There is a book on the shelves in the museum’s Blue Stocking Club Learning Center that I come back to time and time again – Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia by Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr. This wonderful book chronicles the history of the ballad from its origins to its place in our very own Appalachian Mountains. Beautifully written, with equally beautiful artwork and photographs, it tells the story in a meandering manner, taking the reader down old and new roads, mimicking the ballad journey itself.
The story of ballads is greater than what can be covered in a blog post, but I want to share what I have learned from Wayfaring Strangers, giving readers a small glimpse into that history in a fairly simplistic and straightforward manner. However, I encourage you to also read this book to learn more; it captured my heart – and it is sure to capture your heart too!
Ballads go further back in pre-recorded history than initially thought, to the seafaring civilizations sharing cultures via storytelling and music. There is no one single point of ballad origin; rather points as disperse as Scandinavia, Germany, Western Europe, Scotland, Ireland, England, and the Mediterranean all had a role to play. For example, there is an old-style epic narrative performed in Connemara, Ireland that is nearly identical to a Bedouin style.
Scottish poet, folklorist, and songwriter Hamish Henderson called the ballad journey the “carrying stream,” a perfect analogy for its meandering ways through ages, cultures, and configurations. Ballads were an oral tradition for disparate, often illiterate populations wherein stories, news, commerce, commentary, protest, and dance could be part of the delivery. As they traveled, ballads were subject to many influences and variations, both to their words and music, and often the same ballad may have different tunes or one tune may be associated with several different ballads. Over time and space, it was the best lyrics and tunes that continued along the carrying stream.
As to the Scots-Irish ballad tradition that is quite familiar in the Appalachians, it begins with a Nordic-Baltic influence arriving early on the Scottish shores. Northeast Aberdeenshire is considered the cradle of Scottish balladry with distinct language, customs, and folklore created out of isolation and seafaring influences. Western Scots and Irish people shared their traditions as well via the short sea route between them, and the Scottish and English border counties added further influences, all contributing to the oral-to-written evolution.
The ramifications of politics and palace intrigue over the course of the ballad history were many and varied, and the resulting diaspora impacted the story. One such dispersing was the Scots to Ulster Ireland and then on to the American colonies. It is this carrying steam that brought the ballad tradition to our mountains. The majority of these immigrants arrived at various ports northward and traveled down the Wilderness Road to the Appalachian Mountains. The pioneers settled in valleys and coves throughout the mountains, bringing their musical heritage with them – a heritage that merged with other traditions, styles, and songs found in the Appalachians including those of Native Americans, enslaved peoples from Africa, and other ethnic groups. It is this mixing that eventually evolved to be recognized as old-time country music.
As Wayfaring Strangersnotes: “Music provided the social fabric, creating a sense of community amid isolation and reinforcing identity. That said, while the Scots-Irish origin is clearly the dominant one, it is the braiding and weaving of European, African and indigenous American influences that creates the unique tapestry of Appalachian music.”
The long tradition and the evolution of ballads is further underlined by Bascom Lamar Lunsford, western North Carolina Minstrel of the Mountains, when he tells us “… that though the words changed from country to country, and generation to generation, even from valley to valley in the same range of hills, the essence of the music changed not at all. It formed a link, unbroken, back through time, tying to the past.”
Music was – and still is – reward at the end of a long day’s work, something to share in front of a winter fire or on a summer porch, and an act of community as voices are raised together at barn raisings, harvests, market days, and other events and occasions. And, of course, this included the teaching of these traditions to succeeding generations of children and grandchildren.
This ballad heritage was found at the Bristol Sessions in some of the songs, which were then shared through the recordings on a much wider scale. This music was a continuation of the carrying stream, and that musical migration continues through today’s carriers and tradition bearers – they too are immersed in the carrying steam. And old-time country music and the storytelling it is a part of, along with music festivals the world over and our museum visitors from every state and over 44 countries, all testify to that continuing journey.
From jug band blues to a tropical beat, June 13’s Farm and Fun Time was hotter than the approaching summer! Thanks to our sponsor Eastman Credit Union, Radio Bristol was able to bring Farm and Fun Time not only to 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 some original tunes that showcased their always stellar harmonies. Our “Heirloom Recipe” segment this month was presented by Radio Bristol’s own Toni Doman. Growing up in West Virginia, Toni has fond memories of watching her grandmother make homemade pies. As her grandmother was never one to have too many cooks in the kitchen, Toni only observed the creation of these culinary delights. One Christmas, Toni received a book of her grandmother’s pie recipes – including raisin, which sounds odd but apparently is delicious! Toni shared a recipe for everyone’s summer staple, cherry pie, and the tale was made even better by Summer Apostol’s compelling sound effects. To show off just how great this recipe was, Toni baked a delicious cherry pie, complete with a Radio Bristol logo. Bill and the Belles then sang a tune about the perfect pairing of cherry pie and vanilla ice cream.
Our first musical guest of the evening was Birmingham, Alabama’s Steel City Jug Slammers. Inducted into the Jug Band Hall of Fame in 2017, the Steel City Jug Slammers capture the essence of the jug band music that would have filled the air of the American south during the early 1900s. Plucking on a washtub bass and blowing on kazoos and jugs, the band continues the jug band tradition of performing on improvised instruments. Though the band performed a rendition of “He’s in the Jailhouse Now,” much akin to the Memphis Jug Band’s classic version, the Jug Slammers write and perform much of their own music, which sounds like it could have appeared on a pre-war 78 record. The Jug Slammers high energy set moved the Farm and Fun Time audience to clap their hands and stomp their feet!
Our last guest of the evening was West Virginia’s rising star, Sierra Ferrell. Though influenced heavily by the sounds of her native Appalachia, Sierra has woven the experience of suffering and triumph of common people everywhere into stories that she presents in a style that is all her own. Sierra’s voice weaves a sonic tapestry that takes listeners from a 1930s jazz club to a neon-lit honky tonk to a tropical island paradise and all the way back to the mountains of West Virginia. Not only a gifted vocalist, Sierra’s funky guitar lines backed by an all-star band create another phenomenal dimension of her music. Performing original tunes such as “Why’d You Do It?” and “In Dreams,” Sierra was one of the most compelling performers to grace our Farm and Fun Time stage. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for her!
Location, location, location! That’s one of the reasons Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion is one of the most fun and unique festivals on the planet. Historic Downtown Bristol, VA-TN is a gem, and Bristol Rhythm partially exists to showcase its charm. Downtown has undergone a complete transformation over the past decade or so, with tons of locally owned breweries, restaurants, shops, galleries, high-end loft spaces, and businesses moving in and creating a vibrant energy. Investors have lovingly restored so many aging and crumbling properties, and the success of our festival helps keep businesses thriving.
Bristol born and raised, I love my hometown. I am so proud of the fine progress made downtown, and I’m so grateful to business owners who open their doors to our festival. We want to see them all succeed, and its part of BCM’s mission to be of economic benefit to the region. They provide so much light and love to what we do, so I wanted to highlight a few of those businesses here through a virtual mini-tour of our stages and venues.
Careful thought goes into the placement of our Bristol Rhythm main stages so that hey highlight important landmarks and buildings. Some indoor stages are located in venues already equipped for live performance. One thing is for certain, every stage has its own magic and distinct atmosphere. Thank you, Bristol, for providing the perfect backdrop for everything we do!
1. State Street Stage
The State Street Stage, haloed by the luminescent 100-year-old Bristol Sign, was once located one block up on State Street – closer to the Paramount. As audiences grew, the stage was pushed back to accommodate more people. I love this view looking down a sea of people toward the sign. It’s also a great stage for photo opps!
2. Piedmont Stage
The Piedmont Stage has also seen some transition over the years. It’s first location was in front of Burger Bar facing Stateline Bar & Grille. It was later pushed back to the corner of Goode and Piedmont. We think it has now found a final resting place! It’s located near our beloved Bristol Public Library, which underwent renovations in the 1990s. The beautiful metal sculpture archway on the corner was created for the library by internationally known fantasy artist Charles Vess, who has also designed three festival posters for Bristol Rhythm over the years.
3. Country Music Mural Stage
For the most part, the Country Music Mural Stage is dedicated to bluegrass and traditional country music. The City of Bristol, Tennessee built a stage in front of the Country Music Mural many years ago to house live music year-round. For the first few years, we utilized that stage at Bristol Rhythm. The photo opportunities were great, but the bands weren’t elevated enough to give fans a good view, and it was difficult to load equipment in and out through the crowds. The solution of an added stage here also gives festival goers more shaded seating on the original stage, plus there’s better access for the artists and sound techs with the new stage. Designed by Tim White, a local musician and producer/host of Song of the Mountains, the Country Music Mural is an important landmark in Historic Downtown Bristol.
4. Cumberland Square Park Stage
Nothing beats an evening set of music at Cumberland Square Park! The City of Bristol, Virginia constructed this massive permanent stage for live music events year-round, and we love it! Families attending the festival flock to this stage for the shade it provides, and it isn’t unusual to see someone tying up a hammock between the trees! The park also serves as a memorial to our service men and women. The impressive sculptures depicting each branch of our Armed Forces and an eternal flame stand proudly below a genuine AH-1 Cobra helicopter that once flew in Vietnam.
5. The Paramount Stage
Paramount Bristol is the crown jewel of Historic Downtown. Originally opened in 1931, this gorgeous art deco gem went through some hard times in the late 1960s and 1970s as Bristol’s downtown fell into decline. Sadly, the theater closed its doors in 1979. It was saved by the nonprofit Paramount Foundation and reopened in 1991. Today it is a thriving performing arts center and a beautiful venue for live music! We are so fortunate to have such an amazing venue during Bristol Rhythm; it’s the ultimate listening room experience!
6. The Cameo Theatre
The Cameo is back! Established as a vaudeville theater in 1925, The Cameo Theatre ranks among the 15 oldest in the state of Virginia. A long-awaited restoration of this 550-seat beauty has been made by owner Brent Buchanan, and he plans to host a mix of live entertainment and films. The sound in this space for live music is lush, and it has an amazing balcony space for taking in shows. Not a bad seat in the house!
7. Near Moore Stage
Hidden in a small parking lot between two buildings, the Near Moore Stage is named such because, well, it’s near Moore Street! Cozy, with just the right amount of shade and ambiance, it is formerly known as the Eatz on Moore Street Stage because it was once located on the tiny street in front of Eatz on Moore Street restaurant. Hands-down the best soul food in the Tri-Cities, I highly recommend Mark and Lisa Canty’s barbecue or catfish plated with collards, mac’n’cheese, and sweet cornbread – and don’t forget their homemade banana pudding! You can grab it to go and picnic at the stage or enjoy the music from an outdoor table top at Eatz. There is nothing quite like Near Moore at twilight!
8. 6th Street Stage
The 6th Street Stage is among the newest at Bristol Rhythm, located on the “Tennessee side” on the narrow, one-way street for which it is named. Located near Mountain Empire Comics and Top Hat Magic, this is what I like to call the “anything goes” stage – meaning any type of band could be playing on this stage at any time. Stadium seating has been added, and Lisa Martin’s Bank Street café provides a lovely beverage garden stage-side. Her chicken salad croissants and crab cakes are also amazing! Sinful Chicago-style deep dish pizza is served across the way at The Angry Italian by Certified Executive Chef Keith Yonker; we recommend calling it in early as prep time takes around 45 minutes. Worth the wait!
9. 7th Street Stage/Dance Tent
Also a newer stage, the 7th Street Stage has morphed quite a bit over the past few years. We’ve now merged it with the Dance Tent to create a fun atmosphere where bands and fans are protected from the elements while they groove. Its located beside the century-old L.C. King Manufacturing Co., family-owned in Bristol for four generations. We highly recommend browsing the racks for some authentic Pointer Brand clothing. It’s become the unofficial outfitter of festival musicians, as they flock to its showroom every year in search of cool duds.
10. O’Mainnin’s Pub & Grill
Out back at O’Mainnin’s Pub & Grill you’ll find a little creek side oasis complete with Tiki hut and an eclectic mix of music. I love the dive-bar vibe at O’Mainnin’s – and I mean that as a high compliment! It’s the after-hours hangout for local restaurant industry folk and night-cappers, and owner Dave Manning and his staff are some of the finest people you’ll ever meet. Bonus: they have a jukebox!
11. Machiavelli’s Outdoor Tent
The Machiavelli’s Outdoor Tent is an extension of the 5th Street restaurant of the same name. This tent is always hoppin’ and it’s just steps away from the Paramount, Theatre Bristol, and State Street Stages. I call it the “distraction” stage because I always get sucked in to whatever amazing performance is going on there when passing by. Fun fact: the first year St. Paul & the Broken Bones played the festival, they performed under this tent.
12. Machiavelli’s Indoors
In addition to the outdoor tent, Machiavelli’s hosts an intimate indoor stage. Amazing restaurant owners Dave and Val Jun, along with their kind staff, man the taps and fire the tastiest brick oven pizzas ever! Our offices are right across the street and we can’t resist the Italian nachos! Sometimes we ask for Italian nacho toppings on a pizza – SO. GOOD! – and we’re big fans of the Margherita pizza and Mediterranean pasta. Machiavelli’s is one of those places that makes you feel right at home. So grateful for good neighbors!
13. Theatre Bristol
Theatre Bristol has been an institution in our community since 1965 when it was established as a children’s theater. The intimate space seats 100 people, perfect for an intimate performance, and larger performances are often moved to the Paramount next door. Generations of Bristolians have grown up with Theatre Bristol, and Theatre Bristol continues to educate children in the wonders of live theater year-round. This space has been witness to hundreds of great performances over the years; it’s very dear to our hearts!
14. Stateline Bar & Grille
Stateline Bar & Grille has been an anchor to State Street since 2002. The building’s restoration was among the first restaurant projects happening on State Street during a pivotal time of investment, and owners Annette Estes and Amy Booher helped set the bar high for other restaurateurs coming in with their business acumen and work ethic. It’s a terrific place to sit down and enjoy a great meal while taking in live music during the festival! The woodwork inside is craftsmanship at its finest. The gorgeous bar, mirrors and all, were purchased by Fred Bartlett for his Rockefeller’s Oyster Bar at this location in the 1990s. He bought it from a downtown bank that was closing. Workers literally rolled the bar down State Street from its former location.
15. Borderline Billiards
Borderline Billiards is owned by WPBA billiards champion Janet Atwell, and lots of love has gone into this venue over the years. On regular business days, the pool tables are open to friendly competition, but during the festival they are covered so patrons can enjoy the music. For the past couple of years, Borderline has run a beverage garden behind the building and beside the 7th Street Stage/Dance Tent. A classy alternative to the stereotypical “pool hall,” Borderline is a family establishment with 9′ Brunswick Gold Crown tables where one can order from the menu, throw darts, or play ping pong. A fantastic and fun addition to Downtown Bristol!
16. Quaker Steak & Lube
Yes. That is a Corvette mounted to the ceiling above the band. Quaker Steak & Lube is one of the few chain restaurants located downtown, and this franchise is owned by locals Jeff Tickle, Blair Jones, and J. J. Gillenwater of the Bristol-based real estate investment firm The Albatross Group. The automotive-inspired theme restaurant offers a decor of vintage cars and garage memorabilia, and hosts bike nights throughout the year. The hot wings are their specialty, fuel to get you revved up between or during sets.
17. Studio Brew
Only a smidgen off the beaten path, but well worth a brisk walk past Cumberland Square Park, Master Brewer Erich Allen’s Studio Brew was among the first craft breweries to locate downtown, opening the tap for a wave of others to follow. Artisans of the trade, Studio Brew renovated a historic train freight warehouse built in 1909 on Moore Street where they brew, bottle, seal, and ship their recipes. Studio Brew has expanded distribution throughout Tennessee, Virginia, and soon into South Carolina. Their tapas and brew pairings are only matched by the classy, but warm, establishment where you can peer into the brewing room while sampling a flight of robust and tasty recipes.
18. Shanghai Stage
Shanghai Chinese Restaurant has been family owned and operated by Xian Chen and his wife Ying since 1996. The Chens and their three young children have worked hard to create the friendliest space possible for their yummy dishes, and through the years Shanghai has been voted the best Chinese restaurant in Bristol. An expansion was made in recent years to accommodate their loyal and new customers, and we highly recommend the buffet! You’ll find it a calming atmosphere to take in an acoustic act or singer-songwriter while noshing on dumplings and rice during Bristol Rhythm.
19. Bloom Café & Listening Room
The newest addition to our little downtown family, Bloom Cafe & Listening Room is a cozy coffee shop where live music and art converge amongst vintage furnishings and espresso-based drinks. Open seven days a week, Bloom hosts fun trivia nights and offers the community a chill place to meet up with friends or write the great American novel. I highly recommend stopping here for breakfast!
20. Birthplace of Country Music Museum
Though technically not a stage at Bristol Rhythm, the “acoustically perfect” Performance Theater at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum hosts a number of Radio Bristol Sessions the community can attend without a festival ticket. These programs are broadcast live on the air in the Bristol area at 100.1 FM and online at ListenRadioBristol.org. Lineups for these pop-up programs are announced closer to festy; be sure and watch social media for updates! The Indigo Girls performed a Session when they performed in 2017! With only 100 seats available, you’ll want to line up early for these intimate shows!
For our “Pick 5” blog series, we ask members of the Radio Bristol team to pick five songs within a given theme – from heartsongs to murder ballads and everything in between! Once they pick their “5,” they get the chance to tell us more about why they chose those songs. With a diverse staff of knowledgeable DJs, we’re sure to get some interesting song choices, which might introduce you to some new music, all easily accessible by tuning into Radio Bristol! This month’s “Pick 5” is from Toni Doman, host of Radio Bristol’s Mountain Song & Story airing Thursdays at 4pm!
Isn’t it ironic that I’m stuck inside writing about how badly I want to leave the office and enjoy the great outdoors? I’m so ready to enjoy the month of June and kickstart National Great Outdoors month! What could be better than taking in the fresh mountain air and soaking up sunshine (with proper sunscreen, of course) while in sight of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains?
This summer, I’ll be doing my best to take advantage of all that the Tri-Cities area has to offer: hiking, biking, paddling, you name it! There truly is something out there for everyone to enjoy, and you don’t have to be an expert in outdoor recreation to have a great time. Some of my favorite outdoor activities in and around the Tri-Cities include hiking to visit the wild ponies at Grayson Highlands State Park and taking it easy in the shade near South Holston Lake. Other great spots stand out such as the Virginia Creeper Trail, which extends from Abingdon to Whitetop, or you can even explore the local entry points to the Appalachian Trail, which covers 14 states spanning over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine! Nothing quite compares to the unique scenery of the Appalachian mountain landscape, and Roan Mountain State Park also has some stunning views. These are just a few of the great places where you can embrace Mother Nature and all she has to offer in the local area – check out Visit Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association to learn more!
Now that you’re as excited as me about our nearby natural beauties,
here are a few tunes that are sure to get you ready for camping (it’s in-tents…)
and all things outdoors this June!
“Where the River Meets the Road,”
Grammy winner, singer-songwriter, and West Virginia native Tim O’Brien released the album Where the River Meets the Road in 2017 with Howdy Skies Records. The full album pays homage to his West Virginia roots and features songs that have a connection to his home state. With influential artists like Hazel Dickens and Bill Withers, it is also a tribute to prominent artists that are associated with West Virginia. As a native of the mountain state myself, this classic album generates nostalgia for Appalachian culture and is sure to get the listener in touch with their mountain roots.
“Sunshine on My Shoulders,” John
After a long and seemingly endless winter, I’ve been in serious and dire need of sunshine on my shoulders. Influential and notable singer-songwriter John Denver’s melancholy folk song makes me feel like I’m floating down a lazy river with not a care in the world. The song made its first appearance on Denver’s album Poems, Prayers & Promises released in 1971, and according to songfacts.com, Denver’s inspiration and reason for writing the song was that he wanted to spend more time outside enjoying the sunshine. I think we can all relate!
“My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge
Mountains,” The Carter Family
The slow-moving melody and repetitive lyrics of this classic Carter Family song invoke a feeling and longing for the journey home. Originally released by Decca records with lyrics written by A. P. Carter, this version of the song was recorded on June 18, 1937 in New York, a time when the career of the Carter Family was in full swing. Anyone who has passed through the Blue Ridge Mountains can likely relate to the feelings of being drawn to these hills and valleys.
“Lewis & Clark,” Tommy
The outdoors can often be a place for us to practice individual self-reflection, to set out on adventure, and to explore new sights and sounds. Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel takes you on an instrumental journey, inspired by the real adventures of Lewis & Clark. Maybe this tune will inspire you to start your own journey!
“Green Green Rocky Road,” Dave
American folk and blues legend Dave Van Ronk was an influential and prominent figure in the American folk music revival. “Green Green Rocky Road” was composed by Len Chandler and was one of the most requested songs over the course of his career. The song lyrics were largely pulled from a traditional African American children’s song with the melody added to and rewritten. As with all music, songs can take you on a personal journey, and for me this song evokes a sense of travel and longing to get lost out in nature.
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!
The book for June is The Journal of Jesse Smoke. A Cherokee Boy by Joseph Bruchac, and we will be discussing this novel on June 27 at 11am live on Radio Bristol.
The Journal of Jesse Smoke is part of book series published by Scholastic Books, each historical novel written in the form of a diary or journal by a boy or girl during an important period of American history. Jesse Smoke is a Cherokee boy living in Tennessee who chronicles the final debate over the fate of the Cherokee nation and then their harrowing days on the Trail of Tears in 1838. The story – from the loss of their homes and land to the cruelties and the prejudice they faced, and sprinkled throughout with historical facts, Cherokee words and traditions, and the stories of other members of his tribe – is made even more real through its telling in the teenage voice of Jesse. The book serves as a poignant and powerful view into this tragic chapter in American history.
Joseph Bruchac is a member of the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe. He lives in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, where he works with other family members to preserve the native culture of the region. Bruchac has written over 120 books for both children and adults, along with hundreds of articles, poems, and stories, and he has won numerous awards including the Cherokee Nation Prose Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas in 1999.
We cannot wait to bring Joseph Bruchac’s The Journal of Jesse Smoke to Radio Bristol Book Club! We hope you can join us as we discuss this wonderfully detailed historic novel. Stop by the Bristol Public Library and check out a copy today – the librarians will be happy to help you find the book!
Make plans to join us at 11am on Thursday,
June 27 for Radio Bristol Book Club! You can tune in locally at 100.1 FM or
listen via the website or app.