May 2019 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Off the Record: Magnolia Electric Co.

Our Radio Bristol DJs and related staff are a diverse bunch – and they like a huge variety of musical genres and artists. In our “Off the Record” posts, we ask one of them to tell us all about a song, record or artist they love.

Black and white photograph of Jason Molina on stage playing guitar with various band members on their instruments.
Jason Molina and his band, Magnolia Electric Co., playing at a festival in Stockholm, Sweden in 2005 – two years after the release of the album Magnolia Electric Co., released by Molina and his band (under a different name), Songs: Ohia. Image:

On and off the record I can confidently say that “Farewell Transmission,” a song written by Jason Molina and recorded by him and his band Songs: Ohia, is one of the greatest songs of all time. There is something in both its lyrics and sound that is universal and timeless.

“The whole place is dark

Every light on this side of the town

Suddenly it all went down.”

It all went down one July day in a little studio called Electric Audio in the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago. Jason Molina gathered members of his band, along with some other musicians, to record “Farewell Transmission,” the first track on their upcoming record Magnolia Electric Co. This group of 12 musicians were quickly taught a three chord progression that would serve as the basic structure of the song, and then with little else, they hit record. As they were making their way blind through the recording, Molina’s manager was opening and closing various doors within the studio in order for the acoustics to be just right as the musicians fluctuated in intensity in their sound output. The musicians in the room played and riffed until Molina gave them a signal to end the song. You can hear his signal in the last few lines of the song as Molina repeats the word: “Listen!”

“After tonight if you don’t want us to be a secret out of the past

I will resurrect it, I’ll have a good go at it.”

Jason Molina’s past is integral to understanding “Farewell Transmission” and just how prolific of a musician Molina truly was. During his childhood, Molina spent the school year with his parents and siblings on the coast of Lake Erie and spent his summers with his grandmother in a coal mining town in West Virginia. 

It was the summers in West Virginia that really influenced and molded Molina as a person and musician. As Max Blau relates in his Chicago Reader article on Molina: “His friends recall him drawing elaborate art inside the back covers of library books, playing sad Civil War-themed songs on the ukulele at house parties, and attempting to memorize the entire Carter Family songbook. He began to move away from his metal roots into the world of folk, blues, and alt-country.” It wasn’t just his personal past he was trying to resurrect within his music but our collective past, our collective history. It is this element of a shared past that really makes Molina’s music so impactful.

“I will try and know whatever I try, I will be gone but not forever”

While Jason Molina and his bands never reached commercial success, he was a legend and major influence on popular groups that came after him. Some of those musicians include the Avett Brothers, My Morning Jacket, and Glen Hansard. Molina was also one of the first artists to sign on the small, independent record label, Secretly Canadian, which would go on to sign artists like Bon Iver, Dinosaur Jr., and Sharon Van Etten. Molina really laid the foundation for indie, alt-country, and Americana artists that would see a huge rise in popularity in the early to mid-2000s.

Black and white close-up of Jason Molina wearing a dark suit and with his guitar on stage.
Jason Molina playing at a Melting Vinyl Show in Brighton in 2009. Photograph: Greg Neate on flickr

After his death in 2013 from organ failure as a result of alcohol consumption, an outpouring of recognition came his way from all of the musicians he had influenced. Popular artists like Kevin Morby, Waxahatchee, My Morning Jacket, and Glen Hansard either recorded covers of Jason Molina songs or performed many of his songs live at concerts. Many of these artists cite Molina as one of their greatest musical influences. Molina will never truly be gone or forgotten as the legacy of his music lives on.

For more on Jason Molina and his journey, I highly recommend Blau’s article

Bristol Rhythm Survival Guide

As the school year winds down and we head into the longer and hotter days of summer, it’s time to start thinking about festivals – Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, of course, and all the other festivals on your lineup.

Photo of busy State Street in Historic Downtown Bristol, VA-TN -- filled with festivalgoers, vendor tents, and with the State Street sign in the background.
State Street in Historic Downtown Bristol, VA-TN
in full-on festy mode!
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Bill Foster

Every year when festival season hits, you see them: festivalgoers who should have known better. Don’t be “that guy.” Or girl. In order to have an amazing festival experience, one must be prepared. To be in it for the long haul, you gotta prep, conserve your energy, and map out a plan loose enough to let you be spontaneous. Enthusiasts who travel to a lot of music festivals may have this down-pat, but we figure the casual festivalgoer may need a primer. Whether you’re traveling alone, with family, or with your crew, we think these tips will help prepare you for a long and festive weekend of great music and merriment when you come to Bristol Rhythm in September!

Photo of a hand holding a smartphone with the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion mobile app.
The Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion at your fingertips!
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Bill Foster
  • Download the Bristol Rhythm festival app.

The why is simple: research. Before the schedule is released, the entire lineup is available on the mobile app. Use this tool to read about the bands, listen to their music, and watch their videos. There may be a number of bands you have never heard of, but would totally fall in love with if you took the time to check them out. If you wait until you get to the festival to hear what the buzz is about, you may miss out. FOMO is a thing! Once the festival’s over and everyone’s talking about those acts you didn’t get the chance to see, there’s no going back. Get the app here!

Photos of fun ladies in cute outfits with sensible shoes.
These ladies know it’s possible to be cute and have sensible
festy footwear! Just look at us! We’re fabulous!
© Birthplace of Country Music,
photographers: Cora Wagoner, E. Larson, and unknown
  • Purchase a good pair of walking shoes and break them in.

Girls, I know you look fierce in those fine festival frocks with your cowboys boots and strappy sandals. If you are among the few who can dance all night in heels and still keep going, I commend you! But most of you know you’re setting yourself up for misery or worse – bunions! Believe me, hardcore festivarians know that there is no judgment below the ankles. You can still slay in that fabulous sundress with a sensible pair of shoes. My personal choice of footwear? Keens. I lovingly refer to them as “mandals” because they seem kinda clunky, but they come in fun colors and have saved my feet at every festival for the past ten years. Don’t confine yourself to a chair, wear good shoes and dance like no one’s watching!

Photos of people carrying umbrellas at the festival to block the sun.
Made in the shade!
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographers: Bill Foster and Earl Neikirk
  • Wear sunscreen. That goes double for kids.

Luckily, Bristol Rhythm is an urban festival so there are a number of indoor venues or beverage tents to duck under if you need some shade. However, one good 45-minute set at the Piedmont Stage, and you’ve likely already gotten more sun than you had intended. Before you leave the house, go ahead and lather yourself up – kids especially! – then reapply occasionally throughout the day. You’ll thank yourself for it later!

Photos of the article's author and actor Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock, both wearing fanny packs.
What do me and The Rock have in common? You guessed it.
Please forgive the fuzzy pic, it was the only one I could find.
© Birthplace of Country Music
Photo credit of The Rock unknown

  • Ditch the purse and don’t trust the pockets in your cargo shorts.

The items that are most often turned in to lost-and-found during Bristol Rhythm are keys, credit cards, sunglasses, and eyeglasses. These essentials aren’t secure in your pockets, and big purses just aren’t practical for a music festival. Last year I dusted off my old fanny pack – ahem, hip bag – from the 1980s, and it was the best decision I ever made. I felt so light! So free! I wasn’t constantly adjusting straps or digging into the depths of my purse! It was such a revelation that I talked our marketing director into ordering custom Bristol Rhythm-branded fanny packs for the festival this year. I can’t wait!

Festival goers holding water bottles.
Water bottles as fashion.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: E. Larson
  • Stay hydrated.

I can’t stress this enough. Having a water bottle with you at all times during the day is the best way to keep from getting parched and sleepy. Saturday at Bristol Rhythm is a long day. If you feel your energy draining, ask yourself: When is the last time I drank a glass of water? If it’s been an hour or longer, you definitely need to drink up! That goes especially for kids! And last year, we introduced two water refill stations to the festival so that makes staying hydrated even easier. You can use the mobile app’s map function for their locations.

Photo of a smiling couple with one of them wearing a t-shirt that reads "Here for the Music," and a second photo of a hand holding a beer.
Let’s not forget why we’re here…
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: A. Shumaker
  • Drink responsibly.

If you’re like me and enjoy a tasty adult beverage every now and again, then by all means treat yourself! It’s a festival! Just know when to say when. Alcohol is dehydrating, so there’s that, and nobody likes a sloppy drunk. If you pace yourself, you won’t miss any good music, embarrass yourself or your friends, throw up on a stranger’s shoes, or get tossed out of the festival and end up in jail. You’ll have a better festival experience sans hangover!

A couple holding festival food and a shot of the line of food vendors on Lee Street.
Nourishment via Bristol Rhythm food court.
© Birthplace of Country Music
  • Don’t forget to eat!

I have worked many-a-festival, and it happens to me every year. I get so involved in working or getting to the next stage that I forget to eat. Do yourself a favor: carve out a specific time in your schedule to hit a restaurant or vendor, and then sit down and have a proper meal. Bring snacks if you need to, but at least take the time to nourish yourself with a hearty meal at least once each day of the event. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a marathon, not a sprint – and it will seriously help soak up any alcohol in your system.

Photo of crowded State Street at night.
The streets stay crowded day AND night!
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Eli Johnson
  • Use the side streets at peak festival times.

State Street gets pretty crowded, and it can be difficult to get through the crowds if you’re in a hurry. Consider alternate routes on Shelby Street and Farm & Fun Time Alley if you have to get from one end of State Street to another quickly.

Photo of smiling people inside a car.
Artists travel together, why shouldn’t friends?
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Bill Foster
  • Carpool or take the shuttle.

Every year we work hard to improve the efficiency of the shuttle system. Wait times have been seriously reduced, and the buses come with more regularity than in previous years. If you are from out of town, the shuttles are a great resource to get you to and from the festival grounds without worrying about where to park.

Photo of two Bristol police officers.
Bristol’s finest!
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: K. Thompson
  • It takes a village.

Kindness and courteousness are the most common traits you’ll find in people who attend Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. We’re very proud to say that arrests, accidents, lost kids, disorderly behavior, etc. are extremely rare, but that doesn’t mean those things won’t happen. We pride ourselves on being a family event; we want everyone to feel happy and welcome and safe when they walk through those gates. Please take care of each other; look out for the very young, the elderly, the disabled, and anyone you feel may be in need of help. We have plenty of law enforcement and emergency services to turn to just in case.

Photo of The Ruen Brothers.
A magical moment with The Ruen Brothers
captured at The Paramount.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

I don’t have words to properly express how much I love Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. Every year I find new bands to fall in love with, reunite with old friends, and make new ones. I have watched the careers of so many musicians blossom over the years and get really excited for their success. Historic Downtown Bristol is simply magical during the event, so it’s important to me that everyone who walks through the gates has the festival experience of a lifetime! I hope these tips help enhance that experience for you, and that you have a blast!

Photo of Low Cut Connie performing on stage in front of a large crowd -- viewing the band from behind and looking out at the audience.
Low Cut Connie on the Cumberland Square Park Stage.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Bill Foster

The 19th annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival dates are September 20-22, 2019. For the complete lineup and ticket info, click here.

Foraging For Another Great Farm and Fun Time!

From blaring horns to sweet duets, May 9’s Farm and Fun Time featured a dynamic display of roots music styles! Thanks to our sponsor Eastman Credit Union, Radio Bristol was able to bring Farm and Fun Time to not only those in the audience or tuned in to WBCM-LP, but to viewers far and wide via Facebook Live. Be sure to like WBCM – Radio Bristol on Facebook to tune in every month!

Host band Bill and the Belles started the show off with favorites old and new, including a rip-roaring rendition of “Roll on the Ground.”  The “Heirloom Recipe” segment was presented by the reigning Haint Mistress of Abingdon Virginia, Donna Marie Emmert. When Donna Marie isn’t looking for ghosts, goblins, and ghouls around historic Southwest Virginia, she can be found hunting for the ever-elusive Appalachian spring time delicacy: morel mushrooms. While Donna Marie shared a recipe for how to prepare the elusive dryland fish, she wasn’t about to disclose the location of those rare treats – you’ll have to find your own! Bill and the Belles then crooned a song of longing and frustration all about the woes of not finding any morels.

Left: Bill and the Belles gather at the mic together with their bass player behind then. Right: Donna Marie Emmert at the mic with her story on the page before her.
Bill and the Belles charmed the Farm and Fun Time audience, while Haint Mistress Donna Marie Emmert got their stomachs growling for the tasty morel mushroom. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Our first musical guest of the evening was Hoot and Holler. Amy Alvey and Mark Kilianski are a hard touring duo of multi-instrumentalist musicians and songsmiths who draw heavily from the roots of American music, especially old-time, bluegrass, and Cajun music. Together they craft timeless songs that tell the stories of their life on the road. From a classic fiddle tune “Honey Suckle Blues” to “Old Buffalo,” a piece of self-proclaimed “cowboy existentialism,” to “Reasons to Run,” a song that explores the feeling of needing to be in multiple places at once but never settling, Amy and Mark took the audience on a journey down the highways and backroads of America in just a handful of songs.

Three images -- Left: Amy Alvey playing the fiddle in front of the mic. Center: A view of Amy singing and Mark Kilianski playing guitar at the mic with their guest bass player behind them. Right: A close-up of Mark's guitar.

With only a few songs, Hoot and Holler explored a range of emotions and experiences, bringing the audience right along with them. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

This month’s “ASD Farm Report” went off the beaten path to showcase foraging with Taylor Callahan. If one knows what to look for and where to find it, there’s a bounty of useful plants growing wild in the hills and hollers of Appalachia, and Taylor crafts apothecary projects to cure what ails you from locally sourced flora. Here’s a video from our visit:

Our last guest of the evening was Davina and the Vagabonds. Hailing from the land of 10,000 Lakes, Davina and the Vagabonds put on a high energy stage show that blended elements of New Orleans-style jazz and 1950s R&B into a style all their own. Sitting at the keys, Davina is powerhouse performer, who channels the likes of Bessie Smith and Sister Rosetta Tharpe into an expressive vocal style that cuts above the horns and drums and takes listeners on a roller coaster ride of emotions. In a set that seemed to be perpetually rolling forward, Davina and the Vagabonds performed original songs about topics ranging from “Monday Dates” to how the devil got his horns, and they brought the Farm and Fun Time crowd to their feet for perhaps the most rousing standing ovation we’ve seen yet! 

Four pics -- Top left: Davina, wearing a black dress and black hat and with her black hair styled in a 1950s-style pompadour, at the keyboard with the horns behind her. Bottom left: The two horns players blowing their trumpet and trombone. Top right: Davina singing at the keyboard with the bass player behind her. Bottom right: A view of the drummer.

Davina and the Vagabonds’ energy on stage and quirky and expressive songs combined together to create a really special Farm and Fun Time night! © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Thanks to everyone who came out and shared in this wonderful evening of music! Tickets are on sale for June’s show featuring Sierra Ferrell, Steel City Jug Slammers, and host band Bill and the Belles, but they’re going fast. We hope to see you there!

Davina and the Vagabonds on stage in front of the Farm and Fun Time crowd, all on their feet and clapping enthusiastically.
An enthusiastic, foot-stomping standing ovation heralded the end of Davina and the Vagabonds’ set. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

From the Vault: A Father’s Photographs

When you think of a specific site associated with country music, the first place that comes to mind is more than likely the Grand Ole Opry. In 2018, Lawrence Inscho, one of our regular contributors to Radio Bristol, donated a personal connection to this iconic venue to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

But first some background: Lawrence’s father William Lawrence Inscho Sr. served in World War II as a staff sergeant. After Pearl Harbor, he was stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska – with the Alaskan Aleutian Islands as early targets of the enemy, the US military’s position there played a strategic role in the defense of the country. He was eventually stationed in Memphis, Tennessee, and during his service, he went to Nashville for a needed surgery. He met a young woman there and later married her.

Left: Portrait of William Lawrence Inscho Sr. in his military uniform. Right:  Picture of Inscho Sr.'s Leica camera.
Left: Staff Sgt. William Lawrence Inscho Sr. Right: The camera used by Lawrence’s father in the 1940s. Courtesy of Lawrence Inscho

The Grand Ole Opry has played host to so many greats of country and bluegrass music over the years, almost too many to count. In the summer of 1945, Inscho Sr. took a series of photographs at the revered Grand Ole Opry stage. The younger Lawrence likes to imagine that these photos were from his parents’ honeymoon.

For us, the photos taken by Inscho Sr. are a true treasure trove, documenting performances from the heyday of the Grand Ole Opry and country music. Some of the most well-known musicians that played at the Opry, like Bill Monroe and Uncle Dave Macon, have their likenesses preserved in these images. Others not quite as famous, like Zeke Clements, are remembered here as well. It’s a real thrill to see these important musicians as we take a gander at some of the photograph collection!

Pee Wee King is to the far left with his accordion and playing to the audience. He is backed by four musicians in matching outfits and playing a variety of instruments.
Photo credit to William Lawrence Inscho Sr.

One of the lesser known monuments of country music and the Grand Ole Opry was Pee Wee King, seen here on the far left. Despite his Polish-German musical heritage (he was born Frank Julius Anthony Kuczynski), he co-wrote “The Tennessee Waltz,” which became a standard of the country music genre, and toured and made movies with Gene Autry. King joined the Opry in 1937, and he brought a rebellious side to this traditional venue by defying the Opry’s ban on drums, horns, the accordion, and electrical instruments. In doing so, he was one of the first people to introduce those instruments to country music at the Grand Ole Opry. He also wore the flamboyant, rhinestone-covered suits of Nudie Cohn, introducing this style to many country music artists. These suits became very popular within the genre, and the likes of Elvis Presley also later wore them. Pee Wee King was truly one of the great pioneers of country music.

Several musicians and background people on the stage with a Prince Albert tobacco advertisement hung on the wall behind them. The Duke of Paducah is center stage, dressed as a woman.
The Duke of Paducah (center). Photo credit to William Lawrence Inscho Sr.

One of the more unusual musicians featured in these photos was Benjamin Francis “Whitey” Ford, known on stage as The Duke of Paducah. A banjo picker, he founded the Renfro Valley Barn Dance stage and radio show with two other musicians. But he was also a well-known country comedian whose tagline “I’m goin’ back to the wagon, boys, these shoes are killing me!” became a standard. His jokes also influenced the classic country TV show Hee Haw. The Duke later shared the occasional show bill with none other than Elvis Presley.

Eight musicians and background people on the Opry stage, playing a variety of instruments. Zeke Clements is front and center playing the guitar at the mic.
Zeke Clements (third from right in white shirt and hat). Photo credit to William Lawrence Inscho Sr.

Zeke Clements, also known as “The Dixie Yodeler,” had some fascinating ventures during his lifetime. One of the bands he was in, Otto Gray and his Oklahoma Cowboys, was the first nationally famous cowboy western band. And one of his most prominent successes was writing the song “Smoke on the Water.” Clements also took acting roles as singing cowboys in multiple B-Western films in the 1930s and 1940s. He even voiced one of the yodeling dwarfs in the 1937 Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He was quite the character in early country music!

Four musicians, all wearing hats of various styles, on the Grand Ole Opry stage, gathered round the central mic. Far left: mandolin player, near left: Curly Bradshaw playing harmonica, near right: Bill Monroe playing guitar, and far right: Stringbean playing banjo.
Photo credit to William Lawrence Inscho Sr.

When people think of bluegrass, they think of Bill Monroe, one of the greatest bluegrass musicians that has ever been. This rare early photo of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys is significant for a few reasons. First, it shows the group before Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs joined. It also shows Monroe playing his Gibson F7, an instrument he played before he turned to his iconic 1923 Lloyd Loar-signed Gibson F5. Further, this is the only known performance photo of the man playing the harmonica, Curly Bradshaw. He only performed shortly with Monroe, and before the discovery of these photos, the only known photo of him with Monroe was a 1944 publicity photo.

At this time, the man on the right, David Akeman, better known as Stringbean, was also a member of the Bluegrass Boys. A banjo player and in the cast of the Hee Haw television series, Akeman was later famously murdered, along with his wife, in his home near Ridgetop, Tennessee, due to a hidden sum of money that was rumored to be in the home. This photo is one of the most fascinating in the Inscho photograph collection.

The Opry stage decorated with a backdrop for Purina Chows for Poultry and Livestock. Four musicians, plus a man in the background, are seen, including Dorris Macon on guitar and Uncle Dave Macon on banjo.
Photo credit to William Lawrence Inscho Sr.

This last photo shows an old-time element of the show Inscho Sr. saw at the Grand Ole Opry in 1945. It features Dorris Macon playing the guitar and Uncle Dave Macon sitting in the middle with his banjo. A vaudeville performer, Uncle Dave Macon was known for his lively and lengthy performances, which led to him becoming the first star of the Grand Ole Opry.

These photographs by Inscho Sr. reveal a once-in-a-lifetime experience where he and his wife got to see a great show with musicians of huge talent and fabled status perform. This experience was special to Inscho Sr., and the memories and record of them are now special to his son. We feel very privileged that Lawrence chose to share these photographs with us – it is personal stories and objects like these that make up a truly special part of the museum’s collections.

* If you want to hear more from Lawrence Inscho, check out Kris Truelsen’s On the Sunny Side show on Wednesdays. From 10:00 to 11:00 AM every Wednesday, Lawrence shares music primarily from his personal collection, a significant portion of which came from his father.

Radio Bristol Book Club: The Summer of the Swans

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club! Inspired by the museum’s current special exhibit – Reading Appalachia: Voices from Children’s Literature – readers from the Birthplace of Country Music and the Bristol Public Library are coming together each month to celebrate and explore one book featured in the exhibit. We invite you to read along and then listen in on the fourth Thursday of each month at 11—11:30am when we will dig deep into the feelings and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

Four pictures of the Reading Appalachia exhibit, including the exhibits opening panels focused on what is Appalachia (far left), a little girl interacting with one of the character cut-outs of a bear (near left), a view of the entire gallery showing the panels throughout (near right), and a pile of books from the exhibit on the table in the gallery (far right).
The Reading Appalachia special exhibit is a wonderland of characters and stories for kids and adults alike, and it gives us a whole host of books to choose from for book club! © Birthplace of Country Music Museum

The book for May is The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars, and we will be discussing this Newbery Award-winning novel on May 23 at 11am live on Radio Bristol.

In Byars’ coming-of-age story, we meet 14-year-old Sara Godfrey as she is struggling with growing up and understanding her emotions and changing appearance. She is having a terrible summer and having to take care of her younger brother Charlie, who has an intellectual disability, just adds to the feeling of responsibility that is weighing her down. One afternoon, Sara takes Charlie to see the swans who stop near their home every summer during their annual migration. That night, Charlie disappears into the woods while searching for the swans and Sara, who feels responsible for his disappearance, knows that she must do whatever it takes to find her brother.

Three covers of the book, all showing Sara sitting with her brother as they watch the swans. The middle cover has a psychedelic feel to its illustration.

The many covers of The Summer of the Swans over the years capture the bond between the two siblings, a central theme of the book.

Betsy Byars has won many awards for books and is well-known for writing about young people at odds with themselves and the world. The Summer of the Swans follows this vein and, for some of us, takes our minds back to the days when we were 14 and trying to find our own way in the world.

We cannot wait to bring Betsy Byars’ The Summer of the Swans to Radio Bristol Book Club! We hope you can join us as we discuss this beautifully written and poignant novel. You can pick up a copy at your favorite local bookstore or stop by the Bristol Public Library and check out a copy today! The librarians at the Bristol Public Library will be happy to help you find a copy of the book in any format that suits you best, from book to audiobook, and even e-books.

Make plans to join us at 11am on Thursday, May 23 for Radio Bristol Book Club!