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.
The spirit of Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion touches many of us on a deeply personal level. Since it began in 2001, it’s become a part of who we are as a community and a place where we can gather with our tribe to celebrate our music culture, life, and each other. We are so grateful for all of you who have made it a tradition to gather here each year with your friends and family with so much love in your hearts. Getting the festival to where we are today hasn’t been easy, but it has been a joy; a journey shared by everyone who has helped us evolve into what we are today.
In 2020 we had asked our friends at Loch & Key Productions to help us create a short docuseries about the origins of the festival for our 20th anniversary that September. We released the videos, but then the pandemic hit. We were forced to cancel our beloved festival, and the videos didn’t get the love they deserved. So now we are re-releasing them with faith that vaccines will extinguish COVID-19, at the very least to a manageable degree.
In episode one, the first of three videos (a fourth has not yet been released), we spoke with former Bristol, Tennessee Mayor David Shumaker, the “Father of Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion,” and former Bristol, Tennessee Community Relations Director Terrie Talbert about the origins of Bristol Rhythm and how we came together as a small group of people with big dreams for Bristol and our historic downtown – which was, at the time, very much in need of a comeback.
In episode two of our docuseries, a few artists who have performed at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion and continue to be champions for us and our region – including Marty Stuart, Jim Lauderdale, Dom Flemons, and Amythyst Kiah – speak about Bristol’s authentic music roots.
The third episode in the series gets to the heart of what makes Bristol Rhythm special, and why it will continue to be a place where artists and fans come to pay homage to the our region’s rich music heritage.
Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion is like coming home, plain and simple. We hope you will take that journey September 10–12, 2021 and join us for our 20th anniversary – and bring friends, family, coworkers, and anyone who loves good music! We’ll be back with a fourth episode of our docuseries very soon!
This is the first time I have ever written a blog, so for me this is pretty exciting! We’re missing Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion this year, and to cheer up the staff, we thought it would fun to get them to make a playlist of their favorite songs from festivals past. I have many more than ten, but have narrowed it down to some sentimental favorites to share with you. These are mine in no particular order. You’ll find the entire staff playlist at the bottom of the page, so keep scrolling!
#1 “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show I chose this song because we had tried for so many years to bring Old Crow Medicine Show back to the festival, and to see how the crowd reacted when they performed that song put a gigantic smile on my face! I don’t get to listen to much music during festival weekends, but I made it my mission to see every minute of Old Crow’s set – and I did! Pure joy!
#2 “Whiskey Angel” by The Black Lillies If I didn’t choose a Black Lillies song, Cruz might never speak to me again! Actually, this is the one band that I know practically every word to their songs, though I sing them in my head because I can’t carry a tune in a bucket! “Whiskey Angel” is probably one of my favorites, and when my grandson Will was four years old he told me it was his favorite song, too. A great memory!
#3 “Dead Ringer” by The Whiskey Gentry It’s hard not to choose a song by Whiskey Gentry. The band is no longer together, but fortunately lead singer Lauren is still performing with her husband Jason under the name Lauren Morrow. “Dead Ringer” is just a fun song, and Lauren’s voice is so awesome! The video for the song is also amazing. Our loyal Bristol Rhythm fans have come to love them as much as I do.
#4 “Jawbone Blues” by Folk Soul Revival Folk Soul: It would have been a shame not to pick a song from one of our own. I chose “Jawbone Blues” because I love Daniel’s voice on this particular song. Such a great band and a local treasure!
#5 “Take it All Back” by Judah & The Lion My granddaughter Mary Nell was so excited about Judah & The Lion coming to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion because it was her and her best friend Cassidy’s favorite band. The girls where so excited to get to meet them and get their picture taken with them. I don’t do much of this, but I just had to make that happen for the girls! It was an epic moment when they did “Take it All Back.” The crowd was so loud as they danced and sang with them. I knew we had hit a home run with this band!
#6 “Mercy Now” by Mike Farris What’s not to love about Mike Farris and his awesome voice? For this I’ll just say we all need a little mercy now!
#7 “Shady Grove” by Doc Watson Doc Watson was such a special man, and I am so glad we had the opportunity to host him at our festival. I’ve heard him sing “Shady Grove” most every time I was fortunate enough to see him. The reason I like it is because he always smiled and looked happy while singing it.
#8 “Heartache Boulevard” by Eilen Jewell She is an artist that I still listen to because I just love her voice. If you’ve never listened to her music, do yourself a favor and look her up.
#9 “Radio” by Hackensaw Boys When my grandchildren Will and Mary Nell were little, we would dance around the room on fake drums to “Radio.” They made me play it over and over! Will went up on stage with me one year at the festival to help introduce them. Wonderful memories!
#10 “Swingin'” by John Anderson What can I say? I wish we were all swingin’ together today!
To listen to the full playlist of the BCM team’s favorite Bristol Rhythm songs, including Leah’s picks, see below.
I think we can all agree 2020 has been one giant dumpster fire. As we enter the Halloween season, you might be thinking reality has become a little like living a scary movie. This got me to thinking: if this were a scary movie, how could we flip the script? Hasn’t the horror genre taught us everything we need to know about surviving until the credits? And because every good Halloween flick needs a killer soundtrack, I’ve included a Spooktacular Bristol Rhythm playlist on Spotify to aid in your assault on COVID-19, with nearly five hours of music by your favorite festival artists! From the trailer through the double feature, we got you covered.
Please understand, I mean no disrespect. My intent is not to make light of the pandemic, its victims, or the tragedies we are facing as a society. COVID-19 has attacked my industry and many others, our friends and family, cancelled our favorite festival and now my favorite holiday – Halloween. But if the horror genre has taught me anything, it’s that light almost always conquers darkness, and that keeping a sense of humor through hard times is crucial to survival. But. Like Laurie Strode beat down the Boogeyman, I’m ready to kick some COVID ass!
An examination of the zombie sub-genre of horror by masters Romero, Kirkman, Boyle, Brooks, and Fleisher is essential right now because their work imparts an over-arching social commentary, including the dissection of human behavior, during times of fictional global crisis. Therein you may find one section of the population, like besties Shaun and Ed of Shaun of the Dead, who just want to wait it out over pints at The Winchester until help shows up.
In contrast you may find characters on a mission, like Tallahassee inZombieland who would face down a horde of the undead for a single Twinkie. Eventually Tallahassee meets up with Columbus and learned there are rules. If those rules were applied to the here and now, they kind of make sense. Let’s break it down:
Rule #1 – Cardio (References the ability to outrun danger.) Conditioning during the pandemic isn’t the worst idea. Stay strong, friends!
Rule #2 – Double Tap (Always make sure a zombie is decommissioned, i.e. a second shot to the head) When a sink is nowhere to be found, have sanitizer ready as a back up. Go for the big guns and hit that pump twice so you’re covered.
Rule #3 – Beware of Bathrooms (Don’t get trapped with your pants down.) Public restrooms can be sketch, so make going potty in a strange place a fun game! It’s called “Not Touching Stuff with Your Bare Hands” and anyone can play! Be resourceful, get creative! Give yourself points for ingenuity! Judge if you will, but I was playing this game for years before COVID-19 because poo.
Rule #4 Seatbelts (For obvious reasons.) Okay, this one really won’t protect you from COVID-19, but I mention it because it’s a safety precaution, just like wearing a mask, and seatbelts don’t seem to trigger anybody into a political argument. You just wear ’em and shut up about it.
Rule #7 Travel Light (You never know when you need to bolt.) Wallet? Check. Keys? Check. Mask and hand sanitizer? Check, check.
Rule #17 Be a Hero (Amended rule from the previous, don’t be a hero–sometimes you have to be a helper.) Imagine how many times you’ve distanced, masked up and not infected anyone with COVID-19! You’re already a hero!
Rule #22 When in Doubt, Know Your Way Out Don’t be afraid to say “no” to situations that don’t make you feel safe. These are extraordinary times, and the sooner we lick this thing, the sooner we can all get back to normal.
Rule #31 Check the Back Seat Can’t find your mask? Did you check the back seat?
Rule #32 Enjoy the Little Things Don’t take anything for granted. Let’s show each other some kindness and compassion, and be grateful for all the little things that make us happy. Like family, friends, and good music!
One positive thing about scary times and scary stories is what they teach us about ourselves. Even the most unassuming characters can turn out to be the toughest and most resourceful, and there is safety in numbers when we all choose to stick together and do the right thing. I pray we all actively choose to be heroes and protect each other, because our lives just may depend on it. I desperately want us all to dance together next year during Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion on State Street without masks and without the threat of COVID-19. Even scary stories sometimes have happy endings, and after all we’ve been through in 2020, I think we deserve one.
We hope you enjoy this musical Halloween treat from us: A Spooktacular Bristol Rhythm Spotify Playlist! From Appalachian murder ballads to rip-roarin’ rockabilly monster rock, some roots songs conjure an atmosphere worthy of any big screen thriller. I dug down deep into the vault of past Bristol Rhythm artists to come up with some killer tracks for this season of the witch – and found dozens of chilling tunes that rattle bones and tell some scary little stories of their own.
The emotional and financial devastation of the global COVID-19 crisis is TBD – like so many gigs that musicians and venues have cancelled until further notice. The lives and safety of humans is priority one, and social distancing has become the catchphrase for 2020. But with the sheer volume of full-time touring musicians out of work, the pandemic is forcing artists to get creative with new revenue streams now that touring – their numero uno source of income – has ceased.
The moguls who make up the big labels and agencies will likely be okay. It’s the little guys that are suffering most, the singer-songwriters and bands that pack up their used Econolines and hit the road singing for their supper in bars, breweries, and small venues. Many of them also lack health insurance because they can’t afford to pay the premiums, let alone the high cost of hospitalization if they become ill, in general or with the severe symptoms of COVID-19.
They say in Bristol you can’t swing a banjo without hitting a musician, and that about sums it up. A majority of them keep day jobs and gig on the weekends, while some depend on live performances to pay the rent. Growing up in Bristol’s music scene, I’ve been blessed to develop some very dear friendships among artists and agents, and I’m really feeling for them right now. I’ve reached out to a few locally to see how this massive industry lock down is affecting their livelihoods. Among those I spoke with, there was some fear, but an overwhelming amount of optimism. But they all agreed with one thing: social distancing is the right thing to do to keep their fans safe.
In mid-March, pre-lock down, I caught up with Amythyst Kiah, who spends part of the year touring internationally. Fresh from a Grammy nomination, her tour schedule was packed with gigs that included dates opening for Yola and an event on a cruise ship embarking from Canada. It all screeched to a halt when the pandemic hit. She’s now hunkering down at home with her dad Carl Phillips in Johnson City.
“We both got COVID tests just to see if we were asymptomatic carriers, and we are in the clear,” said Amythyst. “Doing what we can to stay informed and safe during this crazy time!”
“I think in some ways, you know, it’s a blessing and curse because it’s forcing musicians like myself to really delve into the internet-land and reach people online,” said Ella in a recent interview with WCYB News 5. “I’ve done several live streams and made enough to pay my rent, so that’s good!”
I get the feeling that a lot of great music (and COVID babies!) will be born during the pandemic, like the song Ella and East Tennessee singer-songwriter Earleine collaborated on during the first couple weeks of the quarantine when their entire spring gig schedules got axed. Like so many great folk songs, the underlying tragedy described in “Coronavirus Blues” is only slightly elevated by a light and playful melody.
Kris Truelsen, producer at WBCM Radio Bristol and bandleader of the indie group Bill and the Belles, discussed some of the more creative ways artists are working to connect without the benefit of touring.
“Many artists are using their Patreon accounts to develop closer interaction with fans,” said Kris. “As artists are unable to travel, they want their fan base to know how crucial they are to them. Many are developing specialized content for their top fans which, in turn, is helping to generate some income and help them feel connected during this trying time. Some are teasing new songs, or even playing rough drafts of songs for fans, some are giving a behind-the-scenes look into the creative process. Others are hosting VIP concerts for only a few close fans.”
Kris continued, “Last week I sat in on the Barefoot Movement’s weekly online concert where viewers are encouraged to donate and to participate in the show through commenting. The band has been doing these since mid-March and has also been spotlighting a few artists a week to sit in, play a few songs, and chat. They also play fan favorites while each member is self-isolated in a different location, sing a weekly cover song as voted on by fans, and more. It was a really cool way to see how effective this format can be for artists that have a dedicated fan base.”
Kris hosts Radio Bristol’s monthly variety show Farm and Fun Time with Bill and the Belles (the show’s house band) live from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, which has closed temporarily due to COVID-19. The trio went live from Kris’s front porch for a special Home Edition in April and are planning another from his home on May 14.
Kingsport-based singer-songwriter Beth Snapp works in healthcare but says she hasn’t concentrated much on selling her music during the quarantine.
“Nope,” Beth commented. “Honestly I’ve not been pushing hard for it because I’ve had a lot of illness and have been working at the hospital – at least for now, probably will lose hours there too. Stressful times. I do think, however, people have to focus on essential purchases right now and money for a new piece of merch is likely not in the budget. I know it’s not for me, so I’m certainly not judging anyone for the same. I [was] excited to do a live streaming show…(my first one!) not necessarily for the income, but to see who tunes in. I’ve missed playing for folks.” Beth performed for the online Border Bash Social Distancing Series on Thursday, April 30 on Facebook Live.
Kris Truelsen says he’s not pushing merch sales either, but Bill and the Belles have seen a spike in sales. “For my band, personally, we have seen merch sales go up from the onset of COVID-19, though we haven’t been pushing sales too hard for income. We all are lucky enough to have remained employed by our other jobs. I really feel for full-time artists right now as they are struggling.”
Small regional booking and artist management agencies are also among the casualties of COVID-19, including Middle Fork Records. Bristol resident and Southwest Virginia native Jon McGlocklin founded the agency in 2017 and it’s his full-time job. He manages and books gigs for the group Virginia Ground (of which he is a founding member) and handles booking for a number of regional concert series, festivals, and venues including The Pinnacle, Beech Mountain Resort, and 7 Dogs Brewpub, to name a few.
“When this pandemic set in, I spent my days canceling everything I had spent months on booking,” Jon revealed. “Middle Fork Records has helped raise money for artists and bands, but hasn’t made money since February. The online support started with a bang but seems to have slowed with the effects of prolonged quarantine and patrons facing layoffs and being furloughed from their jobs. What was thought to be a 2–3 week quarantine has turned into something entirely different. Different but necessary. Staying healthy and safe and flattening the curve is still priority #1 amongst the arts community from what I am seeing.”
Middle Fork Records has partnered with Beech Mountain Resort to produce a Virtual Watch Party Series featuring Jamen Denton, Morgan Wade, Josh Daniel, and others. The company is also working with ElextraLand Radio in Gainesville, Florida to produce an international series. And 100% of the virtual tips collected through these ventures will go to the artists.
At the end of the day, gigging musicians are running a small business, and without paying gigs the entire chain of artist management and booking agencies break down. Streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music pay mere pennies to indies unless they generate millions of plays. Online tip jars aren’t a replacement for contracted guarantees at venues. Additionally, artists must front the cash to order more merch before they can sell it to fans online, and online stores also take a cut of the profits. The trickle-down of business loss will affect CD suppliers, graphic designers who make tour posters, promotional product companies, etc. The long-term effects of the pandemic are yet to be seen, but many are hopeful these winds of change will wake up the existing music industry and that things will change for the better.
“This issue isn’t going to resolve once the stay at home order ceases,” Truelsen concluded. “This will be an ongoing issue for career development for a long time to come. I hope it can bring some positive change as the career of a full-time artist has gotten more and more difficult to navigate over the past few decades and the industry in many respects has taken advantage of artists. If anything, this crisis has shown that artists are incredibly resourceful and in many ways can generate sufficient income without the industry.”
“The struggle is real, but we’re going to come out of this and throw some of the most epic events in the region when everyone can start gathering again!” added McGlocklin.
Amen, brother. AMEN.
Speaking of epic events, all of the folks I spoke with for this blog post are scheduled to perform at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion this September. There are no plans to cancel or postpone the festival at this time, and it will be a great party if everyone to continues to practice social distancing and looks out for each other! Stay safe out there, franz!
We are living in
extraordinary times right now, making many feel unsettled and anxious as we
face a host of uncertainties. For me, music often acts as a balm to troubled
thoughts and worries, and so while the museum is closed and we are all working
to protect each other, we wanted to share a variety of ways that you can
experience the Birthplace of Country Music at home by connecting with us
through music, stories, activities, and history!
Obviously, the best way to engage with the museum’s content is to come through our doors and spend time in the permanent exhibits. However, when that’s not possible, we wanted to be sure that people had the chance to learn more about the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and the history we celebrate – and so we have created a series of content-focused videos that share short introductions into aspects of that history, enough to whet your appetite for visiting us in the future! You can check these out on the BCM YouTube channel or as they are released onto our social media pages. We are also in the process of creating some virtual content related to our current special exhibit – Real Folk: Passing on Trades & Traditions Through the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program – which opened only two weeks before the museum closed due to COVID-19. We hope to have that ready that soon!
Educational and Fun Activities
Along with the content-focused videos, we’ve also started sharing educational and fun resources on our website. We have downloadable coloring sheets and activities, along with videos of a mini banjo-making craft and 78 record trivia. Check out this link to access these. And keep checking back as we hope to share more puzzles, coloring sheets, and other fun items in the future.
Radio Bristol Book Club
Each fourth Thursday of the month, four readers from the museum and the Bristol Public Library come together for a live on-air conversation about a book that ties into the museum’s content, regional and wider music heritage, and Appalachian culture and stories. Since the Radio Bristol Book Club started in 2019, we’ve read children’s and adult books, fiction and non-fiction, and all of the discussions have dug deep into the themes and questions raised in the books, the author’s style and voice, how it connects to our community or our own histories, and more. Each episode also includes related music, and we sometimes also get the chance to talk to the author! You can access several of our previous book club shows here, and we invite you to start reading with us and listen in to future shows, including Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam Jr. (April 23), Clapton’s Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument by Allen St. John (May 28), Halfway to the Sky by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (June 24), and Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock (July 23), to name just a few of the next book picks.
As a music organization, we are able to share some wonderful performances via our YouTube channel. Over the past few years, we’ve uploaded a whole host of videos of artists and bands who have performed at the museum, on Radio Bristol, and at our festival and other venues. You can access these performances here. We are also sharing Quarantine Sessions – while Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion is still months away, festival artists are getting together to contribute music for these special performances. You can view the videos on our YouTube channel, and subscribe and share from there! And our downtown partner Believe in Bristol is also sharing Facebook Live performances from a variety of local and regional favorites via their Border Bash Social Distancing Series. These are just another way music is bringing us all together during this time of uncertainty. Don’t forget to support these hardworking and talented artists by buying their CDs and merchandise online.
Be sure to connect with
us on social media for daily content from all three branches of the
organization – the museum, festival, and radio station are all active on
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. All of our platforms are great places to
learn about “this day in country music,” the legacy of Bristol Sessions and
related musicians, early links to many of our other online resources, and more.
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate, and as such, we want to honor that connection by sharing just a few of the free digital resources that are available through the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian Learning Lab has a whole host of distance learning opportunities. Our personal favorite is their Smithsonian Learning Activities Choice Board, which provides several fun and educational activities related to science, social studies, culture, and the arts. There is a new issue released each week – check out Issue 3 to find one of our contributions, a songwriting mad lib, in the culture section! Another great resource is the National Museum of American History’s O Say Can You See blog, filled with great reads about American history and the amazing items and stories found in the Smithsonian collections. The Smithsonian’s newest museum, the National Museum of African American History & Culture, has created several “collections” via the Learning Lab that explore history, art, life, and culture through the African American lens. And while you’re stuck at home, it’s a great chance to grow your very own flowers and vegetables – Smithsonian Gardens has some classroom resources that can help.
Not being open to visitors is a strange experience for us – we miss welcoming the public through our doors to explore the museum’s exhibits, participate in our public programs, enjoy live performances, and more. While we are closed, we are committed to sharing great online content with you, a little respite from the day-to-day uncertainties. We hope that it brings a smile to your face and that you learn something new – if so, please share with your friends and networks and give us a “like.” That will give US a smile! And in the meantime, thank you for being an important part of the Birthplace of Country Music community.
A special thanks to the many museums out there creating amazing digital content while their doors are closed, especially the Field Museum whose “Experience the Field at Home” inspired this blog post.
“Bristol is the absolute bedrock upon which the entire empire of country music and many tributaries therein are built.” ~ Marty Stuart
Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion began as a community bluegrass, old-time, and gospel music festival. Acts like Ralph Blizard and Reeltime Travelers led the lineup, and there was even a soup bean and cornbread dinner. In 2003 we really began to examine what it meant to honor the 1927 Bristol Sessions in addition to the influences those recordings have had on other genres of music.
In the second edition of our mini docu-series, we talk about how our expansion paved a wider path on that “road home” to Bristol’s music legacy by exploring its roots and far-reaching branches.
Sidebar: I get a little misty watching these videos. I think I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries that I began serving as a volunteer for the festival in 2002, prior to our third annual event. To hear country music icons like Marty Stuart and Jim Lauderdale speak so passionately about my hometown and Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion is life goals for me and many others who have worked so hard and truly believed in the magic we were creating.
“Within tradition there is always innovation and pushing forward.”~Amythyst Kiah
I am especially proud that our event plays a role in the success and evolution of so many artists, including my good friend Amythyst Kiah (also featured in the series) who just received her first Grammy nomination. Artists like Amythyst are true innovators, taking bits and pieces of what they’ve learned from the past and folding it into their work – making something completely new and relevant and exciting. Knowing what an important role Bristol has played in the art and careers of Amythyst – and so many others – is extremely satisfying.
In those early days I used to say we were the “little festival that could,” charging slowly and determinedly up that steep hill, struggling to reach our destination. Have we arrived? In many ways we have, but we continue to refine and grow each year. To everyone who has believed in Bristol Rhythm and helped push us along these past 20 years, we are eternally grateful. It’s been one heckuva ride!
Nearly 20 years ago, City of Bristol Tennessee Councilman David Shumaker had an idea to host a music festival in Historic Downtown Bristol. Bristol had recently been named the official “birthplace of country music” by the U.S. Congress in 1998, and Shumaker thought a great way to celebrate our legacy was to develop a music festival. He began talking to the City of Bristol’s Community Relations Director Terrie Talbert, and with a lot of hard work, a community call out for volunteers, and months of planning, the first Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion was held in October 2001.
Since then, the festival has grown from 7,500 to over 40,000 attendees each year. In addition, the festival hosts 120 bands on 16 stages throughout the three-day weekend in September. Bristol Rhythm has earned many accolades, including being named as one of Rolling Stone’s “Top 20 Tours and Festivals.”
This year, we are taking a look back at the festival with a fun docuseries called Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion: Celebrating 20 Years in 2020. Our marketing team has been working with Loch & Key Productions to pull together the interviews, old video footage, and photographs to make this film series possible.
The docuseries includes four episodes, and the first episode focuses on how the festival began all those years ago. You can check out Episode 1 below:
We will share the other three episodes in the coming months, available via our YouTube Channel.
We would love to know if you attended during the first few years of Bristol Rhythm, and if so, please share some of your favorite memories with us!
The energy at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion is unlike any other experience in the world. Seriously, it’s a beautiful thing. For every single person who contributed to the fantasticalness (yes, I just made that word up) of that awesome weekend, we owe a sincere and loving “thank you.”
I love standing in the middle of the crowd at the festival and catching a stranger’s eye when a set is really starting to heat up. In that moment, whatever may separate you from that person in real life, everything but the music and your oneness with that energy completely disappears. The connection is instant, electric, and binding. Bristol Rhythm is filled with those moments. If we could harness that level of bliss and positivity, I’m convinced we could change the world.
With that, I want to share with you our Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2019 festival re-cap video, produced by Loch & Key Productions. They did a stellar job (once again) of capturing that positive spirit and the joy of our event with amazing music and visuals. We look forward to reclaiming the energy next year, one week earlier than usual! Mark your calendars for 10 days of Rhythm & Racing 2020 September 10–19 and pick up that Super Ticket! For $150 you’ll get to enjoy all the music at Bristol Rhythm (September 11–13), all three days of racing at the world’s fastest half-mile, Bristol Motor Speedway (September 17–19), and all the surrounding events happening over 10 days in the Tri-Cities!
In the meantime, keep supporting live music and buying music and merch from the artists you love!