Third weekend of September: Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. I can remember sitting in what’s now Bristol Ballet looking out the window between Saturday rehearsals. The plucking of instruments mixed with laughter in crowds; the smell of funnel cake wafted through the trees and into our dance studio. After class, it was always a race to change and spend the rest of the day downtown! The anticipation of festival weekend looked different as I grew up, but the feeling of home has lasted even after moving away. That feeling led me to even conduct a final research project on the 2012 festival poster during my senior year at Carson-Newman.
I knew I wanted to illustrate this feeling somehow, but had never tried. However, I thought to myself: “If I just paint something and text a picture to Rhythm and Roots, they may like it…maybe even use it!” Temporarily hijacking the mudroom of my house as an art studio, I had a vision: a banjo doubling as the moon with the neck as State Street and people dancing all around. Then I’ll throw in some state flags, lights, trees, and a few Bristol landmarks with a party of flowers in the night sky! The only problem with that? I’d finished the top half only, not the bottom, when I excitedly texted Leah Ross that first phone picture. I got more carried away by the day as I prepped it for showing, full of detail and ideas. And then I heard the good news: my design would be on the 2018 Bristol Rhythm festival poster.
The lineup reveal a few weeks ago was a happy, happy ending (beginning?) for that 2018 festival poster. The process getting there taught me a great deal as an artist. After talking with so many people who also love their artistic side, I’m a firm believer in teaching what we know. The really cool thing about this adventure was that I was a total novice working with people I cared deeply about. I may hold a degree in advertising and have graphic design clients of my own, but had never undertaken a fusion of painting and advertising together – but I learned a lot through the process.
So the question is: Are you a painter hoping to showcase your work like this one day? If so, and whether it’s through a music festival or something else exciting, here’s what I learned that could help:
Great design is simple to understand: There’s a place for symbolism and double meaning in art, but a publicity piece isn’t it. If we’d left the banjo doubling as the moon and the neck doubling as State Street like the original design, your brain would fry like a prom queen in a tanning bed! Remember when Starbucks dropped their lettering to reveal only their green mermaid logo? Twitter threw a royal fit for a few days! But over time that attitude shifted. We all now clearly see that their logo is a mermaid because the letters were a busy distraction. This is one of those things that I knew was a common mistake in designing for advertising. But as an artist I needed to learn to slow my roll a tad if my design was going to work for clients.
Great design doesn’t let important information get lost: I loved this project so much, but the final look was a team effort. My original hand-lettering was pretty, but ended up being lost in the overall look so much that you had to really study the poster to figure out what it was even promoting. Now with the final design, you see the name of the festival and the date, special thanks to the graphic design team at Birthplace of Country Music (thanks for all of the enthusiasm, Hannah and Sarah!). We made the banjo more than double its size (I traced the baptismal font bowl from First Presbyterian Church for the correct diameter on the original!) in order to draw the eye to the lettering. And the t-shirts look marvelous thanks to the new font! Using the same blue as the background tied the whole thing together like magic.
Great design tells your story while also reaching your squad: The original poster design had the Paramount and Bristol signs. We’ve had these before in posters and they work! But how could we challenge ourselves? If we have people coming from Australia and Canada, what kind of poster would they want to take home? Maybe some variety could shift that “Oh, I bought a poster here already in 2000-whenever” into another purchase. And we all know that a purchase – as a tangible way to mark their experience – means they might just come back to the festival over and over. So instead of a Bristol landmark, I did the two state flags. Being in two places at once listening to live music is a great story anywhere! It also separates us geographically from other music towns like Nashville or Galax.
Finally, I think the bottom line with this year’s poster is that Bristol is legendary. People may not know about Bristol, but once you hear about it, you always respect it! This is true with its history, yes, but also the way musicians flock to us over and over. College for a Bristol kid means loading up the car on Bristol Rhythm weekend and bringing out-of-town friends home. Then those friends all have new favorite bands that go along with their memories of standing in the spot where it all began! For people who’ve lived here their whole lives, Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion gives a different feeling every year, yet the same traditions are honored and celebrated. I already have my Spotify full of Old Crow, War and Treaty, and Pigeon Kings, ready for the party that is Bristol Rhythm in September!
Jill McElroy is a Bristol native with a love of music and our festival. She decided to leave a full-time job last year in order to pursue starting a brand illustration and art business. She designs logos and personalities for other brands and has her first art series premiering this summer! As a former intern for Birthplace of Country Music, Jill’s feelings about being a festival poster artist can be summed up in one word: Joy!
The first time Old Crow Medicine Show played Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, it was 2004. I have particularly fond memories of that year because, in my mind, that’s when we became a bona fide music festival – one destined to make as big of an impact on Bristol and our downtown community as the 1927 Bristol Sessions did for early commercial country music back in the day.
One might say Hollywood had a hand in it, as the success of three major motion picture soundtracks over the previous years had sparked popular interest in Appalachian music: The Coen Brothers’ cult classic O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Maggie Greenwald’s Songcatcher, both released in 2000, and Cold Mountain, which opened in 2003. The albums from these films were wildly successful, winning dozens of awards – Grammys and Grammy nominations among them – and cast a wide spotlight on the music and musicians of our region like never before. O Brother highlighted the career of Dr. Ralph Stanley, bringing him the further recognition he so richly deserved. Our friends the Reeltime Travelers (based in East Tennessee) were featured on the Cold Mountain soundtrack and were part of the “Down from the Mountain Tour,” an extension of the documentary film by the same name that featured artists and musicians from the O Brother soundtrack. In addition, our very own Ed Snodderly, a renowned singer-songwriter and owner of The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee, played a crazy fiddler in O’ Brother. The stars were totally aligned in our favor.
By the time we started booking for 2004’s Bristol Rhythm, a trajectory had been set, and “Wagon Wheel” was nowhere near cliché. That was the year I fell in love with the festival – and Bristol – for real. That was the year I knew that my little hometown was destined for so much more. It would prove to be a record-breaking year for attendance (maybe 20–25,000? If memory serves!), and I will never forget the energy on State Street. It was magical.
I remember seeing Old Crow for the first time that weekend in 2004. They were so young and scruffy in their worn jeans, wrinkled flannel shirts, and unkempt hair. They were just kids! But they were absolutely on fire when they hit the stage. They played two sets that weekend, and they were the band everyone was talking about.
I will add that they were also really nice to our volunteers and expressed genuine gratitude for the gig. And they knew Bristol’s history, even if Bristol wasn’t yet fully aware of that history yet. Every time I watch the films in the Orientation and Immersion Theaters inside the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, I am so glad to see those guys featured in them. Old Crow Medicine Show helped incite a new wave of progressive Appalachian music not seen since the days of Newgrass Revival – bands that would wield banjos like rock stars and generate enough crowd energy to fuel a small city.
“The Big Lineup Reveal” for Bristol Rhythm ’18 stirred up a bit of sentimentality for 2004, which I didn’t quite expect, and lots of excitement for the return of Old Crow Medicine Show this year. So when putting together the 2018 Bristol Rhythm Spotify playlist, I felt it rather appropriate to start out with Old Crow singing “Wagon Wheel” – because it is a great song, despite the crappy covers, and it’s the one song that I identify most with Bristol Rhythm ’04, the year that defined the festival and paved the way for the lineup we’ll have this year. I hope you enjoy this eclectic mix tape of bands playing at Bristol Rhythm ’18!
“Hey, man, what do I have to do to play your festival?”
It’s a question I’ve been asked a million times – and, in turn, one I’ve asked other event organizers as a band member, and as an artist manager and booking agent. I’ve also been on the other side of the coin, having served on the music committee for Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. Before you ask, I don’t book talent for the festival anymore, but I’ve written hundreds of pitches, sent thousands of emails, cold-called venues begging for gigs, schmoozed, and fielded millions of requests from bands that want to play BCM events. I’ll be honest, there is no “one and done” answer to the above question. However, as someone who has seen it from all sides, I can confidently provide some useful insights that may help you get your foot in the door of some venues and events if you are a new act or a young touring band.
The first thing you have to understand is that music is a business. Venues and festivals that specialize in live music cannot operate if they don’t turn a profit. Stages, lights, stage equipment, and sound techs aren’t delivered from the sky by musically-minded Festival Fairies. Those things cost money and are a necessary expense. If you are a band that just kicks around the garage, plays the same tiny bar every other month, and hasn’t gained a substantial following, buyers won’t take you seriously – especially if your online presence is a hot mess. You have to put in the work in order to reap the rewards.
Talent buyers are all looking for different things. More often than not – and I hate to be the bearer of bad news here – some are not open to solicitations from bands. Many simply don’t have time to review the avalanche of press kits, CDs, and MP3s that come in daily. Generally, buyers at big festivals already know what acts they want to target in order to achieve the perfect lineup. Bars and venues are more flexible and will likely leverage door deals for new acts, meaning they will take a portion of ticket sales at the door of your show.
THIS ONE GOES TO 11
So how do you get the attention of talent buyers and start getting booked? Here’s my personal list of 11 “Band Aids” that successful touring bands have done or are doing that may help:
1. Get real
Be honest with yourself. Get real about your band, your brand, and what you truly have to offer. For every act that’s never performed outside their hometown, there are 50 bands out there touring – shedding blood, sweat, and tears on the road – to earn good gigs. They live in and out of sketchy Dodge Caravans and shower at truck stops to achieve their dreams. Are you hungry enough to live this way? Don’t expect to go from playing in the garage to a main stage anywhere USA if you haven’t done the work. Evaluate your expectations and what you want to achieve, then ask yourself if your act is polished enough to perform in front of an audience.
2. Be an O.G.: Do YOU
What does your act have that no one else has? What makes you stand out? Fine-tune what makes you awesome and strive to be the best at that. Even cover bands can get great gigs if they have a niche. The Cleverlys and Love Canon are fine examples.
Also, make sure there isn’t another act out there performing under your name. I can’t stress this enough. At the very least, it’s confusing. Worst case scenario, you get a cease and desist letter from an attorney. Your name is the first step to building a brand. Google it and make sure the name is available across all web and social media platforms before printing t-shirts. Also, choose your band name wisely.
3. Bio hazards
Even if your band tours outside your hometown, don’t assume you are known in every market. That’s why a good, 200-word-or-less band biography is so important. Fill it with information about what genre of music you most identify with and include a list of career accomplishments: headliners you’ve opened for, other festivals you’ve played, producers you’ve worked with, and awards you’ve achieved are a good place to start. Include quotes from press reviews if you have them. If you are pushing a new album, make this write-up separate from the band biography. Grammatical and spelling errors matter, too, folks. As a marketer, it’s my job to “sell” you to festivalgoers. I can’t do that if you can’t sell yourself with a decently written band bio.
4. Break the internet
Have a professional-looking website. Period. Your website is an extension of your brand and it’s the first place talent buyers will go to listen to your music and find information on how to book your band. There is a growing number of website-building services out there just for musicians that are easy to DIY and inexpensive to maintain. I recommend checking out Bandzoogle, BandVista, or Wix. Some offer things like email marketing, online storefronts to help you move merch, and video and music players. The ideal band website will have your contact info, video and audio samples of your music, tour dates, and a downloadable EPK (electronic press kit) that contains a good band bio, hi-res photo, and links or quotes from press articles written about your act. You should also include links to all your social media sites. Further, social media sites should not serve as a substitution for your website.
5. Pictures are worth a thousand gigs
Spend the money to hire a good photographer and get good publicity shots made. Don’t have the cash? Find a friend who takes professional-looking photos who will work with you on price or offer a freebie for photo credit. Any venue or festival will ask for hi-resolution photos to promote your band. This is not a step you can skip. Just do it.
6. Be a social butterfly, not a wallflower
Engagement with fans on social media has never been more important for independent artists. It’s a great way to push merch, ticket sales, and turn “likes” into super-fans. If you are serious about booking shows, building a fan base, and creating a brand, social media is essential. Talent buyers (and agents who may want to represent you) will look at how many followers you have to help them state a case for your act playing at their venue or festival, especially if you are flying under the radar. Also, keep it professional. Profanity, dissing venues or other bands, and breaking bad online can turn fans off and keep you from getting gigs. Also, keep the graphics and branding on your social media sites consistent with those on your website.
7. Video made the radio star
Good music videos are essential to your career as a musician, period. Get a YouTube channel and only upload your very best quality video content there. Save the amateur iPhone videos for Facebook or Instagram Stories and Snapchat. Buyers want a good representation of what you sound like live. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to achieve that. Set up a one-camera shoot (mounted on a tripod) in a quiet and acoustically friendly location with good atmosphere and lighting. Take out the close-ups edited into this video of HoneyHoney performing “Father’s Daughter” in an old house and you get the idea. Another example is this simple video of Molly Tuttle playing her arrangement of “Wildwood Flower.” Note the natural lighting from the curtained window and the simple props.
8. Sing for your supper
Talent buyers are busy, busy, people. Their inboxes are full of unopened pitches from bands who want to play their venues. Most often, buyers at larger festivals and venues rely on booking agents they trust and have built relationships with to hire talent or book bands with a proven track record of ticket sales. If you have no history in the buyers’ market, no press, and no representation, you won’t have much luck. This is frustrating for a lot of musicians, but the only way to get their attention is by taking advantage of as many opportunities to perform as possible. Play your uncle’s backyard barbecue. Break out your guitar at your best friend’s dinner party. My best advice for those just starting out: Do as many open mics in as many venues as you can. Show up early, be friendly with venue owners and staff, and network with the other musicians who are there. If your music is any good, this will help you land a paying gig and build a good reputation among the music community. It takes time, but persistence pays off.
Embed yourself in your local music scene. Support other musicians by paying the cover charge and going to their shows. Pass out demos to people who frequent live music venues wherever you go. Hang out and talk to bands after shows. Get to know staff at the venues and be friendly. Networking can help you get your foot in the door for playing gigs at a particular venue, perhaps gain an opening slot for another act, or even help you find other musicians to collaborate with. Above all, be professional, be nice, and don’t give up. Musicians and the music-minded are a kind and welcoming bunch. Like in any other profession, building good relationships is key.
10. Promote, promote, promote
Collect email addresses of fans whenever the opportunity presents itself and add them to your email database. Collect email addresses of music-related press in any market you are playing and send them press releases about your upcoming shows. Send a copy of that release to the venue you are playing as well, along with a poster file they can print off to help you promote. A few weeks out from the gig, see if there are any local shows on radio or TV that would have you on as a guest to perform. Don’t leave it up to the venue to promote your show as they have tons of other concerts on their calendars and may have other marketing priorities. Keep your tour schedule updated on your website and send invites to shows on social media. Being your own press agent is essential. Also, celebrate every single band achievement on your website’s news feed and on social media.
11. Don’t blow it
Yay! You got the gig! Now it’s up to you to blow their minds and pack the house! Above all, be professional. If a member of your band gets drunk and plays a sloppy set or you have a heated argument with the sound guy, it’s doubtful you’ll ever play there again. However, if the venue owner or talent buyer finds you likeable, professional, and digs your music, nine times out of ten you will be invited back. At the end of the day, it’s about what you put out there and building relationships as much as it is about your art. Success, at any level, is a journey worth taking if you are passionate about what you are doing, set goals, and stay on task.
When I go to music festivals, it’s not just about the music.
I also always look for something special to bring home with me to remind me of the trip. Generally, I’m on the look-out for a piece of unique jewelry, artwork, or an article of clothing that I don’t think I’ll find anywhere else. Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion prides itself on bringing in vendors that offer one-of-a-kind items, so the only disappointments I have are the purchases I didn’t make – like not taking the time to eat Island Noodles or forgetting to pick up a jar or two of local honey.
One of my biggest retail regrets EVER? Not taking home a killer, handpainted silver jacket – embellished with the image of David Bowie from Aladdin Sane across the back. It wasn’t my size, but it was amazing and I really, really wanted it. I walked past it a few times and then it was gone, sold to some young kid who was likely only just discovering The Starman’s genius. Still, I do like thinking of this Southern Appalachian middle schooler with “Rebel, Rebel” swagger wearing that jacket – Bowie is surely smiling down in full appreciation, so all is as it should be.
Of the food vendors, my favorite treat is King of Pops. I met one of the owners, Nick Carse, at the Southeast Festivals & Events Conference many years ago and begged him to bring their pops to Bristol. Family-owned and based in Atlanta, King of Pops has an amazing business model and mission, and they make the tastiest gourmet popsicles EVER with flavors you won’t find anywhere else like Thai Iced Tea, Pineapple Habanero, and Chocolate Sea Salt. No joke, I literally chased them out to the parking lot at the end of the festival one year so I could stock up!
But it never fails. Every year around August or early September, I get an email or DM from someone who wants to be a vendor at Bristol Rhythm. Guys. Seriously, that’s just too late. In fact, if you want to be a food or craft vendor at the festival, the deadline for applications is March 31, 2018!
Here are the top things you need to know in order to be the ultimate Bristol Rhythm vendor:
1. Be unique. Stand out. Offer something no one else has. Be the “Aladdin Sane David Bowie silver jacket” of vendors.
2. Craft vendors fall into two categories: commercial and handmade items. We lean toward handmade, artisan items that can’t be found in the region.
3. We are not your typical festival – our music stages and vendors are spread throughout Bristol’s historic downtown rather than being located in a large field. Because of this, we want our local businesses to have the chance to shine too so we don’t place vendors in front of their storefronts without getting permission. And we do our best to choose vendors who do not compete with our local businesses.
4. Bristol Rhythm is working hard to be greener each year through its Green Team, and we ask our vendors to help us look after Mother Earth too by using recyclable and compostable containers and cutlery. We also don’t permit Styrofoam, and we offer ways to responsibly dispose of waste water and cooking oil.
5. Our downtown is on the state line and so our festival is literally in two states. Some vendors request placement in either Tennessee or Virginia due to tax purposes. We work closely with them to try and accommodate.
6. We highly recommend vendors place an ad in the festival guide. It’s a great way to get festivalgoers to make your booth part of their festival game plan.
7. We try to rotate vendors as much as possible so as to keep the Bristol Rhythm experience fresh, but we tend to keep vendors who are popular.
8. Food and craft vendors are spread out as evenly as possible so that there are food and beverage options close to every stage. That means that even while you are serving hungry festivalgoers, you’ll probably get the chance to hear some great music yourself!
9. Vendors can be easily located on our festival mobile app through geo-tracking.
10. If you become a Bristol Rhythm vendor, get ready for a long weekend full of hard work. But remember that we are here to help you make that work go as smoothly as possible so that you and our festivalgoers have a fantastic time!
Hopefully all of these facts and tips will prove a help to those interested in becoming part of the Bristol Rhythm family – and so if you want to be a craft/food vendor at Bristol Rhythm 2018, click here. Applicants will be notified by May 18, 2018 whether or not they were selected.
The Wizard of Oz has always been my favorite movie. It’s a love I now share with my 8-year-old daughter Callie who, by the way, has gone through dozens of pairs of red ruby slippers since before she could walk. One of the most compelling moments of the film—and the most frightening—is when terror-stricken Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion face the explosive Wizard. As a kid, it was such a relief when the plot twisted and the true identity of the sinister apparition was revealed to be a mere mortal, operating the specter from behind a silky green curtain.
However, I often ponder a darker, alternative ending to The Wizard of Oz where the Wizard as a giant head stays in the picture. Either way, Dorothy’s gonna find her way home. I mean, she had the ruby slippers. Eventually Glinda would have swooped down in her bubble and tipped her off, no matter what, right?
Before you ask what any of this has to do with Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, I’ll tell you. The deal is, I was asked to write a blog explaining the inner-workings of planning the festival—in essence, taking you behind the curtain. But the question is: Can you handle the truth?
First off, I couldn’t possibly estimate the countless hours of committee meetings that take place over the course of the year—and contrary to what some may think, it does take an entire year (or more) to plan Bristol Rhythm. There are meetings about port-o-potties and fencing placement, vendor space locations and available electrical outlets, and we have a giant map of downtown where we mark up the locations of every single fence, ticket booth, stage, golf cart route, and beverage garden.
There are discussions over the exact number and placement of recycle bins and shift planning for volunteers to pick up those recyclables and deposit them…where? I don’t know! I’m not on the recycle committee, but I know it goes somewhere good and that it all gets recycled. Oh, and please don’t throw your turkey leg bones in the recycle bin. Our volunteers physically have to remove them, and it’s pretty gross.
We have meetings with sponsors, city officials, and downtown businesses, and then we have to call the guy about the tents. We have an esoteric group of crafty folks that make up the “Atmosphere” Committee. If it sounds fun, it’s because it is. This committee gets to dream up creative ways to dress up the festival with twinkle lights and pretty signs and dream catchers and, in essence, make everything more magical.
Meetings are held with police and EMS workers because safety is of the utmost importance. Security and emergency response is something we have very detailed plans for already. I will add that after the tragedy in Las Vegas, we—and every other event company in the world—will re-evaluate, scrutinize, and refine security measures to the very best of our ability.
Marketing is a veritable cyclone of activity year-round with deadline upon deadline: ads to create, graphics to design, tons of band bios to write, website and app updates, print projects, designing festival floor graphics for local hotel lobbies, emcee notes to draft, photographers and videographers to corral, rack cards to distribute, press releases to write, journalists to contact, e-blasts to send, giveaways and promotions to execute and media to coordinate – and that’s just what I can come up with on the fly!
The sheer volume of musicians and the logistics of hosting over 120 bands requires careful scrutiny of each act and their contracted needs. Our host hotels are our greatest ally in the coordination of how many band members are in each group and how many rooms they will need and on which nights of the festival they will need them. And like the rest of us, bands need food. There are meetings where people figure out who will make the food and how much food we will order and how much food will cost and who has food allergies and who specifically asked for a pair of socks in his rider request (David Mayfield did, and we happily obliged because it’s hilarious and we love him!) and who needs a ride from the airport and who will pick them up and where the band will park their giant bus and how will we get the band and their equipment to the stage.
We also have meetings about towels. Who will deliver clean, dry towels to the stages because you wouldn’t believe how many clean, dry towels bands need! And did you know that every band has a stage plot on which they list every single cable, amp, and microphone? Our amazing sound engineers rifle through each of these 120 stage plots in order to provide every act’s technical needs, then miraculously set it up between every single set at Bristol Rhythm. It’s crazy!
And then there are our incredible volunteers, those people who make everything come together, and Bristol Rhythm has a committee devoted to just that aspect of the festival. We recruit around 800 volunteers to work four-hour shifts throughout the 3-day weekend in dozens of areas. Scheduling and keeping track is a process, but running a festival takes a village, people!
All of these things, ya’ll. All of these logistical, micro-managy things are pondered, discussed, and executed over the course of a full year—and I haven’t come close to giving you the whole story because it would take a year to write and I’m on deadline.
Does reading the microscopic play-by-play of organizing a huge event like Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion increase your enjoyment of the festival? Would a manifesto of the entire year’s business of planning, marketing, and legwork make the music sound better? Is your attendance at the festival dependent on knowing that we have a committee for everything and that some committees have committees? (Don’t be a smarty-pants and just say “no.”)
We work really hard on all those details so you can concentrate on listening to amazing music and having a good time with your family and friends. We want every single person attending Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion to feel just like they are coming home, and we’ve just tidied the house before you got here.
So mark your calendars and take some vacay time! Our 18th annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival is scheduled for September 21-23, 2018. Discount weekend passes go on sale Black Friday, November 24, 2017!
Charlene Tipton Baker is a Marketing Specialist at the Birthplace of Country Music.
As another stellar Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion has now come to a close, the staff at the Birthplace of Country Music (BCM) is in mourning. Sleep deprived and squinting through bloodshot eyes, we were back in the office on Monday (later than usual; closing on Friday for a rest…) nursing our collective aches, pains, and fatigue while the remnants of the weekend’s events have all but vanished.
Within hours of the festival ending, the stages were down, the streets were clean, and as I drove to work on Monday morning, it was as if nothing had happened at all. Did we really just experience the experience we just experienced? Was it a dream? Our social media feeds validate that we lived it, but the weekend itself zipped by so fast that the general feeling of disorientation seems overwhelming. For those of us who spent more than a year planning for the 17th annual event, seeing it all end is very much like the passing of a dear friend. We’ll never get those moments back, but happily we still have our memories.
In order to hold onto those happy memories, we asked members of our staff and the festival committee to share their personal highlights from Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2017 so we could share it with all of you.
For me, personally, every vein was tapped over the course of the festival. I enjoyed some powerful performances by our festival artists throughout the weekend and often wished for a clone so I could have experienced more of them. However, my most memorable festival experiences may be my final ones. Ten minutes after breaking down into an ugly cry during “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” at the tribute to the 90th anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions on Sunday night, I was dancing on stage with Southern Culture on the Skids with my friend Sandra Harbison, throwing chicken and Little Debbie snacks like it was the 1990s and we were seeing them at The Casbah in Johnson City. The vast ranges of emotion that ebb and tide during Bristol Rhythm can be pretty extreme for me. I’m naturally a bit empathic, and my emotional state is highly exacerbated by exhaustion. But it’s common for festivarians to go from tears to exuberance in a matter of minutes, isn’t it?
Here are just a few of the reflections on Bristol Rhythm 2017 from some of our staff and committee members:
Leah Ross, BCM Executive Director
“Standing on the State Street Stage on Sunday singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with the artists who performed during the tribute show in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions was very special to me. Looking out on the crowd made me feel humbled and proud to be a small part of a festival that continues to perpetuate and celebrate the music of our region. Everywhere I went, smiling faces assured me that everyone was having a good time. We are blessed to have a wonderful staff, a giving community, and visitors who know just how special Bristol really is.”
Kris Truelsen, Radio Bristol Producer and Host of Farm and Fun Time
“Crowds flooded the Paramount to get a seat for this weekend’s special broadcast of Farm and Fun Time. From the first note played on the stage, there was something special in the air, and the crowd agreed with thunderous applause throughout the show. The combination of stellar artists – Earls of Leicester, Cactus Blossoms, Amythyst Kiah, and Bill and the Belles – and a lively crowd will no doubt go down in Farm and Fun Time history. It will forever be a fond memory for the Radio Bristol team.”
“One of the most anticipated sets of the festival for me personally was that of Colter Wall. As the band wrapped up their sound check for the Saturday afternoon set in the Paramount, Colter stood in the wings by himself strumming his guitar as the stage manager rattled off some of the high words of praise that fellow musicians and print journalists around the world are saying about this rising star.
Colter slowly walked up to the microphone all by his lonesome. He spoke softly as he greeted the capacity crowd, but his Bristol debut struck a familiar chord as he paid homage to the Birthplace of Country Music. His baritone voice dug deep as he sang a classic Jimmie Rodgers tune. I wanted to ask him about it after the set, but I think I already understood why he did it. Ninety years after Jimmie Rodgers made his recording debut, Colter Wall took us back in time with his Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion debut.
I also have to admit, it made a tear come to my eye and it reminded me that those 1927 Sessions are still influencing talented musicians today – and they are still making powerful music in Bristol.”
Dave Stallard, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Music Committee Chairman
“There’s something magical about a kid meeting a musician. On Sunday, I noticed a young lady – maybe 10 years old – singing along to every word of The Whiskey Gentry’s final song at Cumberland Park. I conspired with a festival friend, Lisa, to get the young lady backstage. You could see her explode when she was invited back, and she virtually swallowed Lauren, the lead singer of the band, in a huge hug when she came off stage. She was all smiles and jitters, and it was the moment of a lifetime for both of us.
My own son, Ben, had two such moments this weekend. Over the last year and a half, Elliot Root has become one of his favorite bands. I was able to take Ben and a friend backstage to meet the band, and Ben got “hired” – momentarily and for no money – to do a little roadie work for them. On Sunday Ben also go the chance to shake hands with Tyler Childers, whose song “White House Road” has been on repeat in our house for the last six weeks.”
Jessica Turner, Director of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum
“There is so much to love as we come out of this year’s festival. It was great to hear lots of different music, some familiar and some not. It was great to see loads of musicians in the museum. It was great to see the energy around our Farm and Fun Time broadcast from the Paramount, from those who know and support this show to those who came for the Earls of Leicester and left as new fans. And it was amazing to see musicians from many styles come together to pay tribute to the 90th anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, a set of music old and new that celebrated the past and the present, the iconic and the eclectic.
But perhaps my favorite part of the festival was the programming for children that we do. Our annual Children’s Day on Saturday featured music for families, arts and crafts tables, balloons, snow cones, face painters, and hands-on activities. This special part of the festival is a space to celebrate the children in our community, host an event that is tailored to them, and be a place for families to gather and enjoy the festival with activities just for their children. It’s also free and open to the public – not just festivalgoers – drawing in kids throughout our community. This year we featured music for kids, but also music BY kids as we showcased Sullins Academy (performing a medley of Dwight Yoakam songs) and Kid Pan Alley, who had worked with all Bristol, Virginia 5th graders to write and perform songs of their own. Seven 5th-grade classes each wrote a song at the end of August, practiced this song as a class, and performed it on stage in a school assembly and at the festival. Fostering these youngsters to find their voice, show their creativity, and sing out loud was a rewarding and joyous process!”
Larry Gorley, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Music Committee Member
“On Saturday the Country Mural Stage area really started filling up about the time Front Country came on, and the crowd size only got better. With Melody Walker leading the vocals, the crowd was well entertained. Billy Strings was up next, and his set was great as he had an excellent band with him. By the time The SteelDrivers hit the stage, the Country Mural area was packed – it was wall-to-wall and almost across the street. And with new fill-in vocalist Adam Wakefield from NBC’s “The Voice,” it was party on! The band soon had the crowd singing along, and they knew the words and tempo to a lot of the band’s songs. Their set ended way too soon, but then Jerry Douglas & The Earls of Leicester came on. They took the crowd back to the days of Lester and Earl and the Foggy Mountain Boys, and they played and sung it like it is supposed to be – straight-up, high-octane bluegrass! And the crowd was enjoying every note. A great way to end Saturday night at the Country Mural!”
Hannah Holmes, BCM Graphic Designer
“If I’m being honest, the thing that stands out in my exhausted brain the most right now was the food! Oh, man, I ate horribly this weekend, and I don’t regret my decisions one bit. I honestly enjoyed every meal from our amazing food vendors.
Let’s take a moment to remember the pork barbecue-covered tots from Southern Craft, the immortal Island Noodles (worth every minute waiting in that crazy long line), cheesecake on a stick from Lil’ Delights, the heaping plate of veggie lovers nachos from Savory Sweet (who knew sweet potatoes and nachos made such a divine pairing?), and many, many more. May the festival food lineup always be as lengthy and talented as our music lineup.”
Erika Barker, BCM Sales & Business Development Manager
“This was my first Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival experience. I joined the Birthplace of Country Music staff just two months before the festival, and it has been amazing to watch and be a part of this huge event. It was wonderful to witness how much every single person in this organization, and all of the many volunteers, really, truly, and deeply care for this festival and what it represents to the community. Seeing the entire town transform for a weekend and come together to celebrate the musical heritage of this region was absolutely astonishing. I enjoyed every minute of it… As a new staff member, I got recommendations from many of my coworkers on the best things to do, see, or eat at the festival. I did my best to experience as many as I could, but I am sure I missed some. I will have to try again next year!”
Tracey Childress, BCM Administrative Assistant
“Reflecting back on this past weekend, all I can think is WOW. How do I pick a favorite when there wasn’t anything I didn’t love? Seeing old friends that I only see once a year and truly understanding the ‘reunion’ part of the festival’s name. Dancing along to all the different ‘rhythms’ of all the different genres we get to bring downtown and learning how much the history of the ‘roots’ music influenced these musicians. There is nothing better than watching so many people smiling and having the times of their lives and being grateful for the small part I have in making that happen.”
Kim Davis, BCM Director of Marketing
“One of my favorite memories was of watching the shows at Cumberland Square Park stage this year. The new lighting made all the shows magical and so memorable.”
Rene Rodgers, Curator of Exhibits and Publications at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum
“I am the staff liaison for the BRRR Green Team, the volunteers who spend the weekend clearing beer gardens of paper, plastic, and cans, digging through trash for recyclables, and generally promoting a greener festival. I love working with the Green Team committee – you couldn’t ask for a more dedicated, hardworking, and FUN group of people, and each year we get some great volunteers, new and old, who join us in our recycling mission. It’s a worthwhile, though dirty, job! On Saturday I was laughing hysterically with Green Team Chair Sarah Tollie as we tried to lift a heavy bag of cans into a big recycling container, beer and soda dripping down our arms, cans clinking ominously above our heads, bag slipping through our fingers. With two short people, this feat of strength was never going to be successful… Later that morning, we were carting several bags of recyclables down State Street in the back of our golf cart, hit a big bump, and bounced one of the bags straight off where it landed in front of Brett, our operations manager. Another mess but another bout of uncontrollable laughter. Despite the beer-soaked shoes and the desperate need for a shower at the end of festival weekend, it is all worth it to see our containers filled to the brim with recyclables instead of in the festival trash cans!”
Scotty Almany, Digital Resources Manager & Catalog Associate at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum
“I get this feeling sometimes, not often, but these times always involve live music. I could call it an epiphany, a moment of Zen or a religious experience, and everyone would have at least an idea of what I am describing. If I really think about it, I can make a connection with most of the times this has occurred – that connection is that this feeling is a break of serenity during times of excessive stress or worry. It’s always been prompted by the tone of an electric guitar, starts as a little chill down the back of my neck then a wave of complex emotions wash over me. It gives me a sense of triumph, safety, and comfort. This happened to me around 5:40pm on Sunday as I stood watching Son Volt beside one of my oldest and closest friends. The set and setting of being with her and seeing a band who I’d listened to first so many years ago made the moment seem timeless, like it could have happened anytime in the past 20 or more years. It really is wondrous to me to think about these combinations of abstract sounds and words and how they have meant so much to me. Songs have given me legitimate faith, courage, motivation, contentment, and so much more. Make no mistake my friends, music is magical.”
Becky Littleton, BCM Director of Finance & Human Resources
“One gal stopped me on 6th Street mid-afternoon on Sunday and said, ‘I’m crying because the weekend is over and I have to go home. I don’t want it to be over!’ And she was literally crying!”
It was a great festival for us, and we hope you’ll let us know your thoughts on the festival, too. Please share your comments, memories, and suggestions on our Facebook page.
Charlene Tipton Baker is a Marketing Specialist at the Birthplace of Country Music.
The idea for what would eventually become the RTE 23 Music Festival dates back to a drive home from work in the fall of 2008. As I was headed up the mountain to my home in Wise, Virginia, I was ruminating on a simple thought: how could we bring the cool music of Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion to Wise? Though I lived in the heart of Southwest Virginia, Wise residents who loved live music generally traveled to Bristol, Johnson City, or Kingsport – more than an hour’s drive from home. For some, the drive and the distance to hear live music were problematic.
At that time, I was the current chair of the music committee for Bristol Rhythm. I took the idea to festival director Leah Ross (now Executive Director of BCM) about the possibility of doing some outreach in Wise. She agreed that it was a great idea.
Quick phone calls to a couple friends started the ball rolling, and in February of 2009 we began our first concert series on the campus of The University of Virginia’s College at Wise. Over the next five years, we hosted shows and festivals on both the UVa-Wise campus and in downtown Wise, bringing in bands like St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Folk Soul Revival, The New Familiars, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Last Train Home, Erick Baker, Dave Eggar, and more.
The evolution of our concert series to what would become RTE 23 began in the fall of 2013. Chatting with the folks who were involved with staging these concerts, we began to feel like we wanted to put all of our eggs in one basket, to create something bigger. In other words, instead of several smaller shows, we wanted one big one. And so that original thoughtful drive in 2008 culminated in the first RTE 23 Music Festival in 2013, which saw us partnering again with our good friends at UVa-Wise.
The 2013 festival was quite an endeavor, bigger than our previous events and more complicated. We put together a fantastic lineup for this first RTE 23, one which included The David Mayfield Parade, Sol Driven Train, Jarekus Singleton, and Derek Hoke. Early in the planning, we knew that we wanted to tap into the spirit of our work in Bristol and feature an eclectic, rootsy lineup – and that diversity was on show with our first performers for sure.
We have continued down that route in the crafting of the lineup for more recent festivals, including The London Souls, Love Canon, Desert Noises, Annabelle’s Curse, This Mountain, and many more wonderful artists. Our goal continues to be to offer an experience that is varied and diverse, and we carry that out each summer with festival bills that feature bands from across the Americana soundscape.
This year’s festival on August 26 – our fourth – promises to be the best yet. We have streamlined the lineup, going from four acts to three, and have assembled what we believe to be the best collection of bands offered by a festival in Wise County this year. Budding southern rock guitar titan Marcus King and his band will headline the festivities. Rounding out the bill are vintage soul rockers The Broadcast, out of Asheville, and Demon Waffle, an energetic ska band from Johnson City.
In recent years, we’ve added wine, beer, and first-class food options from local and regional businesses that showcase the very best our region has to offer. There are so many talented producers in this area, and music is always more enjoyable when paired with the good things in life!
It is also important to mention that all of the events we have ever produced in Wise have been absolutely free to our patrons. How have we managed to do that? Simple. We have been blessed with incredible financial support from an array of sponsors in the area. We have presented our vision of what we want to do with RTE 23, and our community has responded with tremendous support. Without these great folks, we could not do what we do.
The team behind RTE 23 is incredibly proud of what this festival has become. It is a labor of love that requires hours of scheming, planning, and work. Hopefully you will come to Wise and join us for a great evening of music!
Guest blogger Dave Stallard is a member of the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Music Committee and one of the organizers of the RTE 23 Music Festival in Wise, Virginia.
“It’s hot. We’re hungry. Why are we just standing here?”
Whiny, yet totally legit complaints heard at every summer festival in existence since the advent of festivals. Why not move on? Find some shade? Go get a snack? You can’t. Because you and your whole family are trapped, covered in flop sweat, held hostage in long lines to an attraction some parents consider the kid equivalent to a cage match – the bouncy house.
Is all that waiting in line really worth it when there are so many other awesome things to do?
Children’s Day at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion happens annually on Saturday mornings of the festival from 10:00am—2:00pm. It’s free and open to the community, so nobody needs a ticket to attend. Last year the event underwent a change when the staff at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum took over the organization of Children’s Day so it could better serve our mission of music.
As scholars do, museum staff asked a lot of questions about Children’s Day: How was this mini-event honoring our music heritage? Was it creating lasting memories that would make families want to return? What could they do to make it more fun? At the end of the day, the decision was made to bounce anything families couldn’t participate in together, sooo…bye-bye bouncies. And you know what? Nobody really missed them.
Since the first Children’s Day began with the 4th annual Bristol Rhythm in 2004, we have been blessed to have dozens of local nonprofits, organizations, and businesses generously donate their time and an array of fun crafts, games, and activities for the event. Last year we saw more families interacting with these activities than ever, and we are so grateful to those organizations for being part of Children’s Day, adding so much creativity and making it even more special.
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum’s special exhibit We are the Music Makers: Preserving the Soul of America’s Music was on display inside the museum during last year’s festival, so an extension to the exhibit was placed outdoors for the duration of Bristol Rhythm. The temporary and waterproof display introduced families to the striking images in the exhibit and also invited kids to make music with the attached spoons and Boomwhackers. The museum also hosted a separate Boomwhacker station where groups of children and adults played a variety of songs together, which proved to be a huge hit!
Of course, our favorite Children’s Day activities involve music. And there were lots of musical options at last year’s festival. Families square danced and dosey doe’d with the Empty Bottle String Band and frolicked to the sounds of Silly Bus, while the kids from local school Sullins Academy performed for the audience with big smiles and a sweet dash of sass – appropriate for their tribute to the great Loretta Lynn!
Each year we look for new and entertaining additions to Children’s Day. Last year Jalopy Junction took everyone on a wild ride with death-defying balancing acts and feats of strength – an adrenaline rush for the performers and audience alike.
Children’s Day brings so much value to our festival each year – an opportunity to partner with and highlight the many wonderful nonprofits and organizations in our local community, a chance to extend our mission beyond our brick-and-mortar doors, and most importantly as a way to share a deep love of music with children. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll see some of them on our festival stages!
So we invite everyone to come out to Children’s Day at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in 2017, bring the whole family, put on your dancing shoes, and get ready to have fun!
Charlene Tipton Baker is a Marketing Specialist at the Birthplace of Country Music.
Our volunteers act in dozens of important roles supporting all three elements of our organization: the museum, the festival, and the radio station. They are docents and gallery assistants, work behind the scenes in our archives, tackle the logistical puzzle of our 3-day music festival, greet and transport performing musicians, help facilitate our live radio shows, and so much more. There is no doubt that they are integral to our success.
There are many reasons to love our volunteers – I could definitely write a hugely long post about this – but, for now, here are our top 5!
1. We consider our volunteers to be the equivalent of members of staff. Every day we see their professionalism on display, and we know that they take their responsibility to our visitors seriously. By sharing their input with us, helping us when our paid staff cannot fulfill all the organization’s needs and roles, and holding themselves accountable on a daily basis, it also means that they make our work easier. This allows us to focus on other necessary tasks knowing that whatever they are doing is in good hands. And because they are immersed in our work – and truly understand the depth of that work – our volunteers are our very best advocates, sharing our story and our mission with visitors, the local community, and even further afield.
2. Our volunteers are interesting! We have volunteers from all walks of life – from retired schoolteachers to neurologists, high school and college kids to history buffs, and artists and musicians. Every day we get the chance to have a fascinating conversation with a volunteer, learn something new about a topic we previously knew little to nothing about, or tap into their many skills, making all the difference to our work.
3. Volunteers help make our grant applications even stronger. The significant amount each and every one of them gives to our organization can be viewed as in-kind donations from our community. Each year we have over 800 volunteers on the ground from the break of dawn until late at night at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival; we also have volunteers working on the planning committees for the festival all year round. Since the Birthplace of Country Music Museum opened in August 2014 and Radio Bristol launched in August 2015, our museum and radio volunteers have given almost 10,000 hours to help us on a daily basis. Volunteers also pitch in with other outreach projects like the annual Border Bash concert series and our support of Bristol Motor Speedway’s Speedway in Lights program every winter. All of the time and support given to us by our volunteers is a tangible marker of community support and engagement, which is integral to successful grant applications – and successful grants help our organization to develop and to deliver our mission.
4. Not only are our volunteers good at what they do, but they also know how to have a good time – and how to make our lives fun! From getting into the spirit of a volunteer party theme by dressing up like country musicians to sharing the best-tasting potluck dishes in town at our annual Christmas party, you can count on our volunteers to bring good cheer and good fun to every occasion.
5. Most importantly, because our volunteers are dedicated, welcoming, and knowledgeable, they have a direct and meaningful impact on our visitors. Our festival may be a blast, our museum may be engaging, and our radio station may make your toes tap, but it is our volunteers who make your time with us special.
René Rodgers is Curator of Exhibits & Publications at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. If you are interested in volunteering at the museum, new volunteer training is being held on July 25 and August 1.
The primary marketing piece for any music festival or event is the commemorative poster. Companies like Nashville’s Hatch Show Print, Knoxville’s Status Serigraph, and Asheville’s Subject Matter Studio have built their businesses – and stellar reputations – creating distinct artistic visions of their clients’ brands. For music fans, posters are a sentimental reminder of a good time and great music; they are also an essential collector’s item.
Since the inaugural festival in October 2001, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion has commissioned a variety of local and regional artists to create designs that we feel capture the essence of the event. A few of our most popular are now out of print, though they occasionally pop up on ebay for purchase at a higher price than they originally sold.
If you have been collecting Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion posters since the beginning – that’s 17 posters and counting this year – you might find that wall space has become an issue. To help with that challenge, and for those who want to collect on a smaller scale, we started producing a collection of festival poster note cards. The note cards are small, frame-worthy, and run through the 16th annual event so you can display them without taking up a lot of space. And, of course, they are great cards to send to friends and family to encourage them to come to the festival!
For those of you who collect and frame, we recommend having your favorite posters professionally framed using museum quality glass to keep the colors vibrant. Can’t decide on a favorite? Have a frame shop cut a piece of museum quality glass to fit a store-bought frame so you can change posters out on a whim. If sticker shock is an issue, think of it as an investment. We have no plans to reissue out-of-print posters so they retain value and, with care, the glass is something you’ll have forever even if you switch out frames.
We’ve pulled together all the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival poster designs we’ve collected over the years (with those that are no longer in print indicated) below so you have the chance to see each and every design. Hats off to all the wonderful artists for their inspired visions of our event – they showcase a variety of styles and themes from funky graphic music-related designs and historic references to playful story art and striking hand-pressed prints.
Charlene Tipton Baker is a Marketing Specialist at the Birthplace of Country Music. Please note that some posters are not sold in our online store, but you can call our office at 423-573-1927 to see if they are available.