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!
Hey y’all! Long time no see! Seriously. It’s been almost half a year since I’ve seen most of you in person, and that’s a LOOOONG time. As we’re drawing close to the six-month mark of social distancing, quarantine, and travel restrictions, you’re perhaps feeling the strain of isolation and missing the carefree interactions we once had.
While we understandably must continue to participate in social distancing and taking all necessary precautions to end the COVID-19 pandemic, we can acknowledge the importance of striving for the greater good while also acknowledging the emotions and feelings that come with this situation. Though it’s for a good cause, feeling lonesome is still feeling lonesome. On the bright side, there’s nothing like a bad situation to pave the way for beautiful art, and loneliness and isolation are some of the most prominent themes in country and many other forms of music as well. So, until we meet again, here are some empathetic songs to add to your quarantine playlist!
“Alone and Forsaken,” Hank Williams
Hopefully you’re not feeling THIS lonesome, but Hank Williams wrote a hauntingly beautiful piece of music – that really expresses this emotion – when he penned “Alone and Forsaken.”
“Lonely One in This Town,” Mississippi Sheiks
“Lonely One in This Town” is a real classic from the Mississippi Sheiks. Though it’s a lonesome song, you can’t help but smile and pat your foot to the Sheiks’ signature infectious beat. And while you’re at it, check out more music from the Sheiks catalogue – you’ll surely be a fan for life!
“When You’re Far from the Ones that Love You,” McMichen’s Melody Men
Here’s a sweet melody from the swingin’-est Georgia fiddle man, Pappy Clayton McMichen. Maybe you’re far from your family, missing your significant other in a long-distance relationship, or sad to not be spending time with friends who live far from your current home or through social distancing. Whatever the situation, “When You’re Far from the Ones that Love You, “ a beautifully crooned Tin Pan Alley piece, will hopefully bring you some comfort.
“On a Desert Isle,” C. W. Stoneking
Isolation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and C. W. Stoneking’s “On a Desert Isle” tells a lovely tale of living an isolated life in a tropical clime set to a dreamy melody. If one must be isolated, what better place than an island paradise?
“Call Me,” The Louvin Brothers
Though you can’t visit your friends and loved ones right now as much as you could before, we have a world of technology to keep us connected. Call or Facetime your friends, and it’s almost as good as being there in person. This classic – “Call Me” – from Ira and Charlie Louvin is about just this very thing.
This is the first time I have ever written a blog, so for me this is pretty exciting! We’re missing Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion this year, and to cheer up the staff, we thought it would fun to get them to make a playlist of their favorite songs from festivals past. I have many more than ten, but have narrowed it down to some sentimental favorites to share with you. These are mine in no particular order. You’ll find the entire staff playlist at the bottom of the page, so keep scrolling!
#1 “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show I chose this song because we had tried for so many years to bring Old Crow Medicine Show back to the festival, and to see how the crowd reacted when they performed that song put a gigantic smile on my face! I don’t get to listen to much music during festival weekends, but I made it my mission to see every minute of Old Crow’s set – and I did! Pure joy!
#2 “Whiskey Angel” by The Black Lillies If I didn’t choose a Black Lillies song, Cruz might never speak to me again! Actually, this is the one band that I know practically every word to their songs, though I sing them in my head because I can’t carry a tune in a bucket! “Whiskey Angel” is probably one of my favorites, and when my grandson Will was four years old he told me it was his favorite song, too. A great memory!
#3 “Dead Ringer” by The Whiskey Gentry It’s hard not to choose a song by Whiskey Gentry. The band is no longer together, but fortunately lead singer Lauren is still performing with her husband Jason under the name Lauren Morrow. “Dead Ringer” is just a fun song, and Lauren’s voice is so awesome! The video for the song is also amazing. Our loyal Bristol Rhythm fans have come to love them as much as I do.
#4 “Jawbone Blues” by Folk Soul Revival Folk Soul: It would have been a shame not to pick a song from one of our own. I chose “Jawbone Blues” because I love Daniel’s voice on this particular song. Such a great band and a local treasure!
#5 “Take it All Back” by Judah & The Lion My granddaughter Mary Nell was so excited about Judah & The Lion coming to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion because it was her and her best friend Cassidy’s favorite band. The girls where so excited to get to meet them and get their picture taken with them. I don’t do much of this, but I just had to make that happen for the girls! It was an epic moment when they did “Take it All Back.” The crowd was so loud as they danced and sang with them. I knew we had hit a home run with this band!
#6 “Mercy Now” by Mike Farris What’s not to love about Mike Farris and his awesome voice? For this I’ll just say we all need a little mercy now!
#7 “Shady Grove” by Doc Watson Doc Watson was such a special man, and I am so glad we had the opportunity to host him at our festival. I’ve heard him sing “Shady Grove” most every time I was fortunate enough to see him. The reason I like it is because he always smiled and looked happy while singing it.
#8 “Heartache Boulevard” by Eilen Jewell She is an artist that I still listen to because I just love her voice. If you’ve never listened to her music, do yourself a favor and look her up.
#9 “Radio” by Hackensaw Boys When my grandchildren Will and Mary Nell were little, we would dance around the room on fake drums to “Radio.” They made me play it over and over! Will went up on stage with me one year at the festival to help introduce them. Wonderful memories!
#10 “Swingin'” by John Anderson What can I say? I wish we were all swingin’ together today!
To listen to the full playlist of the BCM team’s favorite Bristol Rhythm songs, including Leah’s picks, see below.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which states “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” In other words, it finally gave American women the right to vote and be represented.
Congress ratified this amendment on June 4, 1919, but it still needed to be affirmed by 3/4 of the states in order to become law. Suffragettes and their supporters had been working for this day since 1832, and the very first amendment for women’s right to vote was introduced in 1878, taking 42 years to reach ratification. The road was long and hard with women fighting through words, negotiation and diplomacy, and acts of civil disobedience to gain the right to vote. American democracy has been a beacon to many outside our shores, but it makes one pause to think that women only gained this basic right 100 years ago.
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is fortunate to have two poster exhibits that explore this complex history, the people who fought to be recognized, and the acts that brought them to victory on August 18, 1920. The first – Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence – comes to us from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. This exhibit traces the story of women’s suffrage, of inclusion in and exclusion from the franchise, and of our civic development as a nation while also examining the relevance of this history to Americans’ lives today. The second – To Make Our Voices Heard: Tennessee Women’s Fight for the Vote, created by the Tennessee State Museum and the Tennessee State Library and Archives – digs deep into the history of the woman’s suffrage movement, Tennessee’s dramatic vote to ratify the 19th Amendment in 1920, and the years that followed. Both of these exhibits will be on display by September 1 and are definitely worth a visit over the next few months!
The women of the suffrage movement also lifted themselves up with song, highlighting the rights they were fighting for and inspiring them in that fight. The lyrics to these songs were often set to popular tunes or traditional hymns, thus making them easier to sing and remember. For instance, “Human Equality,” written in the 1870s by William Lloyd Garrison, was sung to the tune of another popular song used in support of labor reform and abolition. While not about women’s right to vote, the poem”Rights of Woman,” written by “A Lady” in 1795, declared women free and was later set to the tune of “My Country Tis of Thee.” “Daughters of Freedom” was published in 1871 and was composed by Edward Christie with lyrics by George Cooper, while a song by Frank Boylen from 1881 asked “Shall Women Vote?” America being the melting pot that it is, some songs also came from immigrant sources, such as “Damen Rechte (Suffragettes),” a popular Yiddish song that not only called for women’s right to vote but also extolled other freedoms and equality in society at large. Some songs were also written specifically for suffrage marches and meant to be played by brass bands, such as “Fall in Line.” Around 1880, D. Estabrook wrote “Keep Woman in Her Sphere,” which on first glance seems to be anti-women’s rights with various men declaring that women should stay in their traditional roles and not expect equal rights. However, the last verse turns this notion on its head with the assertion:
I asked him “What of woman’s cause?” The answer came sincere — “Her rights are just the same as mine, Let woman choose her sphere.“
Where there was a fight for women’s rights, however, came societal and political push back – also expressed through music. Songs that mocked the suffragettes’ struggle and emphasized women’s “proper” place abounded, such as “Since My Margaret Became a Suffragette,”“The Anti-Suffrage Rose,”“Mind the Baby, I Must Vote Today,” and “Your Mother’s Gone Away to Join the Army” both published in the early 1910s. Various songs also questioned the other changes women were embracing, often deemed as “unladylike.” This was especially true as women pushed for less restrictive clothes like the “Bloomer costume,” which was attacked in the 1851 song “The Bloomer’s Complaint.” Women riding bicycles were also seen as a sign of these times; indeed, Susan B. Anthony viewed bicycles as doing “more to emancipate woman than any one thing in the world.” “Eliza Jane,” a song from 1895, brought all these horrors together – less restrictive clothing, bicycles, and the desire to vote!
Was there any connection between suffrage and the songs of early country music? I don’t know of any hillbilly songs that embrace the suffrage movement in song, but there are certainly a few songs that reflect the changes that were happening on this front and give hints to women moving beyond their stereotypical roles. For instance, The Carter Family’s “Single Girl, Married Girl,” recorded at the 1927 Bristol Sessions and sung only by Sara and Maybelle, contrasts the freedom of the singleton with the restrictions a married woman bears taking care of husband, babies, and home. And as with the anti-suffrage songs, there were also reactions from hillbilly musicians to the ways women’s roles were changing. Blind Alfred Reed, another 1927 Bristol Sessions singer, later recorded “Why Do You Bob Your Hair, Girls?,” which declared that “every time you bob it, you’re breaking God’s command,” and “Woman’s Been After Man Ever Since,” which bemoaned the early days of Eve in the Garden of Eden and all the ways women were trying to be like men in contemporary society. More disapproval of women’s ways can be found in Ira and Eugene Yates recording “Powder and Paint” from the Johnson City Sessions in 1929.
Finally, it’s worth noting a couple of great songs that teach the history of the suffrage movement and celebrate its achievement. The first is from a much-loved slice of my childhood, Schoolhouse Rock – “Sufferin’ till Suffrage,” sung by the wonderful Etta James. And then, of course, there is Dolly Parton (it’s ALWAYS Dolly…). In 2018, she contributed to 27: The Most Perfect Album, “a collection of songs about the Constitutional amendments that have shaped our democracy, and yet are often at the center of fierce political debate.” Dolly’s song about the 19th amendment starts with a brief spoken introduction to the suffrage story, and soon transitions into a rousing song about the fight for the vote.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have foiled our plans for Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion this year, but you don’t have to cancel your trip. Bristol, Virginia-Tennessee is a great little getaway, and it’s the perfect opportunity to experience things you’d otherwise miss hopping from stage to stage at the festival. Plus, a Bristol visit is more economical than trips to larger cities and way less crowded – a great option for satisfying your need to travel while keeping your distance during the pandemic.
Get a Room
Maybe in festivals past you haven’t been able to snag reservations at the fabulous Bristol Hotel or gotten to see the newly opened – and stunning – Sessions Hotel, which honors our cities’ legacy as the birthplace of country music. Both hotels are located in our Historic Downtown so they are steps away from everything State Street has to offer, plus they have amazing dining options. From drinks with a view at Lumac or The Rooftop to fine dining at Vivian’s Table or Southern Craft, each location offers all the comforts of home in a sophisticated atmosphere. Vision Day Spa and Salon is slated to open in September at The Sessions Hotel, so call ahead to book that much-needed spa package! The Sessions Hotel also offers a package that includes a visit to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Both hotels are taking social distancing precautions for your safety. Call ahead for more information.
Speaking of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, fans of Bristol Rhythm may not always have time to stop and explore it during the festival. Planning a trip to Bristol apart from the event allows time to dig into the musical history of the region and the legacy of the 1927 Bristol Sessions – the reason the festival exists! An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, this award-winning, interactive museum offers an unforgettable experience that’s truly world-class. Come for the permanent exhibits, and the stories they tell, and you can also explore different special exhibits. Right now, we have Real Folk: Passing on Trades & Traditions through the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program (through August 30). And coming soon you will be able to explore Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music, 1972-1981, featuring the photographs of Henry Horenstein, on display September 29, 2020 through March 28, 2021, along with two small displays celebrating the women’s suffrage movement and the centennial anniversary of women gaining the right to vote from the Smithsonian Institution and the Tennessee State Museum. Additionally, your health and safety is priority one at the museum. Masks are required by all guests, volunteers, and staff, groups are socially distanced, and heightened sanitizing practices are firmly in place. Learn about the museum’s Healthy Business Certification by clicking here, or click here to watch a brief video about the museum’s safety measures.
The Underground Scene
“Far below the earth’s surface, in the timeless beauty of Bristol Caverns, a strange and exciting experience awaits…” reads the website description for this wondrous attraction that Native Americans used as an attack and escape route by way of underground river. A popular location for school tour groups, these caverns are a rite of passage for elementary school kids across the Tri-Cities region. During the pandemic, school tours are likely on hiatus, so September would be a great time to check it out. Tours are scheduled every half hour and masks are required. Schedule in advance to guarantee a more private and socially distanced experience. A little further away in Blountville, Tennessee, Appalachian Caverns is dog friendly and offers primitive tent camping.
Steele Creek Park in Bristol, Tennessee and Sugar Hollow Park in Bristol, Virginia are terrific for light hiking and biking excursions. A few trails within Steele Creek offer a bit more of a challenge. Sugar Hollow offers on-site camping for RVs with social distancing and health screening required. The Nature Center, train, and paddle boats at Steele Creek are closed for now, but the disc golf course is super-fun and a great excuse to get outside for some friendly competition.
Jump in the Lake
Bordered by the Cherokee National Forest, South Holston Lake is an outdoors playground, with over 10,000 acres of reservoir and 160 miles of shoreline. Boat rentals are available at Laurel Marina or Painter Creek Marina and there are lots of little islands and coves to explore once you’re out on the open water. Each location has a restaurant on-site or you can pull into a guest slip at Lake View Dock’s Wheelhouse for lunch or dinner. Social distancing is a rule at the restaurants, and some marinas require masks unless you are dining.
South Holston River is a fly fisher’s paradise and considered one of the best locations for smallmouth bass and trout in the Southeast. Go your own way or let one of the pros at South Holston River Lodge take you on a guided journey surrounded by natural beauty. Cabins at the Lodge are also available for rental, and the lodge is taking extra precautions for health and safety during the pandemic.
Ride “The Snake”
Top off your weekend with a nice Sunday drive along The Snake 421, a favorite among motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts. Journey from State Street to State Route U.S. 421 along a 37-mile section of road between Bristol and Mountain City, Tennessee that offers 489 curves. The journey takes you across South Holston Lake, over three mountains, and down to lovely Shady Valley, Tennessee. Keep an eye out for bears and other wildlife and don’t forget the Dramamine. On the way there or back, be sure to take a quick drive across South Holston Dam, the third-largest earthen dam in the world. There’s a picnic area and a small visitors’ center installation on site where you can learn more about this amazing project. Fun fact: 342 families and 559 graves were relocated in order to build the dam, which was completed in 1950. The flooding inspired author William Hill to write the fictional novel Dawn of the Vampire, where he imagines the undead rising from the depths to prey on the living. Chilling!
Other Fun Stuff
So whether it’s a stay-cation or a full-blown weekender, a trip to Bristol could be just what the doctor ordered for pandemic blues as long as you play it safe. Downtown is filled with great restaurants and breweries that offer curbside service and/or distancing, and there are also lots of great spots to picnic and unwind. If you want to learn more about what’s happening Downtown, visit BelieveInBristol.org, and for more on Bristol and the surrounding region, visit DiscoverBristol.org.
I think we can all agree 2020 has been one giant dumpster fire. As we enter the Halloween season, you might be thinking reality has become a little like living a scary movie. This got me to thinking: if this were a scary movie, how could we flip the script? Hasn’t the horror genre taught us everything we need to know about surviving until the credits? And because every good Halloween flick needs a killer soundtrack, I’ve included a Spooktacular Bristol Rhythm playlist on Spotify to aid in your assault on COVID-19, with nearly five hours of music by your favorite festival artists! From the trailer through the double feature, we got you covered.
Please understand, I mean no disrespect. My intent is not to make light of the pandemic, its victims, or the tragedies we are facing as a society. COVID-19 has attacked my industry and many others, our friends and family, cancelled our favorite festival and now my favorite holiday – Halloween. But if the horror genre has taught me anything, it’s that light almost always conquers darkness, and that keeping a sense of humor through hard times is crucial to survival. But. Like Laurie Strode beat down the Boogeyman, I’m ready to kick some COVID ass!
An examination of the zombie sub-genre of horror by masters Romero, Kirkman, Boyle, Brooks, and Fleisher is essential right now because their work imparts an over-arching social commentary, including the dissection of human behavior, during times of fictional global crisis. Therein you may find one section of the population, like besties Shaun and Ed of Shaun of the Dead, who just want to wait it out over pints at The Winchester until help shows up.
In contrast you may find characters on a mission, like Tallahassee inZombieland who would face down a horde of the undead for a single Twinkie. Eventually Tallahassee meets up with Columbus and learned there are rules. If those rules were applied to the here and now, they kind of make sense. Let’s break it down:
Rule #1 – Cardio (References the ability to outrun danger.) Conditioning during the pandemic isn’t the worst idea. Stay strong, friends!
Rule #2 – Double Tap (Always make sure a zombie is decommissioned, i.e. a second shot to the head) When a sink is nowhere to be found, have sanitizer ready as a back up. Go for the big guns and hit that pump twice so you’re covered.
Rule #3 – Beware of Bathrooms (Don’t get trapped with your pants down.) Public restrooms can be sketch, so make going potty in a strange place a fun game! It’s called “Not Touching Stuff with Your Bare Hands” and anyone can play! Be resourceful, get creative! Give yourself points for ingenuity! Judge if you will, but I was playing this game for years before COVID-19 because poo.
Rule #4 Seatbelts (For obvious reasons.) Okay, this one really won’t protect you from COVID-19, but I mention it because it’s a safety precaution, just like wearing a mask, and seatbelts don’t seem to trigger anybody into a political argument. You just wear ’em and shut up about it.
Rule #7 Travel Light (You never know when you need to bolt.) Wallet? Check. Keys? Check. Mask and hand sanitizer? Check, check.
Rule #17 Be a Hero (Amended rule from the previous, don’t be a hero–sometimes you have to be a helper.) Imagine how many times you’ve distanced, masked up and not infected anyone with COVID-19! You’re already a hero!
Rule #22 When in Doubt, Know Your Way Out Don’t be afraid to say “no” to situations that don’t make you feel safe. These are extraordinary times, and the sooner we lick this thing, the sooner we can all get back to normal.
Rule #31 Check the Back Seat Can’t find your mask? Did you check the back seat?
Rule #32 Enjoy the Little Things Don’t take anything for granted. Let’s show each other some kindness and compassion, and be grateful for all the little things that make us happy. Like family, friends, and good music!
One positive thing about scary times and scary stories is what they teach us about ourselves. Even the most unassuming characters can turn out to be the toughest and most resourceful, and there is safety in numbers when we all choose to stick together and do the right thing. I pray we all actively choose to be heroes and protect each other, because our lives just may depend on it. I desperately want us all to dance together next year during Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion on State Street without masks and without the threat of COVID-19. Even scary stories sometimes have happy endings, and after all we’ve been through in 2020, I think we deserve one.
We hope you enjoy this musical Halloween treat from us: A Spooktacular Bristol Rhythm Spotify Playlist! From Appalachian murder ballads to rip-roarin’ rockabilly monster rock, some roots songs conjure an atmosphere worthy of any big screen thriller. I dug down deep into the vault of past Bristol Rhythm artists to come up with some killer tracks for this season of the witch – and found dozens of chilling tunes that rattle bones and tell some scary little stories of their own.
Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club! Each month, readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together 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 to Radio Bristol 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!
The subtitle of Wendy Welch’s The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap almost says it all: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book. What it leaves out is the struggle that it takes to become part of an insular community, suspicious of outsiders, in the Appalachian Mountains during an economic downturn. It also leaves out the joy and terror of following a dream. While they didn’t expect to be welcomed with open arms, Wendy and husband Jack Beck were a bit taken aback by the number of times people summed up their venture with the statement “You’re nuts.” Making connections with an interesting assortment of characters, Wendy and Jack strive not only to succeed as booksellers but to become a resource, refuge, and perhaps most amazingly, an animal rescue. How they succeed makes for wonderful and inspiring reading.
Wendy Welch has a degree in Ethnography, a Scottish husband, and an assortment of animals, all of whom figure in this delightful and thoughtful memoir. In addition to The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Wendy is the author of Fall or Fly: The Strangely Hopeful Story of Foster Care and Adoption in Appalachia and Bad Boy in the Book Store (ebook), and the editor of From the Front Lines of the Appalachian Addiction Crisis and Public Health in Appalachia.
Be sure to tune in on Thursday, August 27 at 11:00am to hear the book club discussion about The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time – the librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on this delightful story!
Looking ahead: Our book pick for September is Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America’s Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of the Century by Barry Mazor, which we’ll be discussing on Thursday, September 24. Happy reading!