August 2019 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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A Hot Summer Night in the City of Bristol at August’s Farm and Fun Time

August’s Farm and Fun Time showcased some of the best in contemporary bluegrass! 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 on this summer evening with the sunny Roger Miller classic, “Walking in the Sunshine.” Following their always fun and lighthearted performance, things got corny – cream corny that is! – as Charles Parker shared an old family recipe for cream corn for Farm and Fun Time’s “Heirloom Recipe.” A champion of local Southwest Virginia food and the chef at Abingdon’s Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace, Parker learned to love local produce and utilize it in his dishes from his grandma. An important part of Appalachian foodways is canning, and Parker recalls preparing cream corn to can. In honor of the labor that goes into this recipe, Bill and the Belles sang a new song: “The Corn Shuckin’ Song.”

Left: Bill and the Belles -- Andrew Small on bass, Kalie Yeagle on fiddle, Kris Truelsen on guitar, and Helena Hunt on banjo -- gather round the mic. Right: Charlie Parker telling the story of his family's cream corn recipe with the audience.
Bill and the Belles welcomed the Farm and Fun Time crowd with a sunny tune, while Charles Parker’s cream corn recipe got people’s mouths watering! © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Our evening’s first musical guest was Irene Kelley. With a songwriting career that spans the past three decades, she’s had songs recorded by Alan Jackson, Loretta Lynn, Ricky Skaggs, and a score of other Nashville stars. However, Irene has maintained a strong following in her own right, and for August’s Farm and Fun Time, she performed songs off her recent project, Benny’s TV Repair. Singing about trains and home and even paying homage to Native Americans, Kelley’s strong songwriting captivated our audience, and her capable band brought these timeless stories to life.

Left: Close up of Irene Kelley singing with her eyes closed and playing the guitar at the mic. Center: Irene Kelley with the bass player in the background and the mandolin player to her side. Right: Irene Kelley's banjo player in a red shirt.
Irene Kelley and her band performed songs filled with storytelling and nostalgia from her recent album. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

This month’s “Radio Bristol Farm Report” showcased Chuckey, Tennessee’s own Greene Hemp Company. Our visit to the Ole Appalachian Hemp Farm was an informative experience where we learned about this sustainable and versatile product! Here’s a video from our visit:

For the Farm and Fun Time team and our live and on-air audiences, it was a great pleasure to have the Lonesome River Band, one of the longest running and most influential bluegrass bands on the scene today. Founded 37 years ago, Lonesome River Band has been bringing a fresh take on the traditions of bluegrass music with their distinct drive and high-energy performances. Performing a mix of original songs and classics, the Southwest Virginia- based group brought down the house with soulful singings and hard-driving playing. In the 1940s, the bluegrass bands that performed on WCYB’s original Farm and Fun Time were pushing the boundaries of what was then simply country music. With Lonesome River Band as a group that has perpetuated the innovation of those groups, it was a full circle moment to have them on the stage for our continuation of the WCYB show’s legacy.

Left: Close up of the banjo and guitar players singing and playing at the mic; Top right: The full band on the Farm and Fun Time stage; Middle right: Close up of the bass player; Bottom right: Close up of the fiddle player.
The musicians from the Lonesome River Band brought a great mix of bluegrass tunes to the Farm and Fun Time audience. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Thanks to everyone who came and helped make August’s Farm and Fun Time another successful evening of fun and music! September’s show will be part of Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, so stayed tuned for a special announcement. Tickets are on sale for October’s Farm and Fun Time featuring Chatham County Line, Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, and host band Bill and the Belles. We hope to see you there!

Radio Bristol Book Club: The Ballad of Tom Dooley

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club! Readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library are coming together each month to celebrate and explore one book inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage. 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 August is The Ballad of Tom Dooley by Sharyn McCrumb, and we will be discussing this fictional re-telling of the real-life murder of Laura Foster in 1865 in North Carolina. Join us as we discuss The Ballad of Tom Dooley on August 22 at 11am on Radio Bristol – locally on 100.1 FM or via the website or app.

The Ballad of Tom Dooley cover shows a woman in 1800s dress from the back -- she is standing in a field looking towards the mountains in the distance.
Cover of The Ballad of Tom Dooley from www.sharynmccrumb.com.

Upon returning home from the Civil War, Tom Dula finds himself on trial for the murder of his lover, Laura Foster. Dula is convicted and hanged for his crime, but there is much more to this story than just one of star-crossed lovers and scorned women. With this book, Sharyn McCrumb set out to write a fictionalized version of the events that were made famous by the song “Tom Dooley,” with the most well-known version by The Kingston Trio. However, her research helped to find a missing piece of the story that changed everything everyone thought they knew about Laura’s murder.

Sharyn McCrumb, who lives and writes in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, has published over 25 novels, along with short stories and contributions to non-fiction works. McCrumb’s books celebrate the beauty and tragedy of Appalachian history and culture. Her stories, particularly in her Ballad series, are rich and full of the legend and richness that we know Appalachia to have. The Ballad of Tom Dooley has all of this richness and more, and has often been called an Appalachian Wuthering Heights.

We cannot wait to share our thoughts on The Ballad of Tom Dooley with all of our listeners at Radio Bristol Book Club! We hope you can join us as we discuss this beautiful and tragic story of love and betrayal. 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, August 22 for Radio Bristol Book Club!

Off the Record: First Songs by Michael Hurley

Our Radio Bristol DJs 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.

One of the things that I love most about music is how we form bonds with sound internally, that moment when a song or an album can become “part of us.” It’s not always about how great the production is, or how perfectly everything is written; it’s about something we can’t grasp consciously, something that “strikes a chord” within us. I also find it interesting that periods of my life have been defined by what music I was listening to at that time. I’ve been inspired to think differently by a song, to pick up a new point of view and run wild with it after hearing a line in a verse. 

When I first started writing songs I was listening intently to two artists, for no apparent reason, other than they were resonating with me, and therefore defining that space in time. Those artists were the “King of Country” Hank Williams Sr. and the lesser known, though still reverently followed, Greenwich Village folkie Michael Hurley. His album was passed along to me on a scratched, Sharpie-scribbled burnt CD. When I pushed it into my old van’s disc player and listened, it turned my world upside down, or right side up…or whichever direction my head might have been headed in – expanding what I thought about songwriting, and what experiencing music could be for me. 

Picture shows album cover with Mike Hurley holding a guitar in front of a wood paneled wall. Record is slightly out of record sleeve.
Vinyl album of First Songs. Image from www.merchbar.com

Recorded in 1963 by Smithsonian Folkways on the same reel-to-reel machine that taped Lead Belly’s Last Sessions, First Songs is a collection of early work, put down when Michael Hurley was just 22 years old. The album was created with absolute simplicity, featuring only Hurley’s raw and expressive singing and a thumping acoustic guitar. The immediacy of his voice is lulling and warm, and his effortless crack into a yodel-esque vocal break lets us know that we are listening to a very special singer. The album sounds somewhere between a lethargic summertime country blues romp and a roughhousing porch jam. You can hear a foot tapping naturally throughout the recording, and every note is at once unapologetically quirky and endearingly human.

Black-and-white photograph of Michael Hurley in a check shirt and cowboy-style hat, standing beside a car and holding a drink bottle.
A young Michael Hurley looking rowdy and ready. Image from www.last.fm

The album starts with the dreamy and nostalgic tune “Blue Mountain” – perfect for a sluggish sun-drenched afternoon during the “dog days” of summer. The track rounds out at over six minutes long, shrugging off any constraints of time, or care for the workaday world. This song has sent me past worry, feeling like a relaxed remembrance of a beautiful place, perhaps inspired by the singer’s childhood home in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Another track that lingers well past commercial playability is “The Tea Song,” which is over seven minutes long. Possibly made to be listened to as you wait for water to boil, the song highlights Hurley’s unique qualities as a songwriter, showcasing his ability to pair everyday experience with philosophical outlooks. I enjoy how his voice seems to be at once masterfully crooning/mournfully hollering about a lost love and “his thoughts and dreams that are distilled in the tea.”

The track “Just a Bum” feels like a nod to Woody Guthrie as it romanticizes the idea of a fireside poet who accidentally stumbles onto love while “traveling over land like a natural-born man.” To me this song speaks of the American folk music tradition, giving us a glimpse at the inner world of a roving performer, train hopper, and truth-teller. It’s jangling strum and unbridled singing make it feel up to snuff with anything else that’s part of the folk music cannon. 

After recording First Songs, Hurley went on to become a fixture of the Greenwich Village folk music scene of the 1960s, recording with bands such as The Holy Modal Rounders and Jeffrey Frederick & the Clamtones. He has also been held in high regard by artists such as Lucinda Williams, Vic Chesnutt, Woods, Calexico, Cat Power, Robin Holcomb, and Julian Lynch. Throughout his career of 31 releases, he has continuously blurred the edges between traditional folk, country, blues, and outsider music. Hurley has recently gained a dedicated following after Locust Music reissued First Songs under the new title of Blueberry Wine in 2001. Since then, he has been touring and has released more than 12 albums.

Black-and-white photograph of an older Michael Hurley wearing a cap and strumming a guitar.
Michael Hurley pictured looking contemplative with arch top guitar. Image from www.last.fm

I hope that this album is as special to some of you as it has been for me. And I want to encourage folks to follow their own “folk process,” finding music that for some reason feels meaningful and becomes part of your own story!