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.