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Rosanne Cash: Americana’s Renaissance Woman

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?
The ocean.

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.

 

The New Girl at BCM Weighs In: Ashli’s Top 5 Bristol Rhythm Must-Sees

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.

49 Winchester

Photo of the band 49 WinchesterStraight 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.”

Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway

A photo of Molly Tuttle and her band Golden HighwayOh I’d rather be a crooked tree.

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.

Fantastic Negrito

A photo of Fantastic Negrito holding a guitarCall it a comeback.

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.”

Sierra Ferrell

A photo of Sierra Ferrell set against a backdrop of foliage. She is wearing a cowboy hat and vintage western-wear.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!

John R Miller

A photo of John R. MillerOn the come up.

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.

He was last in Bristol back in November 2021 for Radio Bristol’s Farm and Fun Time live variety
show in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Now he’s set to take the stage again on
Saturday, September 10th, at the 2022 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion.

Personal favorites are “Shenandoah Shakedown” and “Lookin’ Over My Shoulder.”

For complete Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2022 lineup, schedule and tickets, visit BristolRhythm.com.

 

The Future is Female: Women Rule Bristol Rhythm 2022

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.

Photo of Michael and Tanya Trotter of The War & TreatyThe 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.

A photo of Sierra Ferrell set against a backdrop of foliage. She is wearing a cowboy hat and vintage western-wear.Sierra Ferrell
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.”

A photo of Katie looking up at the sky.Katie Pruitt
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.

Photo of Molly and her band.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.”

A photo of Jade Bird sitting in a box. There is a single light bulb hanging from the center above her head.Jade Bird
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 Holler magazine 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.

A photo of Nicki Bluhm wearing a wide-brimmed hat.Nicki Bluhm
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.”

A photo of Miko Marks sitting on a bench in front of a piano.Miko Marks
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.

A photo of S.G. Goodman standing in front of fall trees with the sunset peaking out just over her shoulder.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.

A photo of Emily Scott Robinson seated on a bench in the woods by a creekEmily 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.

A photograph taken in a cemetery. Three of the band's members are scattered about, posing behind the headstones.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.

A Big Festival ‘Thank You!’: Gratitude Playlist Included!

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.

Purple and yellow stage lights shining down on members of the band Blackberry Smoke performing on the State Street Stage at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2021. The image has been taken with forced perspective so it seems to curve at the bottom and show the whole stage set-up.
BlackBerry Smoke at Bristol Rhythm 2021

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
Photo of Danielle Dror and Charlene Baker riding in a golf cart at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion.
Publicist Danielle Dror and me on a golf cart at Bristol Rhythm 2021

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.

Favorite Festivals in Tennessee and Virginia

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?

VIRGINIA FESTIVALS

Woodbooger Festival

Where: Norton, Virginia

When: Annually each October

Website: http://www.woodboogerfest.com/

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!

A bronze-looking statue of a Bigfoot/yeti-like creature, shown here from the chest up. He is muscular with a furry body, and lots of hair and a beard on his head and face. You can see trees behind him.
The “Woodbooger Statue” located at Flag Rock Recreation Area, Norton, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Woodbooger Facebook page

Chautauqua Balloon Festival

Where: Wytheville, Virginia

When: Annually at end of July–beginning of August

Website: https://www.wythe-arts.org/chautauqua

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!

A rainbow-colored hot air balloon rises into the blue sky -- seen from below.
Hot air balloon soaring over the skies at the Chautauqua Balloon Festival. Photo by Jenna Williams

Festival of the Book

Where: Charlottesville, Virginia

When: March 16–20, 2022

Virtual Opportunities: Yes!

Website: https://www.vabook.org/

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.

A bookshelf with several older-looking books stacked and arranged in different configurations, including four blue-bound books by Charles Dickens and two red-bound books by Victor Hugo. The leaves of several house plants drape around the books, and a silver gravy boat sits in front of the Dickens books.
A glimpse of my personal bookshelf. Photo by Toni Doman

Virginia Clay Festival

Where: Stanardsville, Virginia

When: September 18–19, 2021 and annually each September

Website: https://virginiaclayfestival.com/

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.

A display of six pottery mugs on a table with green foliage seen behind them. The mugs are colored with a light brown glaze and are decorated with white birch tree trunks and red leaves/berries. The inside of the mugs is a deeper reddish brown.
Mugs by Carrie Althouse of Althouse Pottery. Image used with permission of Virginia Clay Festival

TENNESSEE FESTIVALS

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?

Tomato Art Fest

Where: East Nashville, Tennessee

When: August 2022

Website: https://www.tomatoartfest.com/

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.

Three deep yellow tomatoes are clustered together on a green vine. A fence can be seen in the background.
Bright orange “Sunsugar” tomatoes hanging on a vine. Photo by Toni Doman

National Banana Pudding Festival

Where: Centerville, Tennessee

When: October 2–3, 2021 and annually in October

Website: https://www.bananapuddingfest.org/

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!

A plate of banana pudding -- showing several Vanilla Wafers on top -- with a plastic bear bottle of honey and a container of granola in the background.
Homemade banana pudding – everyone’s recipe is always the BEST recipe! Image courtesy of Flickr user stu_spivack

Tennessee Soybean Festival

Where: Martin, Tennessee

When: September 4–11, 2021 and annually in September

Website: https://www.tnsoybeanfestival.org/

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).

A soybean mascot looks at the camera -- it has a round cream-colored head with black-framed glasses, a big smiling mouth, and two green hands.
A soybean educating festivalgoers. Image courtesy of the Tennessee Soybean Festival Facebook page

National Storytelling Festival

Where: Jonesborough, Tennessee

When: October 1–2, 2021 and annually in October

Virtual Opportunities: Yes!

Website:  https://www.storytellingcenter.net/festival/main/

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!

A large white tent can be seen across the whole of the photograph with several people sitting on chairs on its outskirts. A bed of yellow and reddish-orange flowers are in the left-hand foreground.
A storytelling tent at the 2019 National Storytelling Festival. Photo by Toni Doman

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!

Toni Doman is the Grants Coordinator at the Birthplace of Country Music, and she hosts Mountain Song & Story on Radio Bristol on Thursdays at 4:00pm EST. She also performs in the musical duo Virginia West with her fiancé K.T. Vandyke.

Are We There Yet? On the Road to Bristol Rhythm

What a year.

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.

Selfie photo of blogger sitting at home office computer.
Dumb home office selfie, no make-up. Sweat pants not shown to protect the innocent.

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.

Elizabeth Cook performing on the State 
Street Stage at Bristol Rhythm 2019.
Elizabeth Cook at Bristol Rhythm 2019.

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!

A group of people dancing on stage at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion with the band, including the blog author.
Me acting a fool at Bristol Rhythm in 2017 with Southern Culture on the Skids.

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!

Road to Bristol Rhythm show graphic.

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!

Band performing in front of an audience.
Birds of Chicago on Cumberland Square Park Stage, Bristol Rhythm 2018

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!

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion: Homecoming

A group of three men and one woman, the men wearing matching t-shirts that read "Swedish Music Fans US Tour 2018."
A Bristol Rhythm reunion for international visitors from Sweden, 2018. A mighty fun group!

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.

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion: The Road Home

Poster from an early Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival. The illustration shows the Bristol Train Station in the background with a musician with a guitar on their back walking down the tracks.

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!

Bristol Rhythm Legacy Staff Playlist

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!

The band Old Crow Medicine Show performing on stage at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion.
Old Crow Medicine Show returned to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in 2018.

#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!

Cruz Contreras of The Black Lillies holding up a "flat Leah" - a little poster sized image of Leah on a stick.
Cruz Contreras of The Black Lillies with “Flat Leah.” Always good times with him and the band at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion!

#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!

One of the best music videos EVER!

#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.

Leah poses with the band Folk Soul Revival at The Long Road Festival in the U.K.
Leah with Folk Soul Revival at The Long Road Festival in the U.K. in 2018.
The Birthplace of Country Music and Virginia Tourism Corporation were sponsors of the event and enlisted several regional artists to perform there.

#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!

The Band Judah & The Lion posing for pictures with Leah's granddaughter Mary Nell and two friends backstage at the festival
My granddaughter Mary Nell (in overalls) with her friends and favorite band Judah & The Lion at Bristol Rhythm 2017.

#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! 

Leah posing with Mike Farris at Bristol Rhythm 2019.
Leah with Mike Farris at Bristol Rhythm 2019.

#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!

Legendary artist Doc Watson performs at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2008.
The late, great Doc Watson performing at The Paramount for Bristol Rhythm 2008.

#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.

Eilen Jewell singing in front of a crowd at Borderline Billiards.
Eilen Jewell performing at Borderline Billiards at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2008.

#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.

The Hackensaw Boys performing on the Piedmont Stage during Bristol Rhythm 2010.
The Hackensaw Boys performing on the Piedmont Stage, Bristol Rhythm 2010.

#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!

Country music star John Anderson posing with a young fan wearing his t-shirt during Bristol Rhythm 2010.
John Anderson taking time to pose with fans backstage during Bristol Rhythm 2010.

#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.

Cardio, Double Tap, and Other Stuff Scary Movies Taught Us About Avoiding COVID-19

Cool Spooktacular Bristol Rhythm playlist included!

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.

Various memes about 2020. 1) A dumpster on fire with 2020 captioned. 2) Rod Serling from the Twilight Zone captioned "Historians Introducting A Documentary about 2020 - What you're about the watch is a nightmare." 3) A sign that says "I wanted zombies this virus sucks. 4) Someone holding a protest sign that reads "This episode of black mirror sucks."
Top 4 memes of 2020.

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!

Ultimate scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in John Carpenter's 1978 masterpiece Halloween. A pandemic mask with tiny Halloween pumpkins has been photoshopped to her face.
“I got your mask right here, Michael.”
Ultimate scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece Halloween. Credit Compass International Pictures, Falcon International Pictures, and Falcon International Productions.

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.

Cast members of the film Shaun of the Dead sitting in a booth at The Winchester pub raising up pints of beer and smiling.
Liz (Kate Ashfield), Shaun (Simon Pegg), Shaun’s Mum Barbara (Penelope Wilton), and Ed (Nick Frost) “waiting it out” over pints of beer at The Winchester, a neighborhood pub.
Good times.
From the 2004 feature film Shaun of the Dead, credit Rogue Pictures, StudioCanal, Working Title Films

In contrast you may find characters on a mission, like Tallahassee in Zombieland 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:

Columbus (Jesse Eisenburgh) and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and the search for Twinkies in Zombieland 2009.
Credit Columbia Pictures, Relativity Media, Pariah.

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.

A tidy midcentury modern looking bathroom with someone about to open the shower curtain from inside the bathtub.
The bathroom in room 237 at The Overlook Hotel appears clean, but it’s very, very dirty.
1980 The Shining, credit Warner Bros., Hawk Films, Peregrine, Producers Circle

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.

Four people in a car wearing seatbelts with COVI-19 masks photoshopped to their faces.
Mark (Will Poulter), Christian (Jack Reynor), and Dani (Florence Pugh) believe in safety first, but their first mistake was trusting Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren).
From Midsommar 2019 credit A24, B-Reel Films, Nordisk Film, Square Peg.

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!

Sigourney Weaver in the movie alien stalking her prey with a big gun and wearing a photoshopped COVID mask.
Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) knows what it takes to be the final girl.
From Ridley Scott’s legendary sci-fi horror film Alien, 1979. Credit Brandywine Productions.

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?

Actor Alex Wolff in the driver's seat of his car looking pensively into the rear view mirror.
You don’t want to know what was really in his back seat.
Alex Wolff as Peter in 2018’s Hereditary, one of the greatest and most
disturbing horror movies of the last decade.
Credit PalmStar Media, Finch Entertainment, Windy Hill Pictures.

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!

Several cast members of the show The Walking Dead standing in a field at sunset holding weapons as if they are ready for battle.
Even through a zombie apocalypse, Rick Grimes and the gang understand that the key to living their lives with unmasked freedom is by having a good moral compass, protecting the group, and taking down walkers (a.k.a. zombies) with a swift headshot.
The cast of The Walking Dead credit American Movie Classics (AMC), Circle of Confusion, Valhalla Motion Pictures, Darkwoods Productions, AMC Studios, Idiot Box Productions

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.