ceremony was attended by son John Carter Cash, daughter Rosanne Cash, and musicians Larry Gatlin, Jamey Johnson, The Oak Ridge Boys, The Roys, Marty Stuart, and Randy Travis, amongst others. The image used on the stamp is a photograph by Frank Bez, taken during a photo session for Cash’s album Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash (1963). The level of detail and thought put into stamp design is often extraordinary – for instance, the square stamp pane surrounding the Johnny Cash stamps was designed to resemble a 45rpm record sleeve.

Music Icon Johnny Cash Stamp © 2013 United States Postal Service. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission. Third-party permissions courtesy of Josh Matas at Sandbox Management.

Country Music Stamps and Beyond

Other stamps from the U.S. Postal Service and Canada have celebrated other country music icons. For instance, the U.S. Postal Service issued stamps focused on cowboys of the silver screen, two of which were also known as singers: Gene Autry, the “singing cowboy” and Roy Rogers, the “King of the Cowboys.” And Canada Post released a series focused on the contributions of Canadian country music stars with stamps of Shania Twain, k. d. lang, Tommy Hunter, Hank Snow, and Renée Martel.

René Rodgers is the Curator of Exhibits & Publications at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Special thanks to Patricia Raynor at the National Postal Museum, Richard Waldrep, Karen Court, Josh Matas, and Andrea at the U.S. Postal Services Rights & Permissions Department for their help with this post.