September 2019 - The Birthplace of Country Music
Loading station info...

Ken Burns’ Country Music: It’s FINALLY Here!

We don’t know about you, but we are EXCITED! After several years of prep by the filmmakers – including extensive interviews, research time in archives and libraries, conversations and debates, music performances galore, long road trips and late nights, and editing and production – PBS’s Country Music: A Film by Ken Burns is finally here!

The first 2-hour episode – “The Rub (Beginnings – 1933)” – airs on PBS on Sunday, September 15 at 8pm ET, and its blurb notes: “‘Hillbilly music’ reaches new listeners through phonographs and radio, launching the careers of country music’s first big stars – the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.” For those of you who know us already, you know that the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers recorded for the very first time here in Bristol, Tennessee-Virginia at the now famous 1927 Bristol Sessions. And you know that our town celebrates this history and its impact and legacy in so many ways, including the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, and Radio Bristol. (By the way, if you didn’t know this, it’s a cool history so come visit us!)

Left: A view down Bristol's State Street. Center: Several musicians on the Ryman stage in front of a packed audience. Right: Johnny Cash sitting on a cash with several instruments around him.
PBS promotional images from Country Music. Left: Episode 1 (Downtown Bristol, c.1927. Courtesy of Bristol Historical Association ). Center: Episode 5 ( The Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, c, 1960. Courtesy of Les Leverett photograph, Grand Ole Opry Archives). Right: Episode 5 (Johnny Cash at his home in California, 1960.  Courtesy of Sony Music Archives).

For us, seeing this musical heritage recognized and celebrated by a filmmaker like Ken Burns is pretty amazing. The documentary features Bristol’s story and the many people who were part of that story, exploring their integral role in the development of early commercial county music. Over eight episodes and sixteen and a half hours of viewing, the film traces the path of country music – “a uniquely American art form” – from its influences and origins in ballads, blues, and sacred music through its evolution into different sounds and manifestations and then on to its global popularity today. Viewers will get the chance to see footage and photographs, and hear stories and histories, never before revealed, along with interviews with over 80 artists. This is TV worth watching.

BCM was fortunate to get to spend some time with the Country Music filmmakers and their wider team during the research process and then again in March 2019 as the Country Music kick-off road show hit the highways and byways. Back in 2014, not long after the museum opened, we shared some of our own research into the photographs and media used in the museum with Florentine Films, later giving them access to some of our collection for digital scanning and research purposes. We also had a fun day facilitating filming with a local phonograph collector, spending time with him beforehand to find the perfect machine and then getting to watch the filming in action a couple of months later!

Left: Bob Bledsoe sitting on a couch with four members of the BCM team, each holding a wax cylinder. Several phonographs can be seen in the background. Right: A phonograph with a red morning glory horn is central in the picture with film crew around it working lights and image.
Left: Bob Bledsoe with his phonographs and the BCM team on the day we scoped out which phonograph would get to be in a Ken Burns’ documentary. Right: The film crew at work on getting the right digital footage of the phonograph. © Birthplace of Country Music

And then, on Sunday, March 24, 2019, Burns – along with his Emmy Award-winning creative team including producers Dayton Duncan and Julie Dunfey – arrived in Bristol on a large tour bus to kick off the promotion for Country Music. They were also joined by Old Crow Medicine Show’s frontman Ketch Secor, whose love of the history of country music made him a frequent collaborator with the team. This event at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum was the start of their 30-city promotional road show tour. You can hear more about that event in our blog post here.

Top left: Ken Burns and Ketch Secor talking into mics during the Q&A at the museum; Top right: Secor, Burns, Dayton Duncan, and Julie Dunfey pointing to the PBS logo on their road show bus; Bottom left: Burns being interviewed by media in the museum's exhibits; Bottom right: Burns in the museum's exhibits with the head curator.
During his time at the museum, Burns and his team took a private tour of the exhibits, led by Head Curator Rene Rodgers, which was followed by a reception in the museum’s Special Exhibits Gallery. Local and national journalists got the chance to speak directly with the filmmakers, who later provided a real treat for the event attendees: a short screening with a clip from the film and an in-depth Q&A session. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk

What’s great about a Ken Burns project is that not only is all of the research and in-depth stories and interviews presented via the film itself, but there will also be a host of ways to explore the subject even more deeply – from a book to the soundtrack (as a 2-disc CD and a 5-disc DC box set) to vinyl LPs to DVDs and Blu-Rays of the full show. The DVD and Blu-Ray extras include a preview program, a behind-the-scenes look at how the film was made, and material gleaned from hours of interviews. All of these items will be on sale and available at The Museum Store!

A shot of The Museum Store entrance with promotional displays related to Ken Burns' Country Music.
The Country Music display at The Museum Store. © Birthplace of Country Music

Everything to do with Country Music has been a thrill for us – from being able to help the Florentine Films team in a small way to getting to be the first leg on the promotional road show to seeing Bristol’s important musical history honored and celebrated in the resulting documentary. It has also been wonderful to see Burns talking about Bristol as a place that people should come visit as part of their pilgrimage to truly explore the history of country music – we hope to see you here soon! But most of all, we are so grateful to see the overwhelming passion, engaged interest, and profound understanding that Burns and his team have shown when they talk about country music. This is music and history that we love, and we are proud to see it represented in such a deeply respectful way.

* The first four episodes of Country Music will begin airing on Sunday, September 15 and run through Wednesday, September 18, and then episodes 5–8 will air the following week on Sunday, September 22 through Wednesday, September 25 at 8:00–10:00 p.m. ET.

Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan at the Bristol sign in March 2019. Courtesy of Tennessee Department of Tourist Development; photographer: Ed Rode

Radio Bristol Book Club: Lakota Woman

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club – and welcome to a very appropriate day for talking books: National Read a Book Day! 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 11:00am 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!

Our September book – Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog with Richard Erdoes – is inspired by our current special exhibit, American Ballads: The Photographs of Marty Stuart. Stuart’s photographs in American Ballads range from intimate behind-the-scenes depictions of legendary musicians, to images of eccentric characters from the back roads of America, to dignified portraits of members of the Lakota tribe in South Dakota, a people he was introduced to by his former father-in-law, Johnny Cash. We will be discussing Lakota Woman on Thursday, September 26 at 11:00am live on Radio Bristol.

Several of the photographs from American Ballads: The Photographs of Marty Stuart, all taken on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Top left: Marty Stuart. Sadie and Zona, 2000. Archival pigment print, 20 x 16in. Courtesy of the artist. © Marty Stuart; Top right: Marty Stuart. Millie Black Bear, 2000. Archival pigment print, 16 x 20in. Courtesy of the artist. © Marty Stuart; Bottom right: Marty Stuart. Orville Looking Horse, 2004. Archival pigment print, 16 x 20in. Courtesy of the artist. © Marty Stuart; Bottom left: Marty Stuart. Noah by the Sundance Tree, 2004. Archival pigment print, 20 x 16in. Courtesy of the artist. © Marty Stuart

Lakota Woman was originally published in 1990 – it became a national bestseller and won the American Book Award in 1991. This unique book is both memoir and social justice history, tracing Mary Crow Dog’s life on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, the cruelties perpetuated against American Indians, and her dogged determination and action in the Native American struggle for rights. Working with Richard Erdoes, one of the 20th century’s leading writers on Native American affairs, Mary recounts her difficult but fascinating life, one where she made a direct impact on an important cause. The book was later adapted as a TV movie called Lakota Woman – Siege at Wounded Knee.

Mary Brave Bird (later Crow Dog) grew up in poverty in South Dakota, and her white father abandoned the family when she was young. Believing in possibilities outside her everyday reality, Mary rebelled against the aimless drinking, violence, and hopelessness she encountered on the reservation, and rose above her experiences at the punishing missionary school and the narrow strictures placed on the lives of women, eventually joining the new movement of tribal pride sweeping Native American communities in the 1960s and 1970s. She later married Leonard Crow Dog, the American Indian Movement’s chief medicine man, who revived the sacred but outlawed Ghost Dance. Lakota Woman covered her life up to 1977; a second book, Ohitika Woman, was a memoir of her life after 1977. Mary Crow Dog died in February 2013 at the age of 58.

The cover of Mary Crow Dog’s Lakota Woman.

We cannot wait to bring this inspirational story of Mary Crow Dog to Radio Bristol Book Club! We hope you can join us as we discuss Lakota Woman for Radio Bristol Book Club! You can tune in locally at 100.1 FM or listen via the website or app. Many of the Radio Bristol Book Club books will be available at the Bristol Public Library or The Museum Store at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum so stop by to borrow or buy a copy! The librarians or our frontline staff will be happy to help you find the book.

Make plans to join us at 11am on Thursday, September 26 for Radio Bristol Book Club!

And plan ahead: Future Radio Bristol Book Club picks include A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson (October 24), Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music by Barry Mazor (November 21), and Serena by Ron Rash (December 19).

Going Green at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion is not only a festival filled with great music, good friends, tasty food, fun events and activities, and unique shopping opportunities from downtown merchants and vendors – it is also a festival that is working hard to be green!

The environment is one of the top concerns and issues for many people around the world, and Bristol Rhythm is always looking for ways to protect our downtown environment and do our part to minimize the effect we are having on Mother Earth. But unlike most music festivals, being green is a bit more of a challenge for us since we host our event in a downtown filled with shops, businesses, residents, restaurants, and bars. Being in the middle of a field – like FloydFest, MerleFest, or Bonnaroo, for instance – gives festival organizers a bit more control over their green environment!

Still, since our festival’s Green Team first came together several years ago, we’ve accomplished a lot on the green front, including huge recycling efforts, implementing various green initiatives, and taking part in green advocacy and education opportunities within the community. Here are just a few – along with ways that you can be a GREEN HERO with us!

Meet the Green Team!

First things first – you need to get to know our very own hometown green heroes, the Bristol Rhythm Green Team! The Green Team Committee, made up of dedicated and passionate volunteers, meets every month before Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion to discuss and plan the green initiatives we want to introduce to the event. We also join in a variety of advocacy events throughout the year such as Sustain Abingdon’s Earth Day event and Keep Bristol Beautiful’s clean-up days, and we share expertise and resources with others in our community and downtown who want to be greener.

At the festival, the Green Team committee members, along with a large volunteer corps, pick up recycling (paper, plastic, and aluminum) from the designated recycle stations throughout the festival weekend, help our vendors and merchants to recycle cardboard and dispose of cooking oil and waste water responsibly, and set out a variety of green guidelines for the festival food and craft vendors, such as using compostable food storage and flatware, supplying recyclable drinkware, and using recyclable plastic bags or paper bags.

We are lucky to have such a great – and fun – committee, and we are really grateful to all the volunteers who sign up to join us on the Bristol Rhythm Green Team each year. We set ourselves apart from the other festival volunteers with our quirky volunteer t-shirts, supported and printed by KS Promotions. Each year we get festivalgoers asking us where they can buy one of our cool shirts – the only way to get one is to volunteer with us; we still have shifts available for Bristol Rhythm 2019 so go online and join us!

Left and right: Green Team volunteers at festivals past posing with their unique volunteer t-shirts. Center: Green Team committee members helping a young girl make a craft out of small plastic bottles.
Green Team committee members and volunteers at the festival (left and right) – with different shirts over the years – and helping kids make “recycled crafts” at a Birthplace of Country Music Museum Family Fun Day. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler (center)

REDUCE and REUSE: Reusable stainless steel cups in the draft beer gardens!

This year, instead of plastic cups in the Bristol Rhythm beer gardens, you will need to purchase a stainless steel cup to use during the festival – these cups are only $5! And then don’t forget to hold onto this cup and then reuse it for all your beer garden drinks throughout the festival weekend. We’ll provide a rinsing station at each draft beer garden so you can swill out your cup if needed, but remember not to use too much water! This year we will only allow use of our stainless steel cups in the festival beer gardens, but we plan to open up to festivarians using stainless cups from other festivals in the future.

It is common these days for music festivals and other community events to only offer reusable cups where they sell beverages (check out Bonnaroo’s sustainability efforts – an inspiration!), and this new initiative will cut down considerably on BRRR’s plastic waste, especially important as plastic recycling gets more and more difficult. Even better: the cups are a great collectible souvenir! We are grateful to Keen Promotions for their support of this new initiative.

The stainless steel cup with the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion logo in orange on its front.
The Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2019 reusable cup! © Birthplace of Country Music

REDUCE and REUSE: Water refill stations!

Last year, with the help of Bank of Marion and the City of Bristol, Tennessee, we added two water stations to the event footprint where festivalgoers can fill reusable water bottles – or your new stainless steel BRRR cup this year! These water refill stations present another great opportunity to reduce the number of plastic water bottles sold over festival weekend. The stations can be found near the corner of 5th and State Streets, and near the Country Music Mural Stage.

A festivalgoer filling up her bottle at a water refilling station.
One of the water filling stations at BRRR 2018. It proved very popular with festivalgoers, being constantly used and leading to a lot of positive feedback. © Birthplace of Country Music

REUSE: Tote bags!

I have a million tote bags (no exaggeration!), and I love every single one of them. I use them all the time – for my grocery and other shopping; for extra packing bags when on a trip; for carrying snacks on car journeys, or just to the office (I ALWAYS need snacks!); for storage; as a way to wrap birthday and Christmas presents; and as a substitute handbag. Plastic bags are everywhere, and they are a HUGE environmental problem globally. So do your part, and bring your own reusable bags to carry home all your festival treasures and bargains. A folded-up bag in your pocket, purse, or backpack takes up no room and adds no weight – just do it!

The metal statue of Dale, always on display at festival, wearing a Green Team canvas tote bag with one of the t-shirt designs about being a green hero.
The festival’s unofficial mascot “Dale” carrying a Green Team-themed canvas tote bag. © Birthplace of Country Music

RECYCLE: Know what you can recycle and do so responsibly!

I’ve recycled for years, often getting the actual trash pick-up at my home down to half a trash bag or less each week. And over the years of the festival, the Green Team has literally recycled TONS of plastic, paper, cardboard, glass, and aluminum. However, there have been a lot of stories in the local and national news lately about the many challenges to recycling – especially what is and is not recyclable on the plastic front – and we’ve certainly seen the effects of those issues here in the Tri-Cities.

Every year, the Green Team picks up cardboard from the downtown merchants and the food and craft vendors for recycling. And we also set out labeled recycle stations for paper, aluminum, and plastic throughout the Bristol Rhythm footprint for festivalgoers. This year, unfortunately, only plastic types #1 and #2 can be recycled so please look out for these symbols before placing a plastic item in one of our stations – the numbers can usually be found on the bottom of the item. Any contamination by other plastic type numbers will mean ALL the plastic goes straight to the landfill instead – and we definitely want to avoid that!

Left: Two Green Team volunteers taking a selfie in front of a large pile of festival recycling on the back of a golf cart. Right: The 7 triangular recycle symbols found on plastics.
Green Team volunteers ready to transport a huge pile of recycling, and the usual plastics recycling numbers. © Birthplace of Country Music (left)

Plastic Island!

This year the festival’s Atmosphere Committee is adding one more thing to all of the art, signage, and décor that they create each year to make Bristol Rhythm extra special – and beautiful! This side project is called Plastic Island, a reused materials art piece that will be on display in the old fountain basin in front of WCYB (the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard side of the building) and which is meant to help raise awareness about environmental challenges and the green cause. Using discarded plastic – both unrecyclable and recyclable – the committee is creating a whole host of sea creatures, island features, ocean waves, and more to highlight the danger of plastics in our oceans – inspired, if that is the right word, by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Sadly, the plastic they collected is just the tip of the iceberg, which barely reflects the amount of plastic produced and used globally. Be sure and check out Plastic Island when you are enjoying the festival and remember the damage done from thrown-out plastic as you find ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle in your own life!

The left and center photographs show some of the craft reused materials for Plastic Island, including fish, octupi, whales, plants, and more made out of plastic bottles and containers. The right image is of floating marine debris made of trash, plastics, fishing nets, and other items.
While the reused materials crafts for Plastic Island are cute and beautiful, remember that too many of these materials wind up in our oceans. © Birthplace of Country Music (left and center); NOAA


Not only is the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Green Team supported by various businesses, but we also get a lot of in-kind support from our community partners – Revolution Curbside Recycling, Keep Bristol Beautiful, and Wise Recycling this year, several others over previous years. We couldn’t do the work we do each festival without that support and help. But most of all, we couldn’t be green at Bristol Rhythm without you – so be a GREEN HERO!