September 2020 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Hard Times, Silver Linings and Farm and Fun Time

Only six months ago, on March 12, 2020, I thanked our sold-out crowd at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum for joining us for another live broadcast of Farm and Fun Time. Though the show went off without a hitch, the crowd was enthusiastic, and our team delivered another top-notch show, we knew things were about to change. That would be the last show with an audience I would be involved in for many months to come.

Earlier that evening when speaking with that night’s performers – Miss Tess and Jim Lauderdale – we knew it was time to get ready for some big changes as COVID-19 was quickly spreading all over the country. Fear of an imminent nationwide shut down seemed to be closing in. In between sound checking, rehearsing my lines, and setting up, I witnessed Tess’s upcoming album release tour (kicking off with Farm and Fun Time) fall apart. In rapid succession she was getting cancellations throughout the evening. As a fellow musician it really hit home, knowing the countless hours of work and sacrifice that go into not only setting up a successful tour but also recording and releasing a new project – the work and achievements of a professional artist are really remarkable. I also knew that her experience was about to be commonplace for those within our industry. By the following week, musicians all over the country no longer had proper means of making a living. Tours were cancelled, festivals were dropping out of the schedule left and right, and venues nationally were closing their doors, including Radio Bristol and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

Female guitar player singing at the mic. She has medium-length brown curly hair, glasses, and is wearing a sea green sleeveless top and a white costume jewelry necklace.

Miss Tess performing at the March 2020 Farm and Fun TIme, the last taping of the show with a live audience before industry shutdown. © Birthplace of Country Music, photographer: Billie Wheeler

As we all know, the past six months have seen a complete shut down of many industries, and one of the hardest hit has been the music industry. We have all felt the reverberations of this loss and have had realizations as to what live music brings to our lives: the thrill of being up close and personal with artists, the energy exchange between performers and audience, the necessity of shared experiences in a community setting. So many aspects of live performance feed us and connect us as human beings.

With so much loss and grief over the past six months it’s difficult to find the silver linings, but it’s also been necessary. I’ve been grateful to have time at home (my first summer home in eight years), to grow a garden, and to spend a lot of time hiking, camping, and getting into better shape. I’m even learning some new instruments (piano and banjo)! Through this time, I’ve also realized the fundamental role music and performance plays in our lives in keeping us balanced and energized. Performance is a cathartic exchange. Transitioning from performing usually around 100 shows a year to 10 shows (maybe) for 2020 has been quite an adjustment to say the least.

For us at Radio Bristol there have been some silver linings as well. After six years of hard work and dedication, the fruits of our labor have really been paying off. Over the past six months we’ve watched our flagship show Farm and Fun Time evolve from a local radio show to a regional PBS syndicated television show! Thanks to our partners at Blue Ridge PBS, our host providers of the program, we have seen the Farm and Fun Time audience grow to over 18 million homes. With the help of Blue Ridge PBS we have grown our footprint not just in Southwest Virginia, but also in East Tennessee on East Tennessee PBS and throughout North Carolina on UNC-TV. We’ve also begun shooting for Farm and Fun Time Season 2. Last week we kicked off Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Virtual Festival with a great show featuring 49 Winchester, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, and Bill and the Belles!

Three musicians -- female fiddler, male guitarist, female banjo player -- playing and singing at a mic with the male bass player behind them. There is a man with a large video camera filming them in the foreground.

Bill and the Belles taping for Season 2 of Radio Bristol’s Farm and Fun Time airing on PBS. © Birthplace of Country Music, photographer: Billie Wheeler

We are excited to see more stations pick up the show, and we will have some more announcements about syndication soon. Until then you can visit our website to learn more about when and where to tune into Farm and Fun Time on PBS. And if Farm and Fun Time is NOT playing in your area, call your local provider and let them know what they are missing!

All of this being said, if you, like me, have felt the void that has been left with the loss of live music, please make sure to help support artists during this time by purchasing their music and merch, spreading the word about their work, and letting your representatives know the importance live music holds in our hearts and communities. We want to thank all of you for your overwhelming support through these difficult times and hope you are finding some silver linings in your own lives. Stay strong, stay safe, and thanks for being a part of our Radio Bristol community!

Top left: Brown-haired woman in a cream colored outfit playing the banjo in front of a mic.
Top right: African American woman wearing a black hat and a black floral shirt singing at a mic.
Bottom left: Female guitarist, male fiddler, and male banjo player arranged in front of a mic playing music.
Bottom right: Three male guitar playerson a stage facing out towards the audience, two are playing and one is singing.

Several local performers from 2019’s Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, clockwise from top left: Martha Spencer, Amythyst Kiah, Folk Soul Revival, and Empty Bottle String Band. © Birthplace of Country Music

Radio Bristol Book Club: Meeting Jimmie Rodgers

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!

September 8 is Jimmie Rodgers’ birthday, which influenced our book pick this month: Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America’s Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of the Century by Barry Mazor. This fascinating book explores the deep legacy of Rodgers, tracing the path of his career and examining the succcess of his music and how it manifested in his various performance personas – for example as “The Singing Brakeman” and “The Blue Yodeler,” the working musical cowboy and the suave ladies’ man. From his first recordings at the 1927 Bristol Sessions to his rapid and assured rise to stardom, Rodgers brought emotional clarity and a unique sense of narrative drama to every song he performed. His wistful singing, falsetto yodels, bold flat-picking guitar style, and sometimes censorable themes – sex, crime, and other edgy topics – set him apart from most of his contemporaries and made him one of the most influential musicians in country music, and beyond.

The cover of Mazor's book has a photograph of Jimmie Rodgers holding his guitar and wearing a stetson-style hat, along with the book title.
The cover of Barry Mazor’s Meeting Jimmie Rodgers.

Barry Mazor is a longtime music, media, and business journalist. He has been writing about country and roots music for the Wall Street Journal  since 2003 and is the host of the “Roots Now” music and artist interview show on Acme Radio Live out of Nashville, which streams weekly. He is the author of Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music and Connie Smith: Just for What I Am, and the former senior editor and columnist for No Depression magazine. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including American Songwriter, the Nashville Scene, the Village Voice, and the Washington Post. Both Meeting Jimmie Rodgers and Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music won Belmont University’s annual “Best Book on Country Music” award.

Barry Mazor stands at a podium in a darkened theater with a screen behind him that shows several pictures of different country music musicians and stars.
Barry Mazor spoke at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in 2017 to mark the 90th anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions.
© Birthplace of Country Music

Be sure to tune in on Thursday, September 24 at 11:00am to hear the book club discussion about Meeting Jimmie Rodgers! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. And be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on this wonderful musical journey!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for October is Hiding Ezra by Rita Sims Quillen, which we’ll be discussing on Thursday, October 22. Happy reading!