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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.

The Day Live Music Died

Singin’ the COVID-19 Blues

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.

Earleine and Momma Molasses performing “Coronavirus Blues,” a song they wrote to the tune of Bill Monroe’s “Rocky Road Blues.”

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.

Amythyst Kiah wearing a Hawaiian-style shirt and black hat with a fan wearing a similar hat.
Amythyst Kiah posing with a fan at a Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2019 meet-and-greet.

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!”

Amythyst has hooked up with some killer live stream events like Shut In & Sing, Martin Guitar Presents Jam In Place, Sixthman Sessions – Mi Casa, Su Casa!, and Parlor Room Home Sessions, most of which are available for online viewing.

Ella Patrick, a.k.a. Momma Molasses, wearing a colorful plaid bandana as a face mask.
Ella Patrick, a.k.a. Momma Molasses, in her homemade COVID-wear, the hottest style of the season!

Ella Patrick, a.k.a. Momma Molasses, moved to Bristol from North Carolina to pursue a full-time career in music. She hosts a show on WBCM Radio Bristol called Folk Yeah! and pays the bills gigging in breweries and venues across Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina full-time. She recently performed to a stay-at-home audience for Believe in Bristol‘s Border Bash Social Distancing Series – a show that, during any other time, would have been held outdoors on State Street.

“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.

B&W image of Bill & the Belles sitting on a front porch. Kalia and Helen wear face masks with Kris sitting on the stoop below them and the words Farm n' Fun Time hang on a banner above them.
Kalia Yeagle, Kris Truelsen, and Helena Hunt of Bill and the Belles in a promo pic for Radio Bristol’s Farm and Fun Time Home Edition, produced during the quarantine.

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.

Beth Snapp in overalls wearing a dark blue denim face mask.
Beth Snapp sporting the latest pandemic fashion accessory: a denim face masked made by L.C. King Mfg. in Bristol, Tennessee.

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.”

Jon McGlocklin's face mask is high-tech black!
Jon McGlocklin, CEO of Middle Fork Records, in all black, mask included.

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!

Be a Part of the Birthplace of Country Music at Home!

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!

Radio Bristol

While our DJs aren’t able to come into the studio for live broadcasts, we are still sharing new segments of most of our Radio Bristol programs via the dial at 100.1FM, our smartphone app, and the website. Radio Bristol is the perfect place to get your music and history fix. We’ve got daily shows like Early Morning Americana and On the Sunny Side; shows focused on regional music such as Old Kentucky Bound, Appalachian Travels, and Born in the Mountain; shows that delve into different musical genres such as Grass Cuttin’ Time, Folk Yeah!, Transmissions Under the Wire, and Hillbilly Wonderland; shows that share deep dives into music history and Appalachian tales like Mountain Song and Story, Ozark Highlands Radio, and Sound Sessions from Smithsonian Folkways; Radio Bristol’s old-fashioned radio variety show Farm and Fun Time via the Farm and Fun Time Noon Show and Farm and Fun Time Weekly; and more. For a full list of Radio Bristol offerings, including archived shows, check out this link and start listening – you are sure to find your musical nirvana!

The official graphic for Bailey George's Honky Tonk Hit Parade shows an image of Bailey wearing cowboy-style shirt and hat.

Bailey George’s Honky Tonk Hit Parade is another genre-specific Radio Bristol show. © Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Listen While I Tell

The BCM blog – Listen While I Tell: From Bristol’s Birthplace of Country Music & Beyond – is a great place to explore BCM’s work and content further. Sharing several posts each month, the blog brings you behind-the-scenes views into the work that we do each day at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival, and Radio Bristol; content-driven stories related to early country music history; features on instruments and musicians; and explorations of the continuing music traditions in this region. For instance, you can check out our “Instrument Interviews” where different and sometimes famous instruments are asked 10 interview-style questions. Or perhaps you want to learn more about some of the artists who performed in Bristol in 1927. You can find out about our DJs’ favorite songs, albums, and musicians through “Pick 5” or “Off the Record,” or hear stories from our annual music festival. We also dig deep into our collections with our “From the Vault” posts, share insights into exhibit content and educational programming, and sometimes just look at some quirkier things. Check out the blog today – and feel free to let us know if there’s a topic you’d like to see us cover in the future!

The blog's landing page on the website has the title above, a featured post below, and then several links to recent posts underneath that.

The landing page for the Listen While I Tell blog. © Birthplace of Country Music
The BCM banjo coloring sheet includes information about the banjo's origins along with the picture for coloring in.

A BCM coloring sheet: the banjo. © Birthplace of Country Music

Museum Content

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.

The four readers for the July 2019 book club are pictured around the Radio  Bristol studio mic; three readers are holding the book up.

July 2019’s book club read Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? about the Carter Family. © Birthplace of Country Music

On-Line Performances

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.

A close-up of Davina playing the keyboards, dressed all in black and with a hat. The band's trombonist is seen in the background.

Davina and the Vagabonds on the museum’s Performance Theater stage during Farm and Fun Time. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Social Media

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.

A close-up of one of the Smithsonian garden displays where the plants have been chosen and arranged to look like an under-sea coral reef, including metal fish sculptures.

One of the many Smithsonian gardens along the National Mall in Washington, DC. Image by René Rodgers

Smithsonian Resources

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.

Thank You!

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 Rhythm: The Roots & Branches

“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.

2001 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival program, an insert in the Bristol Herald Courier.
2001 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival program, an insert in the Bristol Herald Courier.

A conscious decision was made to expand the lineup to include more progressive acts like Leftover Salmon, Old Crow Medicine Show, Corey Harris, and Donna the Buffalo. This changed the entire landscape of our festival. Younger audiences were drawn to the music like never before and the energy downtown became absolutely electric.

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

Amythyst Kiah at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2019.
© Birthplace of Country Music; Photographer: Eli Johnson

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!

Bristol Rhythm: Celebrating 20 Years in 2020

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.

Three photos: 
Top: Jim Lauderdale being interviewed in the museum's Immersion Theater for the docu-film.
Center: Executive Director Leah Ross being interviewed in the museum's Performance Theater for the docu-film.
Bottom: A close-up of the "director's chair" bearing the Birthplace of Country Music logo during filming for the docuseries.

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:

Click on Play Button to View Video

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! 

That’s a Wrap, Bristol Rhythm ’19

Thank you, Fans!

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.”

This dude. The embodiment of festival spirit.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Wade Payne

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!

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2019 re-cap video.

Going Green at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion is not only a festival filled with great music, good friends, tasty food, fun events and activities, and unique shopping opportunities from downtown merchants and vendors – it is also a festival that is working hard to be green!

The environment is one of the top concerns and issues for many people around the world, and Bristol Rhythm is always looking for ways to protect our downtown environment and do our part to minimize the effect we are having on Mother Earth. But unlike most music festivals, being green is a bit more of a challenge for us since we host our event in a downtown filled with shops, businesses, residents, restaurants, and bars. Being in the middle of a field – like FloydFest, MerleFest, or Bonnaroo, for instance – gives festival organizers a bit more control over their green environment!

Still, since our festival’s Green Team first came together several years ago, we’ve accomplished a lot on the green front, including huge recycling efforts, implementing various green initiatives, and taking part in green advocacy and education opportunities within the community. Here are just a few – along with ways that you can be a GREEN HERO with us!

Meet the Green Team!

First things first – you need to get to know our very own hometown green heroes, the Bristol Rhythm Green Team! The Green Team Committee, made up of dedicated and passionate volunteers, meets every month before Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion to discuss and plan the green initiatives we want to introduce to the event. We also join in a variety of advocacy events throughout the year such as Sustain Abingdon’s Earth Day event and Keep Bristol Beautiful’s clean-up days, and we share expertise and resources with others in our community and downtown who want to be greener.

At the festival, the Green Team committee members, along with a large volunteer corps, pick up recycling (paper, plastic, and aluminum) from the designated recycle stations throughout the festival weekend, help our vendors and merchants to recycle cardboard and dispose of cooking oil and waste water responsibly, and set out a variety of green guidelines for the festival food and craft vendors, such as using compostable food storage and flatware, supplying recyclable drinkware, and using recyclable plastic bags or paper bags.

We are lucky to have such a great – and fun – committee, and we are really grateful to all the volunteers who sign up to join us on the Bristol Rhythm Green Team each year. We set ourselves apart from the other festival volunteers with our quirky volunteer t-shirts, supported and printed by KS Promotions. Each year we get festivalgoers asking us where they can buy one of our cool shirts – the only way to get one is to volunteer with us; we still have shifts available for Bristol Rhythm 2019 so go online and join us!

Left and right: Green Team volunteers at festivals past posing with their unique volunteer t-shirts. Center: Green Team committee members helping a young girl make a craft out of small plastic bottles.
Green Team committee members and volunteers at the festival (left and right) – with different shirts over the years – and helping kids make “recycled crafts” at a Birthplace of Country Music Museum Family Fun Day. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler (center)

REDUCE and REUSE: Reusable stainless steel cups in the draft beer gardens!

This year, instead of plastic cups in the Bristol Rhythm beer gardens, you will need to purchase a stainless steel cup to use during the festival – these cups are only $5! And then don’t forget to hold onto this cup and then reuse it for all your beer garden drinks throughout the festival weekend. We’ll provide a rinsing station at each draft beer garden so you can swill out your cup if needed, but remember not to use too much water! This year we will only allow use of our stainless steel cups in the festival beer gardens, but we plan to open up to festivarians using stainless cups from other festivals in the future.

It is common these days for music festivals and other community events to only offer reusable cups where they sell beverages (check out Bonnaroo’s sustainability efforts – an inspiration!), and this new initiative will cut down considerably on BRRR’s plastic waste, especially important as plastic recycling gets more and more difficult. Even better: the cups are a great collectible souvenir! We are grateful to Keen Promotions for their support of this new initiative.

The stainless steel cup with the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion logo in orange on its front.
The Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2019 reusable cup! © Birthplace of Country Music

REDUCE and REUSE: Water refill stations!

Last year, with the help of Bank of Marion and the City of Bristol, Tennessee, we added two water stations to the event footprint where festivalgoers can fill reusable water bottles – or your new stainless steel BRRR cup this year! These water refill stations present another great opportunity to reduce the number of plastic water bottles sold over festival weekend. The stations can be found near the corner of 5th and State Streets, and near the Country Music Mural Stage.

A festivalgoer filling up her bottle at a water refilling station.
One of the water filling stations at BRRR 2018. It proved very popular with festivalgoers, being constantly used and leading to a lot of positive feedback. © Birthplace of Country Music

REUSE: Tote bags!

I have a million tote bags (no exaggeration!), and I love every single one of them. I use them all the time – for my grocery and other shopping; for extra packing bags when on a trip; for carrying snacks on car journeys, or just to the office (I ALWAYS need snacks!); for storage; as a way to wrap birthday and Christmas presents; and as a substitute handbag. Plastic bags are everywhere, and they are a HUGE environmental problem globally. So do your part, and bring your own reusable bags to carry home all your festival treasures and bargains. A folded-up bag in your pocket, purse, or backpack takes up no room and adds no weight – just do it!

The metal statue of Dale, always on display at festival, wearing a Green Team canvas tote bag with one of the t-shirt designs about being a green hero.
The festival’s unofficial mascot “Dale” carrying a Green Team-themed canvas tote bag. © Birthplace of Country Music

RECYCLE: Know what you can recycle and do so responsibly!

I’ve recycled for years, often getting the actual trash pick-up at my home down to half a trash bag or less each week. And over the years of the festival, the Green Team has literally recycled TONS of plastic, paper, cardboard, glass, and aluminum. However, there have been a lot of stories in the local and national news lately about the many challenges to recycling – especially what is and is not recyclable on the plastic front – and we’ve certainly seen the effects of those issues here in the Tri-Cities.

Every year, the Green Team picks up cardboard from the downtown merchants and the food and craft vendors for recycling. And we also set out labeled recycle stations for paper, aluminum, and plastic throughout the Bristol Rhythm footprint for festivalgoers. This year, unfortunately, only plastic types #1 and #2 can be recycled so please look out for these symbols before placing a plastic item in one of our stations – the numbers can usually be found on the bottom of the item. Any contamination by other plastic type numbers will mean ALL the plastic goes straight to the landfill instead – and we definitely want to avoid that!

Left: Two Green Team volunteers taking a selfie in front of a large pile of festival recycling on the back of a golf cart. Right: The 7 triangular recycle symbols found on plastics.
Green Team volunteers ready to transport a huge pile of recycling, and the usual plastics recycling numbers. © Birthplace of Country Music (left)

Plastic Island!

This year the festival’s Atmosphere Committee is adding one more thing to all of the art, signage, and décor that they create each year to make Bristol Rhythm extra special – and beautiful! This side project is called Plastic Island, a reused materials art piece that will be on display in the old fountain basin in front of WCYB (the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard side of the building) and which is meant to help raise awareness about environmental challenges and the green cause. Using discarded plastic – both unrecyclable and recyclable – the committee is creating a whole host of sea creatures, island features, ocean waves, and more to highlight the danger of plastics in our oceans – inspired, if that is the right word, by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Sadly, the plastic they collected is just the tip of the iceberg, which barely reflects the amount of plastic produced and used globally. Be sure and check out Plastic Island when you are enjoying the festival and remember the damage done from thrown-out plastic as you find ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle in your own life!

The left and center photographs show some of the craft reused materials for Plastic Island, including fish, octupi, whales, plants, and more made out of plastic bottles and containers. The right image is of floating marine debris made of trash, plastics, fishing nets, and other items.
While the reused materials crafts for Plastic Island are cute and beautiful, remember that too many of these materials wind up in our oceans. © Birthplace of Country Music (left and center); NOAA


Not only is the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Green Team supported by various businesses, but we also get a lot of in-kind support from our community partners – Revolution Curbside Recycling, Keep Bristol Beautiful, and Wise Recycling this year, several others over previous years. We couldn’t do the work we do each festival without that support and help. But most of all, we couldn’t be green at Bristol Rhythm without you – so be a GREEN HERO!

Setting the Stage for Bristol Rhythm: A Love Letter to Historic Downtown

Location, location, location! That’s one of the reasons Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion is one of the most fun and unique festivals on the planet. Historic Downtown Bristol, VA-TN is a gem, and Bristol Rhythm partially exists to showcase its charm. Downtown has undergone a complete transformation over the past decade or so, with tons of locally owned breweries, restaurants, shops, galleries, high-end loft spaces, and businesses moving in and creating a vibrant energy. Investors have lovingly restored so many aging and crumbling properties, and the success of our festival helps keep businesses thriving.

Bristol born and raised, I love my hometown. I am so proud of the fine progress made downtown, and I’m so grateful to business owners who open their doors to our festival. We want to see them all succeed, and its part of BCM’s mission to be of economic benefit to the region. They provide so much light and love to what we do, so I wanted to highlight a few of those businesses here through a virtual mini-tour of our stages and venues.

Careful thought goes into the placement of our Bristol Rhythm main stages so that hey highlight important landmarks and buildings. Some indoor stages are located in venues already equipped for live performance. One thing is for certain, every stage has its own magic and distinct atmosphere. Thank you, Bristol, for providing the perfect backdrop for everything we do!

1. State Street Stage

Photo of The Bristol Sign behind State Street Stage as seen from a distance.
State Street Stage in perspective.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Eli Johnson.

The State Street Stage, haloed by the luminescent 100-year-old Bristol Sign, was once located one block up on State Street – closer to the Paramount. As audiences grew, the stage was pushed back to accommodate more people. I love this view looking down a sea of people toward the sign. It’s also a great stage for photo opps!

2. Piedmont Stage

The Piedmont Stage beside the Bristol Public Library.
Saturday night at he Piedmont Stage.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Bill Foster.

The Piedmont Stage has also seen some transition over the years. It’s first location was in front of Burger Bar facing Stateline Bar & Grille. It was later pushed back to the corner of Goode and Piedmont. We think it has now found a final resting place! It’s located near our beloved Bristol Public Library, which underwent renovations in the 1990s. The beautiful metal sculpture archway on the corner was created for the library by internationally known fantasy artist Charles Vess, who has also designed three festival posters for Bristol Rhythm over the years.

3. Country Music Mural Stage

The Country Mural Stage and the famed mural from which it gets its name.
The Downtown Center during Bristol Rhythm.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Bill Foster.

For the most part, the Country Music Mural Stage is dedicated to bluegrass and traditional country music. The City of Bristol, Tennessee built a stage in front of the Country Music Mural many years ago to house live music year-round. For the first few years, we utilized that stage at Bristol Rhythm. The photo opportunities were great, but the bands weren’t elevated enough to give fans a good view, and it was difficult to load equipment in and out through the crowds. The solution of an added stage here also gives festival goers more shaded seating on the original stage, plus there’s better access for the artists and sound techs with the new stage. Designed by Tim White, a local musician and producer/host of Song of the Mountains, the Country Music Mural is an important landmark in Historic Downtown Bristol.

4. Cumberland Square Park Stage

Cumberland Square Park Stage at night, haloed by twinkle lights.
Twinkle lights over Cumberland Square Park stage.
© Birthplace of Country Music.

Nothing beats an evening set of music at Cumberland Square Park! The City of Bristol, Virginia constructed this massive permanent stage for live music events year-round, and we love it! Families attending the festival flock to this stage for the shade it provides, and it isn’t unusual to see someone tying up a hammock between the trees! The park also serves as a memorial to our service men and women. The impressive sculptures depicting each branch of our Armed Forces and an eternal flame stand proudly below a genuine AH-1 Cobra helicopter that once flew in Vietnam.

5. The Paramount Stage

The majestic Paramount Stage.
The Paramount during Radio Bristol’s Farm & Fun Time.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Billie Wheeler.

Paramount Bristol is the crown jewel of Historic Downtown. Originally opened in 1931, this gorgeous art deco gem went through some hard times in the late 1960s and 1970s as Bristol’s downtown fell into decline. Sadly, the theater closed its doors in 1979. It was saved by the nonprofit Paramount Foundation and reopened in 1991. Today it is a thriving performing arts center and a beautiful venue for live music! We are so fortunate to have such an amazing venue during Bristol Rhythm; it’s the ultimate listening room experience!

6. The Cameo Theatre

The Ruen Brothers performing on The Cameo Theatre Stage.
The Ruen Brothers set at The Cameo, 2019.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Amy Shumaker.

The Cameo is back! Established as a vaudeville theater in 1925, The Cameo Theatre ranks among the 15 oldest in the state of Virginia. A long-awaited restoration of this 550-seat beauty has been made by owner Brent Buchanan, and he plans to host a mix of live entertainment and films. The sound in this space for live music is lush, and it has an amazing balcony space for taking in shows. Not a bad seat in the house!

7. Near Moore Stage

Sally & George perform for crowd at the Near Moor Stage.
Sally & George on the Near Moore Stage Bristol Rhythm 2017.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Sarah Mast.

Hidden in a small parking lot between two buildings, the Near Moore Stage is named such because, well, it’s near Moore Street! Cozy, with just the right amount of shade and ambiance, it is formerly known as the Eatz on Moore Street Stage because it was once located on the tiny street in front of Eatz on Moore Street restaurant. Hands-down the best soul food in the Tri-Cities, I highly recommend Mark and Lisa Canty’s barbecue or catfish plated with collards, mac’n’cheese, and sweet cornbread – and don’t forget their homemade banana pudding! You can grab it to go and picnic at the stage or enjoy the music from an outdoor table top at Eatz. There is nothing quite like Near Moore at twilight!

8. 6th Street Stage

The 6th Street Stage during a popular set.
The 6th Street Stage.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Bill Foster.

The 6th Street Stage is among the newest at Bristol Rhythm, located on the “Tennessee side” on the narrow, one-way street for which it is named. Located near Mountain Empire Comics and Top Hat Magic, this is what I like to call the “anything goes” stage – meaning any type of band could be playing on this stage at any time. Stadium seating has been added, and Lisa Martin’s Bank Street café provides a lovely beverage garden stage-side. Her chicken salad croissants and crab cakes are also amazing! Sinful Chicago-style deep dish pizza is served across the way at The Angry Italian by Certified Executive Chef Keith Yonker; we recommend calling it in early as prep time takes around 45 minutes. Worth the wait!

9. 7th Street Stage/Dance Tent

7th Street Stage/Dance Tent at night shows off the Bristol logo projected on the ceiling of tent.
The “light show” under the 7th Street Tent.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Sarah Mast.

Also a newer stage, the 7th Street Stage has morphed quite a bit over the past few years. We’ve now merged it with the Dance Tent to create a fun atmosphere where bands and fans are protected from the elements while they groove. Its located beside the century-old L.C. King Manufacturing Co., family-owned in Bristol for four generations. We highly recommend browsing the racks for some authentic Pointer Brand clothing. It’s become the unofficial outfitter of festival musicians, as they flock to its showroom every year in search of cool duds.

10. O’Mainnin’s Pub & Grill

A relaxing set at O'Mainnin's back patio stage.
The cozy back patio at O’Mainnin’s. Raccoon sightings happen here!
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Bill Foster.

Out back at O’Mainnin’s Pub & Grill you’ll find a little creek side oasis complete with Tiki hut and an eclectic mix of music. I love the dive-bar vibe at O’Mainnin’s – and I mean that as a high compliment! It’s the after-hours hangout for local restaurant industry folk and night-cappers, and owner Dave Manning and his staff are some of the finest people you’ll ever meet. Bonus: they have a jukebox!

11. Machiavelli’s Outdoor Tent

Annabelle's Curse during a night time performance under the Machiavelli's Outdoor Tent.
Annabelle’s Curse, Bristol Rhythm ’18.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Billie Wheeler.

The Machiavelli’s Outdoor Tent is an extension of the 5th Street restaurant of the same name. This tent is always hoppin’ and it’s just steps away from the Paramount, Theatre Bristol, and State Street Stages. I call it the “distraction” stage because I always get sucked in to whatever amazing performance is going on there when passing by. Fun fact: the first year St. Paul & the Broken Bones played the festival, they performed under this tent.

12. Machiavelli’s Indoors

An enthusiastic crowd, Machiavelli's Indoor Stage.
Machiavelli’s Indoors.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Evan McGurrin.

In addition to the outdoor tent, Machiavelli’s hosts an intimate indoor stage. Amazing restaurant owners Dave and Val Jun, along with their kind staff, man the taps and fire the tastiest brick oven pizzas ever! Our offices are right across the street and we can’t resist the Italian nachos! Sometimes we ask for Italian nacho toppings on a pizza – SO. GOOD! – and we’re big fans of the Margherita pizza and Mediterranean pasta. Machiavelli’s is one of those places that makes you feel right at home. So grateful for good neighbors!

13. Theatre Bristol

A packed house for Sally & George, Theatre Bristol.
Another Sally & George performance, Bristol Rhythm 2017.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Bill Foster.

Theatre Bristol has been an institution in our community since 1965 when it was established as a children’s theater. The intimate space seats 100 people, perfect for an intimate performance, and larger performances are often moved to the Paramount next door. Generations of Bristolians have grown up with Theatre Bristol, and Theatre Bristol continues to educate children in the wonders of live theater year-round. This space has been witness to hundreds of great performances over the years; it’s very dear to our hearts!

14. Stateline Bar & Grille

The crowd at Stateline enjoying tunes by Logan Fritz.
Logan Fritz, Bristol Rhythm ’18.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Adam Martin.

Stateline Bar & Grille has been an anchor to State Street since 2002. The building’s restoration was among the first restaurant projects happening on State Street during a pivotal time of investment, and owners Annette Estes and Amy Booher helped set the bar high for other restaurateurs coming in with their business acumen and work ethic. It’s a terrific place to sit down and enjoy a great meal while taking in live music during the festival! The woodwork inside is craftsmanship at its finest. The gorgeous bar, mirrors and all, were purchased by Fred Bartlett for his Rockefeller’s Oyster Bar at this location in the 1990s. He bought it from a downtown bank that was closing. Workers literally rolled the bar down State Street from its former location.

15. Borderline Billiards

A full house at Borderline Billiards.
From the archives! If Birds Could Fly, Bristol Rhythm ’13 at Borderline.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Brandon Reece.

Borderline Billiards is owned by WPBA billiards champion Janet Atwell, and lots of love has gone into this venue over the years. On regular business days, the pool tables are open to friendly competition, but during the festival they are covered so patrons can enjoy the music. For the past couple of years, Borderline has run a beverage garden behind the building and beside the 7th Street Stage/Dance Tent. A classy alternative to the stereotypical “pool hall,” Borderline is a family establishment with 9′ Brunswick Gold Crown tables where one can order from the menu, throw darts, or play ping pong. A fantastic and fun addition to Downtown Bristol!

16. Quaker Steak & Lube

Band performs under Corvette mounted on ceiling at Quaker Steak.
Daniel Miller performs at Quaker Steak & Lube, Bristol Rhythm ’18.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Bill Foster.

Yes. That is a Corvette mounted to the ceiling above the band. Quaker Steak & Lube is one of the few chain restaurants located downtown, and this franchise is owned by locals Jeff Tickle, Blair Jones, and J. J. Gillenwater of the Bristol-based real estate investment firm The Albatross Group. The automotive-inspired theme restaurant offers a decor of vintage cars and garage memorabilia, and hosts bike nights throughout the year. The hot wings are their specialty, fuel to get you revved up between or during sets.

17. Studio Brew

Audience upstairs at Studio Brew listening to Wise Old River.
Wise Old River performs to a packed house upstairs at Studio Brew,
Bristol Rhythm 2017.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Sarah Mast.

Only a smidgen off the beaten path, but well worth a brisk walk past Cumberland Square Park, Master Brewer Erich Allen’s Studio Brew was among the first craft breweries to locate downtown, opening the tap for a wave of others to follow. Artisans of the trade, Studio Brew renovated a historic train freight warehouse built in 1909 on Moore Street where they brew, bottle, seal, and ship their recipes. Studio Brew has expanded distribution throughout Tennessee, Virginia, and soon into South Carolina. Their tapas and brew pairings are only matched by the classy, but warm, establishment where you can peer into the brewing room while sampling a flight of robust and tasty recipes.

18. Shanghai Stage

Chris Jamison performs at Shanghai Stage.
Chris Jamison at Shanghai Stage, Bristol Rhythm ’17.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by M. Taylor,
King University Dept. of Digital Media Art & Design.

Shanghai Chinese Restaurant has been family owned and operated by Xian Chen and his wife Ying since 1996. The Chens and their three young children have worked hard to create the friendliest space possible for their yummy dishes, and through the years Shanghai has been voted the best Chinese restaurant in Bristol. An expansion was made in recent years to accommodate their loyal and new customers, and we highly recommend the buffet! You’ll find it a calming atmosphere to take in an acoustic act or singer-songwriter while noshing on dumplings and rice during Bristol Rhythm.

19. Bloom Café & Listening Room

Andrew Alli performs at Bloom Cafe & Listening Room.
Andrew Allie performs at Bloom BR18, its first year as a festival stage.
© Birthplace of Country Music. Photo by Adam Martin.

The newest addition to our little downtown family, Bloom Cafe & Listening Room is a cozy coffee shop where live music and art converge amongst vintage furnishings and espresso-based drinks. Open seven days a week, Bloom hosts fun trivia nights and offers the community a chill place to meet up with friends or write the great American novel. I highly recommend stopping here for breakfast!

20. Birthplace of Country Music Museum

The Performance Theater at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
The 100-seat Performance Theater at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
© Birthplace of Country Music

Though technically not a stage at Bristol Rhythm, the “acoustically perfect” Performance Theater at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum hosts a number of Radio Bristol Sessions the community can attend without a festival ticket. These programs are broadcast live on the air in the Bristol area at 100.1 FM and online at ListenRadioBristol.org. Lineups for these pop-up programs are announced closer to festy; be sure and watch social media for updates! The Indigo Girls performed a Session when they performed in 2017! With only 100 seats available, you’ll want to line up early for these intimate shows!