In August 2013, St. Paul & The Broken Bones made an epic debut in Historic Downtown Bristol. The band was booked to headline Believe in Bristol‘s Border Bash free summer concert series with opener Blair Crimmins & The Hookers, and so begins the story of how the simple purchase of a band t-shirt may have helped direct the upward trajectory of the band’s career and continues to enrich my life with warm memories and great comfort after almost a decade of faithful wear.
Hailing from the iconic and eclectic music scene of Birmingham, Alabama, St. Paul & The Broken Bones had only been together for about a year when they arrived in Bristol, otherwise known as the birthplace of country music. Though still in its infancy, the band was already creating a buzz in roots music circles with its throwback R&B sound, complete with jazzy horns and a killer lead vocalist that invoked the spirits of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and Wilson Pickett in every soul-gutting note. It was so early in the band’s development, they were paid only a few hundred dollars for the Border Bash booking, plus dinner. I can’t say for sure, but I believe the band likely accepted the gig because lead singer Paul Janeway’s girlfriend at the time, Caroline Williams, had family in Bristol who could put them up for the night.
It was my first time seeing either band live, and I was really stoked. I remember the show was well-attended and both bands killed. At one point in St. Paul’s set, Janeway’s mic briefly went out. Already a seasoned and flamboyant performer, Paul didn’t miss a beat…he ditched the dead mic and leapt from the stage to join my daughter Callie in an impromptu dance session. She was only four years old at the time and loved to dance at Border Bash. However, once she realized all eyes were on her and her flashy new dance partner, my baby girl had a moment and bolted!
Once the mic issue was resolved, the band played into the night – making a big splash and lifelong fans in Bristol. After the show, I couldn’t get over to the merch tent fast enough to buy a St. Paul t-shirt and a CD from Caroline, who was manning the table. At some point Paul and a couple members of the band came over and chatted with us, and they were all super-gracious and kind. Paul and I laughed over Callie’s reaction to him joining her on the dance floor, and for several months after that encounter, she begged to listen to the band’s CD on repeat in the car.
Both bands that performed at Border Bash that evening returned the following month to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion (see the full 2013 festival lineup here) to much acclaim, with St. Paul & The Broken Bones participating in a Live and Breathing recording session from the sewing floor at LC King Manufacturing while they were here. To date, those videos have received over a million views on YouTube – and the video below was featured in a background scene of the HBO series “Big Little Lies” (Season One, Episode 6: Burning Love).
Following the February 2014 release of their album “Half the City,” St. Paul & The Broken Bones was invited to perform at Hangout Music Festival and Bonnaroo, and also returned to the Bristol Rhythm lineup that September. In December of that year Paul married his sweetheart, Caroline, and the band’s stock was certainly going up. They were getting higher-profile gigs in bigger venues and earned coveted opening slots for acts like Drive-By Truckers and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. The latter performance was held at a bucket list venue for Janeway, as it took place at Nashville’s “Mother Church,” The Ryman. In this interview with Alabama.com, Janeway mentions that the band received three standing ovations that night.
Fast-forward to 2015 and the year my dear friend and co-worker Tracey Childress refers to as her “Year of Music.” She and her husband Eric took in several of their own bucket list shows in 2015, which included seeing Paul McCartney and a big Grateful Dead reunion tour. Me and my hubby Tim tagged along with them to see a cathartic 3-hour Fleetwood Mac show in Knoxville in March, during which I unexpectedly cried through almost the entire concert. The whole band was back together in its original form, and being in the same room with Stevie Nicks and seeing them play with such exuberance literally sent me on an emotional journey I hadn’t been prepared to take.
We learned The Rolling Stones were bringing their Zip Code Tour to Atlanta’s Bobby Dodd Stadium and that the opening act was none other than St. Paul & The Broken Bones! There was no way we were missing it, even if we had to sit in the nosebleed section. Tickets in hand, we booked our hotel rooms and hit the road. I made sure to pack the t-shirt I had bought at the Border Bash show two years prior and proudly wore it to the concert.
For the record, I live for full-circle moments like these. Even though it was impossible that anyone from the band would see me in the crowd, I still came to represent in the St. Paul & The Broken Bones t-shirt I’d purchased two years prior. Also, once a band or artist has played Bristol Rhythm, it’s a bond that will never be broken. They are instantly part of our musical family and our story.
I ended up running into a couple of Atlanta friends I knew at the show who weren’t familiar with the band, and several people seated next to us were equally unaware of the greatness they were about to witness. My t-shirt opened up conversations about Bristol Rhythm and gave me the opportunity to brag about the band.
When St. Paul finally took the stage, it was exciting to see how the band had honed its stage show to perfection; their fiery energy primed the crowd perfectly for The Stones set and the whole night was magical. I’m still so proud of them and so incredibly happy for their success. Both The Stones and Fleetwood Mac shows are particularly sentimental to me now that we have lost Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts and the divine Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac. Most of all, I cherish those memories with Eric and Tracey whom I’ve been seeing shows with for the better part of 30 years.
Back to the shirt…there is an existing school of thought that it is uncool to wear your favorite band’s t-shirt to their concerts. I call B.S. on that, but I did run across this article panning the practice and another op-ed accusing band tee snobs of being self-loathing know-it-alls – so there’s that. I posed the question, “Is it cool or uncool to wear your favorite band’s t-shirt to their concerts?” on Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion’s Facebook page, asking fans and musicians to weigh in on the matter. The response was a unanimous “it’s cool” from both sides.
I have an entire chest of drawers overflowing with band and festival t-shirts, and they are a constant in my weekly wardrobe. I’ll never regret a single purchase, and I’d like to think that $15 or $20 investment in my favorite artists may be putting gas in their vans to get them to the next gig where a whole new audience will fall in love with their music. I’d like to think that my investment in St. Paul & The Broken Bones in those early years contributed to that in some small way.
Buying band merch is especially meaningful to local musicians. When you slap their stickers on your bumpers or sport a cool tee out in public, not only are you advertising their art, you are supporting a small business in your community, plus helping local artists tour, record new music, replace broken guitar strings, etc. Also, when you show up to their shows wearing those t-shirts, you’re showing them how much you love them. The energy exchange there is priceless, and it gives them incentive to keep creating.
This Christmas season, instead of buying stuff, consider giving your music-loving friends tickets to a concert and a cool band t-shirt to wear to the show. Every time they wear that shirt they’ll think of you and the great gift of a cool music experience that you gave them – plus, added bonus: it’s the perfect opportunity to promote hard-working musicians. Like St. Paul & The Broken Bones, they could be really huge one day, and your friends could have a great band story like mine to tell. It’s literally an unbroken circle of good vibes all around.
Shameless plug, but Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion is a great festival for discovering new talent. Acts like The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Amythyst Kiah, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, 49 Winchester, Moon Taxi, and Sierra Ferrell are just a few examples of talent we’ve hosted early on in their careers. Additionally, Bristol is a great example of how a thriving music scene breathes new life into a community, adds jobs, and supports its local economy through tourism, so make that investment and watch your local music scene thrive!
Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion weekend passes make great stocking stuffers, and our festival tees are a great, quality purchase – just sayin’! We are nonprofit and a small business, so everything you give goes back into the festival and our community. Visit our website at BristolRhythm.com for more information, we’ll be rolling out the 2023 lineup early in the New Year! In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the following Bristol Rhythm Christmas Party Playlist on Spotify – filled with amazing artists that have performed at the festival – to keep you in the holiday spirit all season long!
Though BCM is in perpetual motion, we are grateful for a bit of calm in the months after a busy Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. The 2022 event was a very good festival year by all accounts – we celebrated the 95th anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, attendance was up, and the lineup was just stellar. We’re so appreciative to everyone who made the trip to State Street to be with us; we hope you had as great a time as we did and that your experience was both meaningful and memorable!
As we have moved through fall – my favorite season of all – with its glorious red, gold, and amber colors of the changing trees, the crisp morning air, and vibrant, floating leaves that blanket everything below, it’s time to prepare for another busy holiday season and all its traditions. It’s also great time to reflect on all the things that went right in our collective lives this year and give thanks.
There are a few things I love most about music, including
1) How it brings people from all walks of life together in a way nothing else can
2) How favorite songs can lift our spirits and validate our emotions
3) How – faster than a heartbeat – a familiar song can nostalgically take you back to a time and place in your life of great significance.
The holidays can often be a source of anxiety for many of us for any number of reasons, and though I’m not a doctor, I’d like to prescribe something for you that may help soothe your soul and take the temperature down when things get a little overwhelming: Good music. You can take as much as you want and though symptoms may vary, the right combination of lyrics and melodies can change hearts and heal old wounds.
As a small gesture of gratitude to our festival goers and the amazing musicians we’ve hosted on our stages over the years, and in an effort to transmit cosmic gratitude and positive energy through the transformative power of music this Thanksgiving season, we’ve curated the Spotify playlist below of Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion artists – packed with sentimentality and feel-good tunes that are guaranteed to set the mood for an amazing holiday season. Thank you, friends, and may your blessings be bountiful.
*NOTE: Early bird weekend passes to Bristol Rhythm 2023 go on sale Black Friday for $100. Discount is good through Cyber Monday. Purchase online at BristolRhythm.com.
As communications manager for the Birthplace of Country Music, the biggest part of my job is to promote BCM, get media to cover our events and create content connected to our mission. I spend my days writing press releases, pitching story ideas to media outlets, and writing content for things like this blog, our newsletters and website, and social media. Twice a year, in August and September, I get the opportunity to publish my own stories in Voice Magazine for Women to highlight acts that will be performing at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion – that’s kinda-sorta how I wound up spending Sunday at Bristol Rhythm 2022 with Rosanne Cash.
This year marked the 95th anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions. In order to help BCM capitalize on this important milestone in our region’s music history, we contracted two amazing publicists to help us bring more media attention to the 95th and the festival: Cindy Dupree, a seasoned pro who served as the PR director and public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development for more than 12 years, and Danielle Dror, a firecracker publicist from Asheville with her own PR firm, Victory Lap Media. As a team, we attracted dozens of international, national, regional and local outlets to Bristol and the festival, several of which had never previously attended the event. I must note that Cindy and Danielle’s experience and expertise in the field was essential in getting some incredible coverage, and I am blessed to have these fine ladies as friends and colleagues. With their help, we were able to facilitate dozens of interviews and generate an impressive number of great stories in the media.
Having Rosanne Cash headlining Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion on the 95th anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions was also a huge deal, given her familial connection to Bristol through her dad and stepmom, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Hers is a living history that opens a new perspective into the past. To say we were stoked about her visit is an understatement. Serendipitously, a special exhibit honoring Johnny Cash, “1968: A Folsom Redemption,” was on display at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum during Bristol Rhythm, and we were confident that it was something Rosanne would want to see.
I reached out to Rosanne’s longtime manager, Danny Kahn, to invite her on a tour of the museum and special exhibit while she was in Bristol and asked if she’d be interested in holding a small press event. I also asked for an interview to talk about her history with the Carter Family and Southwest Virginia that would be published in the September issue of Voice Magazine. Fortunately for us, Rosanne recognized the importance of her visit to Bristol and agreed to most of our requests, including the interview for Voice that you can read here.
Though I have been privileged to meet many amazing acts, it’s pretty unusual for me to have much contact with big name, headlining artists at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. Other BCM team members usually work through artists’ tour managers to meet their needs. Unless I’m arranging interviews for them or just happen to be at their stage at the right time, I’m generally just a spectator like everyone else. In this instance, because my team and I were organizing the press event and I already had somewhat of a rapport with Danny, it just made sense for me to be the point person for Rosanne.
Rosanne was performing on Sunday, closing out Bristol Rhythm on its third and final day. Though her schedule was too busy to take in the entire museum, she did have a brief window of time to tour the special exhibit and speak to the media. Our team worked out a logistics plan for the press event at the museum, and we alerted attending journalists that there would be an opportunity for interviews. Here’s what the itinerary looked like:
10 a.m.: Rosanne and her team’s flight lands in Knoxville
12:30 p.m.: Rosanne arrives in Bristol
3:25 p.m.: Meet Rosanne in lobby at hotel
3:30 p.m.: Special exhibit tour
3:50 p.m.: Press event at museum
4:00 p.m.: Return Rosanne to hotel
4:45 p.m.: Pick up Rosanne from hotel lobby, take her to stage
5:15 p.m.: Rosanne’s performance
6:35 p.m.: Take Rosanne back to hotel
When you factor in how long it takes to get from point A to point B, you can see the itinerary is packed pretty tight. Not only did we want Rosanne and her team to have a good experience in Bristol, it was also important for the press event to be of value to our journalists. Many of them were there specifically to get an interview with her. Everything needed to be perfectly organized to stay on time.
BCM arranged for two drivers to pick up Rosanne, her team, and her band from the airport in rented SUVs. BCM booked a suite next door to the museum at The Bristol Hotel for Rosanne so she would be close by. Our drivers communicated to us that her flight had arrived on time, so we all breathed a sigh of relief. To remain on schedule, every detail had to be mapped out perfectly.
We put together a gift bag full of Bristol goodies from The Museum Store to have waiting in Rosanne’s hotel room before she arrived. Afterward we did a walkthrough of the press event with BCM staff to make sure our logistics were on point. When it was time, I met Leah Ross, BCM’s executive director of advancement, in the lobby of the hotel to greet Rosanne and her manager. We were only waiting a few minutes when Rosanne and Danny Kahn stepped off the elevator.
Rosanne Cash is a lovely lady with smiling eyes – and tiny! Maybe 5′ 2″ or 5′ 3″. My impression of her is that she is friendly, composed, and a bit reserved. She had that “look” I’ve seen on faces of other touring artists just arriving at the festival for the first time – it’s kind of like they’re trying to get their sea legs back after being on the road for a while. When I recognize “the look,” I am quick to reassure them of what’s coming next, answer questions, and generally try to make them feel at home. I gave the spiel to Danny Kahn – running through the logistics of how we’d be getting them to and from the museum, what would happen once we got there, and how we’d get them back to the hotel and to the stage. I sensed some relief before I guided them out the back of the hotel to my golf cart. I’ll add that Danny was great to work with. He has managed Rosanne for about 25 years and is very friendly, organized and hands-on. Every artist should be so lucky as to have a Danny Kahn on their team.
Dr. Rene Rodgers, head curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, was waiting for us at the back door. I made the introductions and, to save time, Rene immediately started talking about the special exhibit as we walked through the museum’s loading dock and into the back entrance of the special exhibit. I didn’t linger at this point, instead choosing to meet Cindy and Danielle who were waiting to let the media inside. At this time they were all gathered in the atrium of the museum. Our plan was to allow Rosanne a few minutes to browse the exhibit with Rene and then quietly open the door for the media about halfway through so they could set up any cameras and microphones.
Rosanne was genuinely engaged in the exhibit, and it was truly special to see her stop and admire certain photographs of her dad and ask questions. At some point Rosanne’s husband, John Leventhal, joined us in the gallery. Rosanne lingered at several photos, sometimes pointing things out to John and Danny, and commented on the ones she liked the most. Her smile spoke volumes as she moved from photograph to photograph and I believe she was sincerely moved by the experience.
After a few minutes, we quietly allowed the media to enter the room. When she had worked her way through the exhibit to the front of the gallery, we had a chair set up at the end of the room so she could sit and take questions, and she answered every single one. My friend Joe Dashiell, a veteran reporter at WDBJ-7 TV in Roanoke, had driven down for the event that day and captured this wonderful story.
Tom Wilmer, host of NPR’s “Journeys of Discovery” podcast, and Justin Goldman, Deputy Editor of Hemispheres, United Airlines’ onboard magazine, had previously requested one-on-one interviews with Rosanne following the press event. After we cleared the room, they stayed behind to speak with her. Neither of their interviews have posted yet, but if you follow us on social media they will be shared there once they’re online.
Side note: This was Tom Wilmer’s second visit to Bristol. He had visited the museum once when we first opened and I did an interview with him then. Cindy Dupree worked diligently to get him back to Bristol for the festival this year, and he collected a ton of interviews over the course of the three-day event. Click here to listen to his first story, “Bristol, VA-TN – resonating with America’s musical soul for a Century.” Click here to listen to his second story with Jack King, fourth generation owner of L. C. King Manufacturing Co., founded in Downtown Bristol in 1913 and the unofficial outfitter of musicians passing through town. You’ll hear a brief promo for NPR by Rosanne, recorded by Tom during his interview, at the end of the podcast.
Once her interviews were over, I rushed Rosanne back to her hotel on via trusty golf cart so she could freshen up before her set. I waited in the lobby until it was time to take her to the State Street Stage. Before long, she reemerged from the elevator, having changed into a simple black suit and contrasting red blouse – very reminiscent of her legendary father.
The golf cart ride gave me the opportunity to tell her a little more about the festival, since she wouldn’t have time to take it all in. I remember telling her that she would be standing in both states on the State Street Stage and she found that amusing, as most artists do. Many don’t realize until they arrive in Bristol what that looks like, and it’s so cool when they make that discovery.
Once backstage, I noticed Molly Tuttle standing in the wings. She had just finished her own set, and I could tell she really wanted to talk to Rosanne. Though Molly has performed at Bristol Rhythm several times, I’d never had the opportunity to meet her…but I am a big fan! Ironically, she was wearing a Molly Tuttle t-shirt and I couldn’t help but comment on it. I pulled her over to Rosanne and asked if they’d ever met. Immediately Rosanne says, “No, but I LOVE you!” Molly’s face lit up. I walked away so they could chat privately; it made me happy to have initiated the exchange. It’s moments like these I cherish most at the festival – people connecting. They will always remember when they met for the first time in Bristol. Priceless!
At that point I needed to break away to help Danielle with a task, my memory is a little fuzzy on what we were doing, but we left on a golf cart to do…something? On our way back we spotted Jim Lauderdale walking a block over on Shelby Street. He was on his way to see Rosanne. Of course we stopped and offered him a ride.
A little backstory: My relationship with Jim Lauderdale is now very informal. He is an old friend of the festival and has been so gracious and kind to us over the years. He has also gone above and beyond to promote Bristol on our behalf. Not only is he an immensely talented artist, he is a wonderful human and I genuinely love him. He is also super-accessible at the festival. He walks around from stage to stage as a fan…just amazing. Jim and Rosanne have been friends for decades – Jim actually introduced her to John Leventhal when she was still married to Rodney Crowell. She talks about the encounter in this interview with The Bitter Southerner, in case you’re interested. There are so many connections to Jim Lauderdale, I often joke that he’s the Kevin Bacon of country music!
When we made it back to the State Street Stage, Jim in tow, quite a crowd had formed. Rosanne’s was the final set of the festival, so throngs of people were making their way to see her perform. BCM had arranged for Bristol’s Mountain Empire Children’s Choral Academy‘s (MECCA) Highlands Youth Ensemble students to perform a tribute to Johnny Cash just prior to Rosanne’s set. They delivered a terrific performance to classics like “Ring of Fire” and “I Walk the Line” – just precious!
When it was time for Rosanne to take the stage, all of State Street erupted in thunderous applause. She began her set with “A Feather’s Not a Bird” and “The Sunken Lands” from her album The River & The Thread, then “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For” from She Remembers Everything. A little later in her set, she stopped to speak.
“I owe the Carter Family a tremendous debt because all of those Carter women…the first things I learned on guitar were those Carter Family songs,” Rosanne said from the stage. Then she broke into the Carter Family classic “Bury Me Beneath the Weeping Willow” from the 1927 Bristol Sessions.
Bristol Rhythm moments like these are simply iconic. Though I believe the majority of people who come to the festival know our history, it is likely that there are some who do not and just come to enjoy great music. Whenever an artist pays reverence to the 1927 Bristol Sessions from our stages, it’s a teaching moment. For Bristolians, in particular, it reinforces the work we are doing at BCM and reenergizes that sense of community pride for our music heritage. This declaration by Rosanne Cash – coupled with that song – festival GOLD. Check out Rosanne’s entire Bristol Rhythm 2022 set list here.
Rosanne had asked the Highlands Youth Choir kids to come back and join her on stage for one final number, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a song that always brings tears to my eyes especially when it’s performed at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. Luckily, someone in the audience captured the performance on video and posted it to YouTube, so you can see it here. Seeing the kids grooving with Rosanne during the performance was unforgettable and heartwarming.
After her set Rosanne spoke to a few fans and signed autographs, then I took her and John back to the hotel. Rosanne asked for a glass of wine to be sent up to her room and I jokingly said, “I’ll hook you up.” Amused, she shot me the side-eye and a sly smile before going up to her room. I immediately approached the hotel desk manager and asked them to send up a whole bottle!
About 15 minutes later Danny Kahn called my cell. He was still with the band at the State Street Stage loading up gear, but needed guidance getting his SUV over to the hotel. The barricades make it difficult to get around easily, but there is a route for emergency vehicles. I met up with him and he followed me in my golf cart to the back entrance.
Figuring my job for the day was done, I headed to Lumac Rooftop Bar above the Bristol Hotel for a much-needed cocktail with Cindy and Danielle. Just as I emerged from the elevator and into the bar, the bottom let out on a giant rain storm that had been threatening to burst all day. The hotel boasts 360 views of the entire city, but visibility at that moment was zero! It was coming down hard as bar patrons fled from the rooftop patio, soaked to the bone. Thank little baby Jesus the festival had ended at that point, but I instantly worried about everyone who was left out there trying to tear down their tents in the storm. The bartender handed me a martini and no sooner than I took the first sip, my phone rang.
“Rosanne is wondering around the lobby of the hotel and doesn’t know where to go. Will you help?” asked Danny Kahn. He was still outside the hotel, no doubt getting soaked. Without hesitation, I quickly got back on the elevator and headed downstairs. When the elevator doors opened, Rosanne was standing on the other side at our usual pick-up spot, looking beautiful and relaxed in an oversized, white sweatshirt and black leggings. It was then that I realized I was still holding my drink.
“I’m having a drink too,” I said, a little embarrassed, then set it down on a little table outside the hotel conference room. She gave me that gorgeous mega-watt smile and I guided her to the back exit. When we opened the door, we saw that Rosanne’s tour manager had backed the SUV into the little covered porch to try and stay dry as he loaded up suitcases. Rosanne got into the SUV and I ran over to the driver’s side to give Danny directions to the interstate. A minute or two later, they were driving away, headed back to Knoxville to spend the night so they could catch an early morning flight.
In solitude, I lingered under the porch in the back of the hotel to watch the rain for a little while and finished my martini, reflecting on that historic day in Bristol’s history and silently mourning the passing of another great festival. Each year I marvel at how truly precious all those little moments are that make up Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion weekend – and how they always seem to come and go so quickly.
Voice Magazine for Women, a free, monthly publication distributed regionally in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to 650 locations, partners with the Birthplace of Country Music to promote our annual music festival, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. In August and September of each year, Voice generously allows us free rein to produce cover stories for the magazine highlighting upcoming acts performing at the event. With their permission, we have duplicated the cover article for this month – we hope you enjoy it! To read this month’s issue in its entirety, click here.
Voice Magazine for Women Rosanne Cash: Americana’s Renaissance Woman A Q&A on Family Ties to Southwest Virginia, Her First Trip to Bristol, and Fun Stuff You Didn’t Know and Would Likely Never Ask
By Guest Contributor Charlene Tipton Baker
Photo Credits: Michael Lavine
Rosanne Cash is one of the most revered artists in Americana music. At 67, she has an amazing career as a multi-GRAMMY Award-winning songwriter and performer. A born writer, Cash was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015 and is a bestselling author and poet. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Oxford-American, among others, and she is frequently invited to teach classes in English and Songwriting at various colleges. Additionally, Cash is an advocate for creators’ rights and children’s causes, including education and gun violence prevention.
This September, Rosanne Cash headlines Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion on the 95th Anniversary of the legendary 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings. Rosanne’s familial connection to our region’s music heritage makes her visit extra special; she is the eldest daughter of country music legend Johnny Cash and his first wife Vivian. She also enjoyed a close, loving relationship with Johnny’s second wife, June Carter Cash. June is the daughter of Mother Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family, the “First Family of Country Music.” The 1927 Bristol Sessions included the very first recordings of The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, the “Father of Country Music,” and catapulted country music into the mainstream.
Ralph Peer recorded the 1927 Bristol Sessions in the Taylor-Christian Hat & Glove Company building on the Tennessee side of State Street. The building was long gone by the summer of 1971 when Johnny and June traveled to Bristol, alongside Maybelle Carter, Sara Carter Bayes, and other members of the Carter clan, to dedicate a monument to the 1927 Bristol Sessions at the site where they took place. Ralph Peer II (son of Ralph Peer) and members of Jimmie Rodgers’ family were also present. Thousands of people from the community gathered for the occasion. On that day, Johnny expressed to them how he would love to see a museum dedicated to the music history that had been made in Bristol.
Decades later in 2001, the annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival was established to honor the legacy of those seminal recordings. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, opened its doors to the public in August 2014. One year later, WBCM Radio Bristol went live on the air, broadcasting from the museum.
I relayed the story above to Rosanne’s manager, Danny Kahn, along with a request for this interview and extended an invitation for the artist to tour the museum while she is in town for the festival. He quickly replied, “Rosanne realizes how significant her visit to Bristol is. She has never been. She wants to do as much as possible regarding your requests.” From everything I had read, I was not at all surprised by her generosity.
So much has been written about Rosanne Cash and by her, so in this interview I chose to focus on her ties to our region’s music heritage, while adding a few trivial zingers à la Bop and Tiger Beat to satisfy my inner, pre-teen geek. Rosanne: if you are reading this, my apologies for that – but thank you for kindly playing along! I’m so grateful for the opportunity to make this connection for my hometown, and excited for you to experience Bristol and the festival. I hope you love them both as much as I do.
Below are my questions answered by the artist via e-mail:
This will be your first time performing at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion and your first time visiting the museum. Knowing that your dad’s dream of having a museum dedicated to the legacy of the 1927 Bristol Sessions is now a reality, what are your thoughts?
He was right. I’m grateful that he spoke those words that day, and that a ripple of enthusiasm went out and planted the seed to create the museum, although, honestly, it seems like it was destined! Such a historic moment and location in the cultural makeup of our country deserves to be forever immortalized. I’m thrilled to be going to perform in Bristol and see the museum for the very first time. I’ve actually sent people there, but never been myself!
When tourists come to visit the museum in Bristol, we make it a point to encourage them to visit the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, VA. We consider it hallowed ground, and it is poignant that your dad’s final performance was there. In the beautiful eulogy you wrote for June Carter Cash after her death in 2003, you mention that Johnny hosted a “grandkids weekend” for June on her birthday one year someplace in Virginia on the Holston River. Do you have any more memories of visiting there growing up?
In 2001, we visited the Maybelle and Ezra Carter house in Maces Springs, where June grew up, and which she and my dad owned in their later years. We went canoeing on the Holston River and had a celebration for June’s birthday on the property. All the children and grandchildren had to give her something that was not a physical gift— a song, a story, a wish of some kind. I remember I sang “The Winding Stream.” We visited A. P.’s grave and sang together on the porch. It was a wonderful weekend. When I was young, I remember going with Dad and June to visit some of her kin in the Valley and eating the best biscuits I’ve ever had.
This year is the 95th Anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, which many consider to be the most influential country music recordings in history. The themes in those old songs are universally timeless. Given your family ties, it makes sense that the music of the Carter Family would impact your own music, and in the past, you have cited them as an influence. Can you point to a particular Carter song – or songs – that most resonate with you?
Helen Carter spent a lot of time with me, teaching me the Carter Family canon, when I was 18 and 19 years old. It was an invaluable education. I loved “Black Jack David,” “Hello Stranger,” “I Never Will Marry,” “Sinking in the Lonesome Sea,” “Banks of the Ohio,” “Bury Me Beneath the Weeping Willow”— all classic and essential songs— but most of all, I loved “The Winding Stream.” I recorded that, and I also recorded “Bury Me Beneath the Weeping Willow” on my album “The List.” I still perform that song in concert and will be singing it with added poignancy in Bristol!
I once ran across an old video of a Carl Perkins concert from the 1980s.The Stray Cats were his backing band, and there you were – along with Eric Clapton, Dave Edmunds and George Harrison and Ringo Starr. You were the only woman on that stage, and you absolutely rocked “What Kinda Girl.” You have collaborated with so many amazing artists over the course of your career. What is it like to meet your heroes and to be respected as a peer among them?
As a pre-teen and teen Beatles obsessive, absolutely in love with and deeply affected by the Beatles, I couldn’t, in my wildest dreams, imagine being on a show with George Harrison, or becoming friends with Elton John, and singing for him at his birthday party, or so many other instances where I met the heroes of my youth, or a contemporary artist who inspires me. At some point, as a musician, after 40 plus years, you seem to run across everyone who is out there doing the same thing as you, like a person in a multi-national corporation who meets her colleagues in other branches of the company. 😉
You have been a big advocate for change on many issues, including artists’ rights to get paid fairly for the use of their music by tech companies like Spotify and Apple Music. You serve on the board of Content Creators Coalition, an artist-run nonprofit advocacy group for musicians. You have testified before the House Judiciary Committee in defense of artists rights on behalf of the Americana Association, as your dad had done in 1997 in support of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. With so many artists, artists unions, and political leaders pushing to enact reform, do you see change coming any time soon? Does more need to happen?
The Content Creators Coalition dissolved and morphed into the Artist Rights Alliance, on whose board I serve. Change comes, change is slow. I realize I’m working in a garden I may never see bloom, but we do have some small successes piled up lately, and intellectual property rights’ issues seem to have bipartisan support in Congress, which is hopeful.
The pandemic and the political climate in the U.S. for the past several years has forced many of us to re-evaluate our lives and careers. Artists were forced to get creative to keep their audiences engaged and are only just starting to recover from months of not touring. What effect has the pandemic had on you personally and as an artist?
I wrote—both songs and essays— and I enjoyed being at home. I realize I’m very privileged to be able to say that. I thought a lot about what I want to do in the next phase of my life—less touring, more strategic, important events, more writing, more staying put. I got Covid on the road, and it’s become an occupational hazard for touring musicians. It’s not just that, however— it’s that the lifestyle is not sustainable for me. I love the audience so much, and the community and connection, but the other 22 hours of the day are hard!
I follow you on Twitter and you are brilliant at it. You have an amazing sense of humor; your barbs are witty and razor sharp. It takes skill to effectively diss in a concise and timely manner and you nail it. When are you going to take the plunge to Tik Tok? You don’t have an account, but you are definitely in that space – people from all walks of life are dancing and singing to “Seven Year Ache” and “Tennessee Flat Top Box.” It’s a beautiful thing. Search your hashtag and give me your thoughts. I’ll wait…
Oh wow. My daughters send me Tik Toks all the time, and I enjoy them, but… it will be a learning curve for me, and also… how much time does one give to social media before it starts taking back from you…??
Because I rarely get the opportunity to fully embarrass myself in front of my heroes, I’m gonna go ahead and ask the hard-hitting questions nobody but me really cares about:
You’re alone in the house and it is on fire. You can only grab one thing before fleeing. What do you take?
Irreplaceable photos of my kids that aren’t digitized and family scrapbooks. It would be hard to leave behind my guitars and diamond earrings, but….
If you could have one superpower (that you don’t currently possess), what would it be?
Heal the trauma of every child in the world. (Then… play guitar like my husband.)
What is your recurring dream?
Giant waves are coming toward me.
What book are you reading right now?
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
What music is in your current rotation?
Wilco, the Avett Brothers, and Annie Lennox
What do you always keep in your purse?
A guitar pick, lipstick, and Pepcid.
What is your least favorite household chore? Favorite?
Emptying the dishwasher is my least favorite. I love sweeping and cleaning out drawers.
What is your favorite movie?
Hmmm… probably “All About Eve.”
Are you a cat person or a dog person?
I have a cat I love, but I like dogs better, generally.
Do you believe in ghosts? Aliens?
The jury is still out. Ghosts…not traditional-type ghosts, but energy that survives, and the resonance of people and places that survive death or destruction. I believe that because energy doesn’t die. Aliens…? It’s a statistical impossibility that we are alone in the universe, but I have no idea what form that takes.
Marvel or D.C. Comics?
Ooh. I don’t know. Not my area.
Toilet paper rolled out or under?
No opinion on that.
What is your spirit animal?
Favorite toy as a kid.
Chatty Cathy doll
You really are a Renaissance woman. You continue to accomplish so much and seem to have a deep well of creative reserves. What’s next for Rosanne Cash?
I’m the lyricist on a new musical called “Norma Rae,” based on the bio of the real woman who became Norma Rae in the film starring Sally Field. We are staging a workshop with full cast in September, and I’m excited. I love working collaboratively like this.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration! I really appreciate this opportunity!
See you in Bristol!
I highly recommend reading Rosanne Cash’s memoir, “Composed,” and “Bodies of Water,” a collection of short fiction stories. Catch her performance on the State Street Stage on Sunday, Sept. 11 at 5:15 p.m. EDT during Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. The Stage is located right beside the monument to the 1927 Bristol Sessions on the “Tennessee side” of State Street. Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion is scheduled for September 9-11, 2022, on State Street in Historic Downtown Bristol. Visit BristolRhythm.com for lineup and ticket information.
Being a music aficionado isn’t a requirement to work at the Birthplace of Country Music, but most of us are really big fans. It isn’t uncommon for new hires to get quizzed on their favorite artists and what they enjoy listening to outside the office, so for this edition of the BCM Blog we made the quiz an assignment for the “new girl” in our Marketing Department. Below is Marketing Coordinator Ashli Linkous’ Top 5 must-sees at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in 2022:
Howdy! I guess I better introduce myself. I’m Ashli Linkous (odd spelling, I know). I first came to the Birthplace of Country Music as a King University student volunteer in 2021, where I helped monitor social media engagements during festival weekend. In January of this year, I started a Marketing internship, diving deep into the inner workings of all things BCM and Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. Now, newly minted as Marketing Coordinator here at BCM (woohoo!), I am SO excited to be back for a second festival, this time managing the festival socials, creating content, photographing artists, and running around like a crazy person! With the festival just days away, I thought I would share the bands I’m most excited to see at this year’s festival.
Straight from the Russell County line! Our local boys!
Hailing from the nearby mountain town of Castlewood, Virginia, 49 Winchester is a year-after-year festival favorite. They’ve been playing here in Bristol for quite some time, and they are achieving mega success with their recent album “Fortune Favors The Bold,” their fourth studio album overall and debut with label New West Records.
Coming straight off of their debut at The Grand Ole Opry, 49 Winchester will make a momentous homecoming at #BristolRhythm2022. They finished up a summer stint with country rock group Whiskey Myers a couple weeks ago, and the momentum they are gaining is only going to continue to pick up. Current members consist of Isaac Gibson (lead singer/guitar), Chase Chafin (bass), Bus Shelton (guitar), Noah Patrick (pedal steel), Tim Hall (piano, organ, keys) and former Folk Soul Revival drummer Justin Louthian. Past festival goers may remember them playing some of the smaller stages through the years, but in 2022 they are coming to you from the State Street Stage right before Saturday’s headliner Del McCoury Band. They are currently the most scheduled band on our festival app, so you better see them now– they’re on track to major stardom.
Personal favorites are “Annabel,” “Hays, Kansas” and “Damn Darlin.”
This April marked the highly anticipated release of west coast bluegrass queen Molly Tuttle’s “Crooked Tree” album, co-produced by Jerry Douglas (also on this year’s festival lineup) and featured some big name collaborations with heavy hitters like Billy Strings on “Dooley’s Farm” and Old Crow Medicine Show appearing on “Big Backyard.” Bluegrass fans will remember Tuttle dominating the IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards in both 2017 and 2018, winning ‘Guitar Player of the Year’ back-to-back as well as ‘Collaborative Recording of the Year’ in 2018. She is he first woman to win the IBMA in that category.
Her live band currently consists of Dominick Leslie (mandolin), Kyle Tuttle (banjo), Bronwyn Keith-Hynes (fiddle), and Shelby Means (bass). She was last with us in Bristol back in 2018, so make sure to see her while she’s in town. Molly and her band are set to play State Street Stage on Sunday just before Rosanne Cash!
Personal favorites include the cowgirl ballad “Side Saddle,” as well as “Dooley’s Farm,” an updated story about good ole moonshiner Dooley, and “Castilleja,” an outlaw drama turned song.
After an early deal with Interscope and a nearly fatal car accident in the 90’s, Fantastic Negrito came back from a music hiatus in 2014 with a self-titled EP. In 2016, he released “The Last Days of Oakland” under Blackball Universe, a multimedia collective he co-founded with Malcom Spellman. Now holding three GRAMMY awards (Best Contemporary Blues Album 2017, 2019, 2021), Fantastic Negrito is looking to 4-peat with his new album “White Jesus Black Problems,” which he calls “an exhilarating ode to the power of family and the enduring resilience of our shared humanity.”
Fantastic Negrito makes his Bristol Rhythm debut this year and is sure to be a hit with blues, R&B, soul, and folk lovers alike. You can catch his set on Friday, September 9th from 10:00-11:30 PM at the Cumberland Square Park stage.
Personal favorites are “An Honest Man” and “Oh Betty.”
A little bit gypsy, a little bit country. A sprinkle of folk, a dollop of Americana.
Sierra Ferrell got her start busking on street corners around the country. By 2018, she signed with Rounder Records for a three album deal and had a live performance of “In Dreams” go viral on GemsOnVHS . Her first singles came with the release of “Jeremiah” and “Why’d Ya Do It” in 2020, and her first album “Long Time Coming” hit the shelves in August 2021 just before her appearance at the 20th annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion.
Since last year, she has gained a boatload of new fans (rightfully so) and she just recently had her song “In Dreams” go viral on TikTok. We are thrilled that she’s returning to Bristol for a second year in a row; she’ll be at the Country Mural Stage on Saturday and if there’s only one person you should plan to see at this year’s festival it should 100% be Sierra Ferrell.
Sierra is one of my all-time favorite artists, with my favorite songs from her being the emotional track “Made Like That” as well as “Why’d Ya Do It” and “Bells of Every Chapel.” She’s also got the best covers of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bell Rock” that I’ve heard from a modern artist. She may not pull them out at the festival, but maybe if we chant loud enough she’ll give us some Christmas in September!
Earning the stamp of approval from chart-topper and Bristol Rhythm/Radio Bristol Sessions alumni Tyler Childers, John R. Miller is an artist that should be on your radar.
Miller grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of West Virginia and has lesser known releases going all the way back to 2014. Another Rounder Records artist, his debut solo album, “Depreciated,” came out in July 2021. His lyrics alone could be published as a poetry book, but his voice and instrumentals make it that much more impactful.
Voice Magazine for Women, a free, monthly publication distributed regionally in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to 650 locations, partners with the Birthplace of Country Music to promote our annual music festival, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. In August and September of each year, Voice generously allows us free rein to produce cover stories for the magazine highlighting upcoming acts performing at the event. With their permission, we have duplicated the cover article for this month – we hope you enjoy it! To read this month’s issue in its entirety, click here.
Voice Magazine for Women, August 2022
The Future is Female: Women Rule Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2022
By Guest Contributor Charlene Tipton Baker
Who says female artists don’t sell tickets? Tell that to Tanya Tucker or Rosanne Cash, two iconic Country Music Queens that have been selling out venues for decades. Both ladies just happen to be headlining a strong, female-inclusive lineup at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion this year. Nearly half the acts featured at September’s festival are either led by women or have a strong female presence in their bands. We don’t have room to list them all here, but we do want to shine the spotlight on a few powerful, must-see acts across a diverse spectrum of genres; artists who are more than great musicians – they’re real, relatable women working through complex, real-life issues to become their higher selves.
The War & Treaty
The War & Treaty’s Michael and Tanya Trotter are couple goals. Michael is a U.S. Army vet who overcame homelessness; Tanya is a born entertainer working in theater and music. Serendipitously, the two met at the Love Festival, and this is where their story began. Soon they would marry and later have a son while touring. It makes sense that their music is all about love and positivity, and the duo has won the hearts of audiences internationally with their intense, high-energy shows and all-around good vibes. In 2020 they performed alongside Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, and Gary Clark Jr. at the GRAMMYs for a tribute to Ken Ehrlich. They’ve also toured with the likes of Al Green, Brandi Carlile, and Jason Isbell. Tanya recently turned her signature pin-up style into a retro-cool side business, check out her online boutique at SheLovesVintage.com.
Sierra Ferrell is a country-folk gypsy from West Virginia who grew up with a single mom and two siblings. They were poor and moved around the state a lot. Sierra spent her childhood playing outdoors and using her vivid imagination. Her introduction to music was whatever was on the radio and singing in the school choir. Since then, Sierra’s lived out of a van, hopped trains, and hitch-hiked her way across the country playing music, picking up a myriad of styles and influences along the way. A few years after moving to Nashville she was signed to Rounder Records, and now she’s enchanting audiences on a grand scale with her authenticity, angelic twang, and a genre-bending sound that she describes as “past life.”
Katie Pruitt’s conservative Catholic upbringing in the Atlanta suburbs led her to live a closeted existence until she left town to complete her collegiate studies in Nashville. For years she had hidden her true self from her family and friends back home and turned to music as a means of self-expression. She’s very open about her struggles coming out to her family and with mental health, and writes about it in her music. Today she’s living her true, authentic self as a queer woman. More indie-folk than Americana, Pruitt’s velvety vocals open the floodgates to confessional songs about love, longing, and societal expectations. Her music resonates universally with life-affirming beauty and resolve.
Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway
At 29, Molly Tuttle is hands-down one of the finest flat-picking guitarists of our time. In 2017 she was the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year and was part of the all-female super group First Ladies of Bluegrass with Alison Brown, Missy Raines, Sierra Hull, and Becky Buller. Tuttle has been vocal about her experiences with sexism in bluegrass music and her struggles with anxiety and alopecia. On her latest album Crooked Tree, Tuttle is re-writing the narrative. “Some of the old ballads are really misogynist. There’s a lot of violence towards women. So I flipped the perspective to a woman’s.”
At 24, Jade Bird is wise beyond her years. Raised in the U.K. by her mother and grandmother, who were both separated from their spouses, Bird credits her own feminist worldview to their strength and resilience. In an interview with Hollermagazine about her latest album Different Kinds of Light, Bird stated: “There’s a strong sense of fury that comes with being a young woman with rights taken away.” With influences ranging from Alanis Morissette and PJ Harvey to Oasis and the Bee Gees, Bird harnesses her raw vocal power into strong, relatable narratives that represent a woman who is still figuring out the world around her.
San Francisco native Nicki Bluhm gained widespread attention when her YouTube rendition of the Hall & Oates classic “I Can’t Go For That” went viral. At the time she was in the band Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers, a group formed with her husband Tim Bluhm. The Gramblers recorded two albums together and toured internationally, but Bluhm’s marriage was crumbling under the weight of her husband’s substance abuse and infidelity. Nicki left the band and moved to Nashville with something to prove to herself and her ex – that she could make it as a solo artist on her own terms. Success has indeed been the best revenge, following collaborations and appearances with artists such as Phil Lesh, Margo Price, Dawes, The Band of Heathens, Josh Ritter, Lukas Nelson, and the Wood Brothers. Oliver Wood, Karl Denson, and A. J. Croce are just a few of the major artists she collaborated with on Avondale Drive, an album best described as “nostalgic country soul.”
Miko Marks walked away from the music industry after recording two albums and struggling to feel accepted as a Black artist in country music. The Flint, Michigan native’s elders were part of the Great Migration of Black Americans who escaped from the Jim Crow South. “People don’t realize that Black people, we were watching ‘Hee Haw’ too,” said Marks in an interview with NPR last year. A decade later, in the midst of the pandemic, a former bandmate sent her the song “Goodnight America,” a bluesy ballad about injustice and the breakdown of the American dream. It was then that Marks revived her musical career. Marks has now reclaimed her place in the industry and is listed among CMT’s Next Women of Country Class of 2022.
S. G. Goodman
S. G. Goodman is a queer artist from Hickman, Kentucky, who writes cinematic, indie-rock grooves with subversive, rural narratives that push back on Southern stereotypes. Goodman’s haunting, warbling vibrato echoes old-time voices of generations past, with punk sensibilities. Her latest, ground-breaking release, aptly titled Teeth Marks, rips Southern stereotypes, emotional trauma, the opioid crisis, and small-town life into bite-sized shreds. “I always feel, when describing the South to people, that the South is the soul of the country. And when the soul of the country is sick, the body is sick.” The artist admits to writing an open suicide note on her first album called “Space & Time” when she was at her lowest, feeling isolated and unsupported by her community. She says it was her musical circle of friends that saved her life.
Emily Scott Robinson
Greensboro, North Carolina native Emily Scott Robinson once worked as an advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Telluride, Colorado. It was there that her dream of becoming a musician was fostered by kindred spirits at Planet Bluegrass’ The Song School. When asked what listeners would learn about her from her latest album American Siren, Robinson says, “I think they would learn that I absolutely LOVE unpacking the roles that religious, cultural, and moral beliefs play in our life choices. I like to take my characters into their shadowy places and explore their inner lives.” Inspired by other strong Americana songwriters like Patty Griffin, Nanci Griffith, John Prine, and Brandi Carlile, the beauty in Robinson’s music is in the art of skillful and personal storytelling, delivered with pristine vocals that echo her influences. Robinson’s album has appeared on a number of “Best Of” lists in publications like NPR, Rolling Stone, Wide Open Country, and The Bluegrass Situation.
Oh He Dead
The story behind the Washington, D.C. quintet’s unusual name, Oh He Dead, came from a song written by the band’s vocalist C. J. Johnson. Based on an incident from Johnson’s life, the song’s narrator comes home to find her man cheating and guns him down. When asked by a band member what happened to the guy in real life, Johnson dryly retorted, “Oh, he dead.” No one was actually killed, but the phrase became a running joke and, eventually, the band’s name. The group had been together for four years when the pandemic placed a sudden halt on touring, so they started hosting weekly “Jammy Jams” where fans would tune in to listen to the group’s jazzy, rock and soul online. The two-year hiatus allowed the band to work on two albums of new material. In 2021 they submitted to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series, and it helped revive the band’s spirit. Johnson cites Fleetwood Mac and Sade as influences, and her autobiographical songs touch on real life – like the birth of her son, her rocky relationship with her father, and a high school crush.
Check out these acts and a host of other amazing talent during Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, celebrating the 95th Anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions September 9–11, 2022, in Historic Downtown Bristol, Tennessee-Virginia. Check out the full lineup and purchase passes at BristolRhythm.com.
After cancelling Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in 2020 due to the pandemic, it was great to be back on State Street this past September dancing with friends, making new ones, and enjoying great live music again. Sometimes we take for granted that there will “always be next year” but, when 2020 didn’t happen the way we had planned, we realized just how quickly things can change. Something extraordinary could derail any of us at any given moment, so it’s important to take stock in the moment, grasp tight to any positivity one can muster, and not get mired down in circumstances we have no control over. That’s why having the festival in 2021 was so important – not just to the Birthplace of Country Music as an organization, but also to our Historic Downtown Bristol community and to the artists and the fans who count on us to curate a quality event.
The saying “a rising tide lifts all boats” applies here. Bristol Rhythm has become a family tradition that not only lifts our community economically, but it also brings us together and elevates our spirits on a deeply emotional level that’s just good for the soul. The logistics of the festival are somewhat simple – meaning we don’t offer corporate activations like free hair salon tents, silent discos or ferris wheels – instead we focus on the charm and history of Bristol’s beautiful downtown and great live music without distraction. After all, we want our guests to fall in love with the setting, the artists and their music, and the overall good vibes. Personal struggles, social class, and political affiliations are checked at the gate, and we genuinely enjoy being a community of music lovers. We’re making core memories to last a lifetime, and hopefully they’re all positive.
Though our 20th anniversary celebration presented some challenges with last-minute lineup changes and navigating COVID, we did our best to stay positive and focused on festivalgoers’ overall enjoyment. Despite the hiccups, we had a solid turnout and the music was simply blissful! The magical spark that makes Historic Downtown Bristol so special during Bristol Rhythm was ignited once again and, if only for three short days, the world was harmonious. It doesn’t get much better than that.
If you know, you know – meaning that those of us who attend Bristol Rhythm have a deep reverence for it. There are always people who will never truly get it unless they come here. As Communications Manager, I have spent nearly two decades pitching the festival to major music publications. We’ve had a few nice write-ups here and there, but nothing like what we received this year – thanks to the help of publicist Danielle Dror at Victory Lap. With her tenacity and great connections, around 40 reporters and journalists from a diverse group of media outlets attended Bristol Rhythm in 2021, many for the first time. Some of their words made me literally cry tears of joy, and I want to share them with you here:
“The Reunion should be counted in the top ten most influential and enriching festivals in roots music. With its location in the heart of a rural region rich in country music talent and history, it’s helped burnish Americana’s integrity as a music field that doesn’t only rely on or reflect the cosmopolitan values that suffuse the upcoming Nashville AmericanaFest. At the same time, Bristol’s heritage has never been more relevant.” –WMOT
“The environment and atmosphere were nothing short of magical; as if Jimmie Rodgers, The Carters, and the others were watching over everybody celebrating the beauty of what they started 100 years ago.” – Music Mecca
“Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion did a great job celebrating the region’s cultural history and musical folkways. In the process, area talents and local business owners benefited in the hear-and-now from Bristol’s legacy and its ability to draw stars the caliber of Anderson and Lauderdale to an idyllic, small and Southern town.” – Wide Open Country
“[Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion] may be our favorite festival yet. We encourage music fans to visit this special gathering in its next editions.” – JRod Concerts Podcast
“There is a neo-traditionalist movement afoot that has the potential to dynamically alter the future of country music. Far from the madding crowds of Nashville’s Lower Broadway and the boardrooms and industry offices on nearby Music Row, it’s happening in the genre’s ancestral home of Bristol – on the Tennessee/Virginia border – at the city’s Rhythm & Roots Reunion.” – The Boot
“Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion blended sounds both old and new, offering a variety of current and up-and-coming artists in the place where country music started a century ago. The festival continued to honor and carry forward traditions established in the city known as the Birthplace of Country Music.” – Blue Ridge Outdoors
“Bristol Rhythm & Roots is a festival that inspires artists and upholds tradition. Seeing the return of the festival following last year’s cancellation, bringing together musicians and music lovers for a weekend of communal camaraderie in reverence to the music that was made there, the words of a Carter Family classic still ring true for it is evident that the ‘circle will remain unbroken’.” – The Alternate Root
“The 20th Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion defines best as a triumph. From Radio Bristol’s Farm and Fun Time show at the Country Music Mural on Friday afternoon through Saturday night’s scintillating Blackberry Smoke performance and Sunday’s eloquent set from Son Little on State Street, attendees luxuriated in music courtesy [of] Rhythm & Roots.” – Bristol Herald-Courier
I want to take the time to thank each and every one of you who stayed with us through thick and thin, and for everyone who has supported us over the years. From our fans and volunteers to our sponsors and artists, you are responsible for making Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion the best music festival ever, and we appreciate you for helping us achieve all the things we couldn’t have achieved on our own. We really needed that support this year, and we are grateful for you in a million different ways.
As we sit down at our tables on Thursday to give thanks, we offer you an abundance of gratitude for your generosity, good will, kindness, and understanding through what has been a difficult time for all of us. May you be in the presence of those you love most this Thanksgiving – well wishes for a healthy, happy holiday and brighter days ahead for us all! We hope you enjoy our Bristol Rhythm Gratitude Spotify playlist as you gather and know you are forever in our hearts:
Charlene Baker is the Communications Manager at the Birthplace of Country Music.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year: September! While the first day of autumn doesn’t officially begin until September 22, if you’re anything like me you LOVE fall. Everything from the chilly air and seeing the leaves change, to hot apple cider, hayrides and pumpkin patches – there are a lot of seasonal activities to enjoy. September in Bristol TN/VA also brings the annual excitement of the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival, which celebrates Bristol’s rich music heritage as the birthplace of country music. And that music festival makes me think of all the other wonderful festivals out there, ready to be explored and experienced. With the pandemic affecting nearly all events and activities for the past year and a half, many festivals now have virtual opportunities so that you can also experience the magic from home. Here’s a list of some delightfully different festivals in both Virginia and Tennessee to add to your to-do list. How many have you already visited?
First and foremost, what is a woodbooger? You may be asking yourself this very question right about now. According to the festival website, a woodbooger is defined as “a bigfoot-like creature that allegedly roams the woods of Southwest Virginia. He is a very tech-savvy creature and he keeps in touch via Facebook and Twitter.” You can visit the Flag Rock Recreation Area, designated as a “Woodbooger Sanctuary,” to see a statue of this elusive mountain-dwelling cryptid while you celebrate the festivities. The festival will celebrate its 7th year in 2022 and features a woodbooger-calling contest, a woodbooger costume contest, and an actual woodbooger hunt. This community event also has an annual guided night walk where guests can learn the local history of Norton. A definite must-experience kind of festival in my book!
If you’ve traveled past Wytheville, Virginia, on Interstate 81, you may have noticed a water tower in the shape of a brightly colored hot air balloon and thought, okay what’s that all about?! The answer is: Wytheville, Virginia is home to the Chautauqua Balloon Festival where dozens of hot air balloons fill the skyline with an eye-catching display each summer. The festival, an annual week-long event, is going into its 37th year in 2022 and is free of charge to the public. It’s put together each year by the Wythe Arts Council, whose mission is to provide entertainment and extend cultural opportunities to a largely rural area and beyond. This festival has it all, including food vendors, a craft bazaar, parades, music, and of course, hot air balloons flights!
Why does the ghost always need more books? He goes through them too quickly.
With that joke, the next question is: What could get better than this festival from Virginia Humanities? The Virginia Festival of the Book brings together writers and readers to promote and celebrate books, reading, literacy, and literary culture. The festival also has a large focus on diversity and accessibility while engaging those who attend on topics across many different genres. Guest speakers are chosen each year and represent a variety of topics designed to spark creative conversations and to inspire individuals. The festival also extends well beyond the festival date and features an incredible online and virtual presence – visit the festival website to view videos of discussions on authors and featured books via the Shelf Life virtual event program, which is free to the public.
Virginia Clay Festival
Where: Stanardsville, Virginia
When: September 18–19, 2021 and annually each September
The Virginia Clay Festival is an art show celebrating the creative possibilities of clay. Featuring clay artisans from across the state of Virginia, live demonstrations, music and more, this festival is sure to be an inspiration to you! Whether you’re a seasoned artisan, a beginner to pottery crafts, or a visitor with an interest and appreciation for this unique art, this festival has something for everyone. The festival also features an array of Irish and old-time bands during both days that will be sure to get you dancing, and when you visit you’ll have the opportunity to actually meet the makers of the handcrafted items on display.
Alright let’s take a look at some of my favorite festivals across the state line and on into Tennessee. It seems to me that Tennessee has some of the best tasty food fests, what do you think?
Since 2004 the annual Tomato Art Fest takes place in August each year in East Nashville with a festival motto of “The Tomato – A Uniter, Not A Divider! Bringing Together Fruits & Vegetables.” I couldn’t have said it better myself! Did you know that tomatoes are actually a fruit? According to the USDA, Americans eat 22 to 24 pounds of tomatoes per person every year, and nearly half is consumed in the form of tomato sauce and ketchup. When you visit the vibrant community of East Nashville for the next Tomato Art Fest, you’ll be sure to see the tomato in its every form, along with tomato-themed art from local artists, local music, and more.
Okay, we’ve covered a lot of great festivals on this list so far, but this one is oh so very sweet! Take a trip on the “puddin’ path” at this fest where you can sample ten different kinds of banana pudding – if you need more (which you will), be sure to visit the pudding tent. The festival motto is “A great time for a great cause,” and the mission of the event is to earn funds to assist nonprofits and victims of disasters including fires, tornadoes, and floods. The festival is going into its 12th year – by visiting you’ll be able to witness the national cook-off for the Best Banana Pudding in America, and kids can visit their very own “Banana Land” where “kids go bananas” according to the event website!
Tennessee Soybean Festival
Where: Martin, Tennessee
When: September 4–11, 2021 and annually in September
I’ve bean thinking about this festival for a long time… And if you want to learn more about these magic beans, you’ll be visiting the right place. The annual Tennessee Soybean Festival takes place each year in September, paying homage to all things soybean and celebrating agriculture in general. Did you know that the soybean is called the “Miracle Bean” because of its versatility – for instance, soy ink can be used in printing books. Festival activities also include the Magic Bean Story Hours, visiting “The Bean House,” Friends of Library Book Sale, and more, all of which are enjoyed by festivalgoers each year (though many activities are closed this year due to COVID-19 safety precautions).
Finally, take part in the National Storytelling Festival in beautiful Jonesborough, Tennessee, put on by the International Storytelling Center. The festival will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary and annually features a diverse lineup of storytellers. This year’s festival will be delivered virtually so that festivalgoers can still enjoy and experience over 20 hours of storytelling from the comfort of your own big cozy couch. One of my favorite activities during this fest is the ghost stories performed at dusk on a cool October evening. The mission of the International Storytelling Center is to inspire and empower people to use storytelling to address real-world challenges and promote positive change. I promise that you will be inspired after visiting, virtually or in-person!
So, there you have it, a few of my top picks of some wonderfully odd and interesting festivals in Virginia and Tennessee. I hope you get the chance to check these fests off your to-do list of fun and culturally engaging activities, either virtually or in person. Remember to stay safe and mask up when visiting festivals!
As I sit here collecting my thoughts, that phrase plays over and over in my head like needle skipping a record. What. A. Year.
I mean, here I am, still working from my home office more than a year later – which is really just a desk shoved into the corner of my dining room – where I’ve been since March 2020 when COVID hit. Hubby got his second COVID shot in January of this year. I finally finished mine up in April. My 12-year-old daughter just got her first shot, and like on so many road trips I’ve taken throughout my lifetime, I can’t help but wonder, are we there yet? Are we finally getting to a place where life looks somewhat normal? Man, I hope so.
Through it all, BCM has kept a skeleton crew of distanced, full-time office and museum staff, the rest of us going in as needed, but mostly working from home to limit exposure. It’s been really different, but I’m totally cool with it. I am so grateful to work for an organization that values the health and well-being of their team and to work with so many caring individuals. Our staff has, thankfully, escaped the virus because of these measures and boy am I ever grateful that we’ve managed to keep our team working while so many other businesses have faced layoffs. I’m also really grateful for the freedom of working in t-shirts, leggings, and sweatpants sans make-up.
That’s not to say BCM wasn’t affected by the pandemic – we were hit pretty hard financially due to the temporary closure of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, the stoppage of any live and in-person events or activities, and the cancellation of Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in 2020. However, we made adjustments, raised money, received some grants we were eligible for, and got through it. In the end, we’d like to think the entire ordeal made us stronger as an organization. We are a pretty tight knit group, like family, and I’m just so thankful we are all still here.
As I look back on all the things we’ve collectively missed since COVID – while trying to figure out how to tastefully incorporate sweatpants and leggings into my wardrobe upon return to the office – I’m reminded of how big of a role live music has had in my life and how it helped grow Bristol into what it is today. Not having outdoor concert events in downtown Bristol all last summer was a real bummer, and I am so glad to see venues slowly reopening and booking live music again. I am ready to emerge from my casual-wear cocoon and get back to something close to normal – and live music on State Street this summer is the medicine my soul needs after such a long draught!
After all, what is the birthplace of country music without live music? It’s the life force of our very existence! A few venues are already dipping their toes back into the water, and it’s so good to see our local musicians getting back to work!
Virginia is for Lovers has partnered with BCM to bring the Road to Bristol Rhythm outdoor concert series to State Street this summer, which will take place on the lawn at The Sessions Hotel. Morgan Wade, Jim Lauderdale, and Amythyst Kiah are all slated to perform with their full bands, and tickets are on sale now. Each act is scheduled to perform at the festival in September, and the series is designed to give us a taste of the awesomeness that is Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion – amazing live music by stellar artists performing in a fabulous setting in Historic Downtown Bristol. I have missed it SO much, and I know I’m not alone!
Be watching out for an exciting new initiative to promote Bristol’s live music scene on the horizon – with both cities of Bristol working with Bristol Motor Speedway, Believe in Bristol, BCM, and other agencies to create awareness for all the live music events happening here this summer and leading up to the big 20th anniversary of Bristol Rhythm this September. I can’t wait! My love is so deep for the festival, I’m working through whether or not to revive my Golf Cart Karaoke sessions with festival artists in 2021 or doing more stage hopping to see as many bands as possible all weekend. What do you think? I’ll set up an IG Stories poll so you can help me decide!
We always say that once we get someone to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion for the first time, they’ll be back. We love hearing stories from visitors who tell us how they discovered our event and return every year, and how they tell friends and family about it so they can enjoy it together.
A few weeks ago in the blog post Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion: The Road Home, I shared the first three videos in our 20th anniversary docuseries about the festival’s humble beginnings and how the event has evolved over the years. In this fourth and final episode, we discuss how Bristol Rhythm was designed to be a homecoming for fans and artists alike.
Make the 20th anniversary of Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion a homecoming this September 10-12, 2021! See the full lineup and order weekend passes here before the price increases May 1.