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Title: Round Two: Ashli’s Top 5 Bristol Rhythm Must-Sees

By Ashli Linkous, Marketing Specialist & Photographer


It’s almost time for my second festival as a staff member here at the Birthplace of Country Music, so here’s year two of Ashli’s “Must Sees” at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, coming up this week on September 8-10th, 2023!

Larkin Poe

When I heard that Larkin Poe was on this year’s lineup, I was stoked! I grew up listening to rock music, so I’ve always had a soft spot for anything rock and roll. The sister duo’s unique sound is a melting pot of blues, gritty southern rock, gospel, and even bluegrass and old-time country music. It’s not surprising that the sisters draw from such genres as bluegrass and old-time – you may remember when the sisters were in an acoustic trio called The Lovell Sisters. Personal favorites from Larkin Poe are “Kick the Blues,“Mississippi”, and “Deep Stays Down.” They headline Cumberland Square Park Stage on Saturday, September 9th at 10:00 PM! Don’t miss it! This show will be such a vibe with the atmosphere of the Cumberland Square Park stage lights at night!

Promotional image of the duo Rebecca and Megan Lovell of Larkin Poe. Two women are facing the camera and holding instruments. The women on the left is holding a light pink guitar with glitter and wearing a brown fringe western jacket. The woman on the right is holding an instrument and wearing a black sleeveless shirt with shiny patterned pants. Both women are sitting on a fuzzy yellow blanket in front of a colorful orange and yellow background.
Rebecca and Megan Lovell of Larkin Poe.

Sons of the East

I learned about Australian based indie-folk band Sons of the East when they made their way through Bristol in 2022. They played at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino last October and came to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum for a spur of the moment tour the next day. I’ve been hooked ever since! For fans of Bristol Rhythm alumni such as CAAMP and Rainbow Kitten Surprise, this band is a must see! Trust me, you’ll be bragging about seeing them at Bristol Rhythm in a year or two. We are lucky enough to have them play twice for us: opening the State Street Stage on Friday, September 8th at 5:00 PM and on the Piedmont Stage on Saturday, September 9th at 3:45 PM! Personal favorites are On My Way,” Millionaire,” and “Into the Sun.” 

Three young men are posing and smiling for a promotion image of their band. The man on the far left is smiling and wearing a white button up shirt and jeans. The man in the middle is wearing a brown shirt and jeans and leaning down towards the camera, his hair is in his face. The man on the far right is leaning against a yellow wall behind the other two men, and wearing a blue button up shirt with a white tee shirt with the text “NYC” on the shirt.
Australian indie folk trio formed in 2011 by Nic Johnston, Dan Wallage, and Jack Rollins.

Arcy Drive

If you loved Briston Maroney’s Sunday set (or missed out and heard about it later) at last year’s festival, then you have to add Arcy Drive to your list! This four piece band has dubbed their music “attic rock,” and have racked up accolades such as Luck Reunion’s Southwest Air “Artist on the Rise” winner. They recently embarked on their first sold out headlining tour, so it’s going to be awesome to have this band make a stop in Bristol before they absolutely blow up, because they definitely will! Personal favorites are Roll My Stone,” “Smoke & Fire,” and their newest release “Wicked Styley.” They play Cumberland Square park Stage on Saturday, September 9th at 4:00 PM.

 A black and white image of 4 young men in the back of a vehicle. The men are all smiling and have their arms around one another. The men are wearing t-shirts and hoodies.
Promotional image of the band Arcy Drive.

HAPPY LANDING

If you are in search of a feelgood band that will get you on your feet, then look no further! Perhaps the band I am most excited to see at this year’s festival, HAPPY LANDING is a folk rock band that hails from Oxford, Mississippi. If you like bands such as The 502s, The Head And The Heart, or Oliver Hazard, or The Backseat Lovers, you should make plans to be at Cumberland Square Park on Saturday, September 9th at 2:00 PM. Personal favorites are “Love Your Guts, “October,” and “Carry On, Carry On.”

Five people are wearing blue, or white, or orange jumpsuits and are jumping in mid air on a beach.
Promotional image of HAPPY LANDING.

Holy Roller

Back in July I got a taste of Richmond, Virginia based band Holy Roller at our Road to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion show and I’ve been listening nonstop ever since. Their energetic live show blew me away. Their fans in the Richmond music scene showed up in droves and sang every word to their songs. The strength of their local fan base felt very similar to the momentum 49 Winchester was gaining right here in Southwest Virginia back in 2021. I feel that Holy Roller will likely find a similar path to success in the coming months/years. With a sound combining southern rock, Americana, folk, and country, personal favorites are “Flat Track Fire,” “Honey Where’d You Sleep,” and “Muscle Up.” They play for us twice: Friday, September 8th at 6:00 PM on the Lauderdale Stage and Saturday, September 9th at 3:00 PM on 6th Street. I would make plans to see both.

A fun group image of the band Holler Roller. The group consists of six men and one woman, they are all sitting on a porch with their arms around each other. The man on the far left is holding a white dog in his lap. Everyone is wearing colorful clothing and smiling and laughing.
Promotional image of Holler Roller.

You can buy tickets to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion right now at a special rate! Our prices rise at the festival gates, so buy early and save!! We also offer discounted weekend tickets for groups of 10+ at $100 each! Visit BristolRhythm.com for more information.

Ashli Linkous is a Marketing Specialist & Photographer at the Birthplace of Country Music, Inc. and an avid music lover!

Radio Bristol Spotlight: The Dimestore Cowboys

Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah! on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.


Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists, artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission we are pleased to bring you our latest series – Radio Bristol Spotlight. Radio Bristol Spotlight is a series highlighting top emerging artists in our region. Through interviews and performance we will learn more about the musicians who help to make Central Appalachia one the richest, and most unique musical landscapes in the world.

A few different names, 15 years of performing, and two lead singers later, The Dimestore Cowboys have re-emerged as a major player in the Tri-cities music scene. Originally known as JB Five and Dime, the band was started as a passion project between bass player and songwriter, Jason Shaffer and his long time singing buddy James Brashears. The two began playing at local watering holes and small venues around 2008, and shared lots of music and good times.  

 A promotional image of the group The Dimestore Cowboys. A group of six musicians are posing all facing the camera and looking into the lens. They are sitting on an old 1970’s style floral couch next to an old large TV with amps and other miscellaneous music equipment surrounding them. The lighting is moody and dark, no one is smiling. Members of the group are dressed in rustic western attire and dark clothing.
The Dimestore Cowboys. Left to right: Jason Vaper, Julia Wilson, Torrey Warren, Jason Shaffer, Adilene Delgado, and Travis Bentley

However, with the onset of the pandemic, the band came to a screeching halt causing the lead singer of the group to step down to refocus on work and family. The Dimestore Cowboys reformulated with a new line up adding frontman Travis Bentley, harmony vocalist and fiddle player Julia Wilson, Adilene Delgado on drums, lead guitarist Torrey Warren, and Jason Vaper on keys. Shaffer, the only original member remaining, has continued to be a driving force within the band and currently shares songwriting duties with Bentley. Shaffer was raised in Hiltons, VA just a few miles from the Carter Family Fold, and cites The Carter Family and old mountain music as a major inspiration for his writing. Travis Bentley grew up singing gospel music in church just outside of Bristol in Hickory Tree, TN and possesses a velvety twang that will make your hair stand on end. When not playing out, you can find Shaffer working at the well known local music store Campbell’s Morrell Music.

With their new line up in place the band has exploded onto the scene scoring high profile gigs opening for acts such as Mark Chestnut, Laid Back Country Picker, Tan and Sober Gentlemen, and is slated to be on the lineup for Bristol Rhythm and Roots this coming September. With two electric guitars, a Fender Rhodes organ, and fiddle in toe the band has some major grit with plenty of old school vibes. Shaffer says the talents of the new group and vocal harmonies between Travis and Julia have been taking the band to the next level. In 2022 Dimestore Cowboys released a new album aptly titled Let’s Try This Again recorded mixed and mastered by Mike Stephenson at Classic Recording Studio in downtown Bristol, VA. 

A stand out track from the new record, Appalachian Troubadour displays major radio playability dealing with themes of classism in Appalachia, spirituality, and the pressure of social norms. Listening to the new record you can’t help but feel like you’re hearing the next big band to emerge from the growing country music scene in the region which has recently birthed major talent such as 49 Winchester and Amythyst Kiah. Listeners can also hear influences from bands such as The Drive By Truckers and American Aquarium. You can listen to their latest release by visiting The Dimestore Cowboy’s bandcamp. 

Currently the group is working on a second release which is due out this coming Fall, and are looking to tour more extensively. This summer has proved to be busy for The Cowboys, with regional festivals, theater shows, and outdoor events. Follow their music and tour schedule by visiting their Facebook.

Quick-Witted Women: Comedy and Country Music

Left to right: Promotional images of Roni Stoneman as “Ida Lee” from Hee Haw from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum archives, Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon as Minnie Pearl sporting her signature hat and price tag courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry archives and Cynthia Mae Carver as Cousin Emmy courtesy of Georgia State University Digital Collections

Toni Doman-Vandyke is Grants Coordinator and Curatorial Specialist at the Birthplace of Country Music


August 16th is National Tell A Joke Day! Comedy and country music have a long and enduring history. From the extravagant days of vaudeville variety act performances in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to early barn dance radio programs of the 1930s, comedians and musicians were regularly featured.

A graphic image of a logo for the program Hee Haw. The graphic is a mule wearing a yellow straw hat, with droopy eyes and prominent large teeth. The mule is smiling and underneath of the mule to to right are the words “hee haw”
The logo for the television show Hee Haw, a variety show featuring country music and humor in the fictional “Kornfield Kounty”

Comedians brought their wit be it silly, old-fashioned, and sometimes crude – to the stage to entertain audiences, oftentimes with humor focused on a rural country lifestyle. Some of the first comedians to be a part of the WSM’s Grand Ole Opry program in the 1930s included Sarie and Sally, a female comedic duo, and arguably the Opry’s most well-known comedian, Minnie Pearl, who later went on to be a cast member of Hee Haw, which ran for 25 seasons from 1969 until 1993. Humor can break down boundaries, engage and entertain people, and has the ability to connect listeners and audiences deeply through a shared experience of laughter. Comedy is deeply intertwined with the genres of and relating to country music, with many memorable funny and satirical songs by musicians through the years. Today contemporary artists still carry on the tradition of writing ironic, satirical and humorous songs.

I’m a huge fan of side-splitting country songs, with some of my earliest musical memories include “discovering” Ray Stevens and “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival“,and listening to every whimsical goofy tune by Roger Miller (personal favorite: “My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died). Upon doing research for this blog post, I found that most “funny country songs” are written and performed by male artists. However, female performers – despite historically facing challenges, such as the assumption that women aren’t funny and gender discrimination surrounding what might be appropriate for a female performer to sing or speak about on stage – have made their comic mark in the country genre too. Therefore, to celebrate National Tell a Joke Day, here’s a roundup of music and stories by some of my favorite funny female country music comedians and entertainers. From Cousin Emmy to Dolly Parton, women have been getting the last laugh for years!

Lulu Belle and Scotty – “Store Bought Teeth”
How are false teeth like stars?
They come out at night!

This novelty song about “store bought teeth” by Lulu Belle (born Myrtle Eleanor Cooper) and Scotty Wiseman features comical lyrics of problems that might just occur should you have fake teeth and you dig into the taffy candy (not advised). Lulu Belle and Scotty were known as “The Sweethearts of Country Music” first meeting one another on the WLS National Barn Dance in the mid 1930s. Together they both had successful careers in country music performing across the Midwest and even appeared in seven films.

“Well a feller called and said his name was Slim, and he wanted me to work for him
And I said boy I always aim to please
So I signed upon the dotted line and everything was just going fine
Then he led me to a 90 foot trapeze

Well he handed me some kites like them folks wear
And he pulled me way up in the air
Then hollered “hang on by your teeth and wait!”
And then it happened the things I feared
When the screaming stopped and the dust had cleared
The only thing hanging was my plate

Store bought teeth and taffy candy
Store bought teeth and taffy candy”

Cousin Emmy on Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest
What kind of music do balloons hate?
Pop.

Cynthia Mae Carver, known professionally as Cousin Emmy, began playing music as a young girl, mastering the fiddle, banjo, guitar, harmonica, ukulele, and musical saw, and even playing music on a rubber glove. She performed on local radio stations, and in 1935 she won the National Old Time Fiddlers’ Contest, which brought her better gigs and eventually larger radio markets in Knoxville, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri. Very few recorded performances exist of Cousin Emmy, though this excerpt from the 1944 film Swing in the Saddle by Lew Landers features one of her stage performances during her career heyday. The video below features another rare recording from Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest, a program focused on folk music. At mark 7:30 of the video, you can catch Cousin Emmy playing “You Are My Sunshine” on the rubber glove!

Roni Stoneman – “Going Up Cripple Creek”
How can you tell the difference between all the banjo songs?
By their names.

Veronica “Roni” Stoneman is an accomplished banjo player and comedian, and she was a long-time cast member of Hee Haw from 1972 to 1990, known for playing the skillet-wielding “Ida Lee Nagger” character, as seen in this YouTube clip. She is the 14th child and youngest daughter of Ernest and Hattie Stoneman, old-time artists who recorded at the 1927 Bristol Sessions. With a career spanning a lifetime in music and stage performances, Roni is a true entertainer. This video of “Going Up Cripple Creek” features a performance by the Stoneman Family from 1967, with Roni playing the banjo with a stoic attitude and expression-less face, totally out of character (but still a hilarious performance) from her normal upbeat and energetic stage personality.

Mother Maybelle and The Carter Sisters – “Well I Guess I Told You Off”
Did you hear about the cow that tried to jump the fence and missed?
Utter disaster.

Some of my absolute favorite funny recordings feature Mother Maybelle Carter and The Carter Sisters with  tunes like Root Hog Or Die, Too Old To Cut the Mustardand “Well I Guess I Told You Off” when sisters Helen, June, and Anita each take turns singing lines of the chorus. Their amusing performances always make me laugh! 

The three daughters of Maybelle Carter began performing with her publicly as The Carter Sisters after the original Carter Family (A. P., Sara, and Maybelle) disbanded in 1943. The Carter Sisters appeared on numerous radio and television shows, performed live, and became regulars on the Grand Ole Opry. June, in particular, honed her comedic skills with the group, bringing a folksy charm and humor to many of their stage performances.

“If brains were thousand dollar bills
I’d tell you what we’d bet
You wouldn’t have enough
To buy a cup of coffee yet

Well, that ain’t the way I heared it
But here’s a thought for you
Your’s might as well be coffee grounds
For all the thinking they’ll do

Well I guess I told you off
That ought to hold you for a spell
Furthermore if you don’t like it
You can pack tonight, get out of sight
And go jump in the well!”

Dolly Parton – Songwriter and Storyteller
“I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb…and I also know that I’m not blonde.” – Dolly Parton

Finally, this clip features legendary living musician and singer-songwriter Dolly Parton, highlighting her character and charisma through humor and storytelling – a regular hallmark of her shows and appearances. With a successful career spanning over 50 years, she released her first album Hello I’m Dolly, in February of 1967, which included her first hit, Dumb Blonde,” a song that called out female stereotypes. Soon after she was invited to be the regular “girl singer” on The Porter Wagoner Show. At the six-minute mark in the video below, Dolly dives into a witty and humorous tale as a guest on The Tonight Show, cracking the entire audience up by the end of her tale. 

If you liked the female artists and their featured funny songs, check out these additional hilarious comedic country songs by female artists: 

Will the Circle Be Unbroken? History of a Song

By Ed Hagen, Gallery Assistant and guest blogger

There is a dance floor inside of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum that features the song “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” playing over and over and sung by a mix of modern and old-time country artists. Toward the end of the looping video, John Carter Cash explains that the “circle” is music itself. In that sense “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” is a homage to the pioneers of country music and a salute to current artists who honor these diverse roots. The circle is unbroken because the music is handed down from generation to generation. 

Album artwork for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”. The album has a white background with an unnamed military officer in the center, with both American and Confederate flags surrounding the officer. Names of musicians featured on the album are written in cursive handwriting on each side of the profile of the unnamed man. The words "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" are clearly visible in large lettering at the top of the image, and the words "music forms a new circle" is written at the bottom of the image.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” cover

The song has had that association for many years now, perhaps starting with the release in 1972 of the Will the Circle Be Unbroken album by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a 1960s California jug band that had gone electric and was at that time best known for covering Jerry Jeff Walker’s Mr. Bojangles. Will the Circle Be Unbroken was their seventh album and came about when band member John McEuen asked bluegrass musician Earl Scruggs and legendary guitarist Doc Watson if they would record with the band. One thing led to another, and many of country music’s biggest stars – including Roy Acuff, Jimmy Martin, Maybelle Carter, Merle Travis, Vassar Clements, Randy Scruggs, Pete “Oswald” Kirby, and Norman Blake signed up for the project. It was a collaboration of two culturally different generations of musicians, traditional Grand Ole Opry stars and a group of hippies that Acuff described as “a bunch of long-haired West Coast boys” (Maybelle called them – affectionately – the “dirty boys”). By all accounts, the generation gap was bridged and new friendships were made, not to mention the incredible music. The album was a crossover success, introducing many folks to traditional country music, and in 1997 the original album was certified platinum. 

Since its release, the song has become an inspiration for intergenerational celebrity get-togethers. When the song is called at any local museum jam sessions, everyone sings the chorus, and the emotion in the room is palpable. 

A black and white image of lyrics to the song "Will the Circle Be Unbroken".
A hymnal page of the song “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” dated 1907 courtesy of hymnary.org

The original version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” was a hymn written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon, with music by Charles H. Gabriel. It is long out of copyright, and so we freely reproduce the sheet music here. According to hymnary.org, the song peaked in popularity just before World War II, when it appeared in about 20% of hymnals in use. It is down to about 7% today. Based on conversations I have had, the number is higher here in East Tennessee.

Note that the words and melody of the verses in the original hymn depart substantially from the way it is usually sung today (although the refrain is very close). That’s because A. P. Carter rewrote the song when The Carter Family recorded it in 1935. 

Victor producer Ralph Peer used to tell A. P. and his other folk and country artists to avoid recording songs heard on the radio, but to collect traditional music that could be modified and copyrighted. A. P. may have thought it was a traditional song. Perhaps to differentiate it a bit more, the Carter version was retitled as “Can the Circle Be Unbroken” (though nobody uses that title anymore).

The sentiment conveyed in both versions is that we have all lost loved ones, but that they have gone to a better place where we will see them again. It is interesting to compare the two versions of the song. Habershon’s version admonishes the listener to take the Christian view of family loss:

A black and white image of The Carter Family. Three people are facing the camera, A.P. Carter is wearing a blazer and vest, looking toward the camera. Sarah Carter is to his left and is standing facing the camera. She is holding an autoharp and wearing a dress. Maybelle Carter is sitting holding an archtop guitar and looking into the lens. All three individuals have a slight smile to their faces.
A promotional photo of The Carter Family taken by the Victor Talking Machine Company circa 1928. Left to right: A.P. Carter, Maybelle Carter, and Sarah Carter.

You remember song of heaven
Which you sang with childish voice,
Do you love the hymns they taught you,
Or are songs of earth your choice?

The Carter version, recorded and released in 1935, focuses on the painfulness of the loss:

Oh, I followed close behind her
Tried to hold up and be brave
But I could not hide my sorrow
When they laid her in the grave

Can the Circle Be Unbroken” also focuses on the death of a beloved mother rather than family members in general (as in the original hymn). In any event, it is not surprising that the more emotional Carter version won people’s hearts. Roy Acuff used the Carter lyrics when he recorded it in 1940, and that eventually became the standard version. You can listen to different versions of the song via the YouTube links below. 

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will The Circle Be Unbroken

The Carter Family – Will The Circle Be Unbroken

Will The Circle Be Unbroken Vol.2/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band/Johnny Cash/Ricky Skaggs

Ed Hagen is a volunteer gallery assistant and guest blogger at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. His earlier post, Celebrating Jimmie Rodgers: A Short Lesson in His Guitar Style, appeared here last year.

Send In The Hounds: Tyler Childers Returns to the Tri-Cities

By Ashli Linkous, Marketing Specialist & Photographer

It wasn’t all that long ago when Tyler Childers recorded a Radio Bristol Session (2018) and played on the 6th Street and the indoors Shanghai Stages at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion (2017). Since then, that Radio Bristol Session video has racked in over 15 million views on YouTube and Childers has continued to rise higher and higher up in the ranks. 

Musician Tyler Childers singing into a microphone with a full band, a bass player to his right, a pedal steel guitar and electric guitar players to his right. Bright stage lights are shining down upon the band as they play and sign passionately.
Tyler Childers performing a powerful song in front of the crowd at Freedom Hall Civic Center in Johnson City, Tennessee on May 10th, 2023.

With a stage decked out in taxidermy, prairie grass, and a black-and-white checkered floor, plus a surprise appearance from the Bluff City man who taught him how to play guitar, Tyler Childers made a BIG return to the Tri Cities last month. It was amazing to walk into Freedom Hall Civic Center and see the merch line wrapped around in a seemingly never-ending queue of fans eager to get their hands on some Childers swag. By the time I made it down to the arena floor the crowd was bustling with energy, ready to see the musician who hadn’t played in the area for quite some time. Tickets were hard to come by, with resell tickets going for several hundred bucks a pop. 

97 year old Clyde Lloyd looks onward toward Tyler Childers as they play onstage. Both are playing guitars in front of a stage backlit by a blue backdrop with a large silhouette of a tree behind them.
97 year old veteran Clyde Lloyd taking the stage along side Tyler Childers

 

First coming out solo, Childers opened with “Nose on the Grindstone,” which was followed by heavily spun tracks “Lady May” and “Follow You to Virgie,” with a roar from the crowd following suit. It was then that he brought out 97 year-old Clyde Lloyd, a long-time military service friend of his grandfather whom he would visit in Bluff City, Tennessee during the summers of his youth. It was in the nearby Bluff City where Childers learned his first three chords on acoustic guitar and how to play “Old Country Church.” After a long period of time where the two had lost touch, he was able to reconnect with Lloyd while traveling through the area on tour. Together, they played a duet of the song that brought much of the crowd to tears. To say this was a highlight of the night is an understatement.

But Childers continued to stun when he brought out his backing band, the Food Stamps. Going immediately into his own version of “Old Country Church,” they followed up with the title track of his new record, “Can I Take My Hounds To Heaven.” He then went into “Country Squire” and personal favorite “I Swear (To God)” from his record Purgatory. The crowd screamed along to familiar favorites like “All Your’n,” “Whitehouse Road,” and “Way of the Triune God.” By the end of the night Childers had played 23 songs and left the crowd with a show they’ll never forget. Many even stayed after the show, hoping and waiting to be given a setlist or other small memento from the stage.

It was safe to say that Childers’ recent show was a much different setting from the side stage he played for at the 17th annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion as an up-and-comer in 2017, going from playing to several hundred to nearly 8,500 this go round. It’s crazy to think about how much he’s grown since that day and the crowd who unknowingly witnessed a legend in the making.

Tyler Childers is on stage and faces a crowd of fans watching him as he performs. He is wearing a black and blue plaid shirt playing a guitar looking down and singing. It is a bright and sunny day.
Childers performs at the 2017 Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion Festival on state street Bristol.

I feel like it’s a testament to the work we do here at the Birthplace of Country Music, bringing in names who may not yet be on your radar. The same story has played out for so many huge acts that were up-and-coming when they played these streets, including Sturgill Simpson, CAAMP, and Billy Strings, to name just a few. This organization and this festival is proud to uplift and support live music and up-and-coming artists, and we hope that we can continue bringing in names that will soon rule the charts for decades to come. To learn more about the festival, visit BristolRhythm.com

Ashli Linkous is a Marketing Specialist & Photographer at the Birthplace of Country Music, Inc. and an avid music lover! 

Instrumental History: Inspired by Jimmie Rodgers Martin 000-45 Guitar

Did you know that last year the Birthplace of Country Music Museum took in on loan one of the most important guitars in American music history – Jimmie Rodgers’ 1928 000-45 Martin? Yep, it’s true, and it’s currently on display here at the museum! 

Jimmie Rodgers: A white man in a dark suit with a bow tie. He wears a light-colored cowboy-style hat and holds a guitar in his hands. The background is dark though you can see a windowed-doorway to the left-hand side of the image.

Jimmie Rodgers. From the John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records, #20001, Southern Folklife Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Over the years this guitar has become one of the most iconic symbols for country music, boasting a mother of pearl neck inlay touting Jimmie Rodgers’ name, an iconic hand-painted “THANKS” on the back of the guitar, the words “Blue Yodel” in inlay on the headstock, and a label on the interior with a message signed by C. F. Martin himself. Of course, the guitar was made famous by not only Rodgers – recognized as “the Father of Country Music” and also known as “the Singing Brakeman” and “America’s Blue Yodeler” – but also by honky tonk great Ernest Tubb, who was loaned the famous guitar by Jimmie’s widow Carrie Rodgers. Ernest went on to play the guitar for nearly 40 years, helping to solidify its importance in the history of country music.

Left image: Guitar seen from the front in a museum exhibit case. You can see the inlay "Jimmie Rodgers" and "Blue Yodel" on the neck and headstock. Right image: Guitar seen from the back in museum exhibit case. "Thanks" is painted on the back of the guitar's body.

Jimmie Rodgers’ 1928 Martin 000-45 on display at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Ashli Linkous

To celebrate this iconic guitar in its temporary home here at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, Clint Holley – Radio Bristol DJ and host of “Pressing Matters” – has been working with museum and radio staff to create and share a three-episode program featuring perspectives from scholars and musicians from across the country. Titled “Instrumental History: Thoughts & Anecdotes on Jimmie Rodgers Martin 000-45 ‘Blue Yodel’ Guitar,” the program will air on Fridays at 6:00 pm ET on Radio Bristol for the next six weeks launching Friday, February 3 – each episode will be aired two week in a row. And so, in other words, tune in tonight for the first one! 

To get us warmed up and ready for the series, we asked some of our knowledgeable Radio Bristol DJs to tell us about their favorite Jimmie Rodger’s songs, whether sung by him or a cover by another artist. Our DJs came through with some great, if not surprising, choices. 

Crystal Gayle, “Miss the Mississippi and You”

“A thoroughly modern take on this classic song. Although NOT written by Jimmie, he made it his own and was the first to release it in 1932. The song has been recorded over 40 times, and Crystal’s version is the first I could find with a female singer as the main character. Produced with contemporary sounds in the late 1970s, this version shows how flexible and enduring the song truly is.”

~ Clint Holley, Pressing Matters

Jorma Kaukonen, “Prohibition Blues”

“I want to nominate Jorma Kaukonen’s version of Jimmie’s never-recovered master of “Prohibition Blues” from his album Blue Country Heart as my favorite…both for its rarity and its timely nature. The fact that he had the writer, Clayton McMichen, play on his recording of it is even more interesting and shows how much respect Rodgers had for his fellow musicians. As a collector’s aside, can you imagine finding that master sitting in a dusty storeroom somewhere today? Talk about your Holy Grail! It would probably be worth more than the 000-45 that we are so lucky to get to display!

Jorma’s version is, of course, outstanding as well with a superb lineup, and he does it justice with humor and flawless musicianship. I will admit to prejudice here, because Jorma is a good friend whose music is a large part of my repertoire…but his choice of that song is a rare treat for us all.”

~ Marshall Ballew, Off the Beaten Track

Jimmie Rodgers, “Waiting for a Train”

“Two of Jimmie Rodgers’ tunes that I have always connected with are “Waiting for a Train” and “Miss the Mississippi and You.” Jimmie wrote his version of  “Waiting for a Train” based on an English tune from the 19th century. He recorded it in 1929 for Ralph Peer’s Victor label on the back side of “Blue Yodel #4.” I have always liked the horns at the beginning; they resonate with my traditional jazz roots. “Miss the Mississippi and You was recorded later and has that feeling, to me, that Jimmie knew his time was increasingly short. I think Jimmie was able to translate a number of types of music into his own unique style, which is why he was so popular. I hear the music of Western styles in his yodel and jazz in his singing, coupled with the Delta blues and Appalachian sounds. It is a compelling combination. He also recorded long enough that his later songs were technologically better recorded than his early stuff. He was a true artist who died way too young.”

~ Bill Smith – Crooked Road Radio Hour

Jimmie Rodgers, “Last Blue Yodel”  

“A part of Jimmie Rodgers’ final group of recordings, performed during the sessions that took place in New York City just 48 hours before his untimely death, “Last Blue Yodel” is a poignant soliloquy relinquishing personal thoughts on heartbreak. Following a 12-bar-blues format paired with Jimmie’s trademark yodeling, which Rodgers employed on all of his series of 13 Blue Yodels, this last one has become my favorite for its directness and intensity. The tag of each verse admits “The women make a fool out of me.” Rodgers known for his intimate solo guitar style is also one of the first singers to display confessional songwriting, which has deeply shaped country music as a genre, and my own personal approach to creating songs.”

~ Ella Patrick, Folk Yeah!

Leon Redbone, “T.B. Blues”

“My personal favorite cover version of a Jimmie Rodgers song is Leon Redbone’s rendition of “T.B. Blues.” The song itself always stood out to me because of the unique perspective of writing so specifically about one’s own mortality. It was covered by several bluesmen that I took to when I first started researching the blues, but Redbone’s version has the perfect amount of his own style while still paying homage to the original.”

~ Scotty Almany, Scotty’s Tune Up

 

Kris Truelsen is the Radio Bristol Program Director.

Radio Bristol’s Top Albums of 2022

As 2022 comes to a close, it becomes a time for reflection – and so Radio Bristol would like to take the opportunity to look back at some of the releases that made this past year memorable on the music front. This year saw releases from many great artists, including some heavy hitters like Billy Strings and Tyler Childers, and many breakout artists like Adeem the Artist, Miko Marks, and more. With so many great releases this year, it’s tough to narrow it down, but here are just a few of our recommendations for some of this year’s standout releases.  As always, if you tune into Radio Bristol you’re sure to hear all these artists regularly spinning on our airwaves!

49 Winchester // Fortune Favors the Bold

The boot-scuffing barstool ballads of 49 Winchester’s fourth studio album, Fortune Favors the Bold, has landed the band national acclaim and the mega fandom of country music superstars such as Luke Combs. A festival favorite at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, the Russell County, Virginia natives have gone from playing small venues on Bristol’s State Street to selling out theaters across the country.

Composed of high school buddies who grew up together in nearby Castlewood, Virginia, 49 Winchester’s newest release relates genuine downhome grit with dang-good storytelling, showcasing the group’s infectious Southern rock-infused brand of Appalachian folk meets country soul.

Leyla McCalla // Breaking the Thermometer (To Hide the Fever)

New Orleans-based multi-instrumentalist Leyla McCalla’s newest album, Breaking the Thermometer, explores her Haitian-American heritage through the troublesome history of Creole-language based Radio Haiti, an independent station that for decades confronted corruption with traditional Creole music. This interdisciplinary project, commissioned by Duke University, also combines storytelling, dance, video projection, and audio recordings from the Radio Haiti Archive which can be viewed during live performances.

Breaking the Thermometer feels like an exuberant analysis of culture, physiological space, and political discourse, with vibrant cello arrangements and emotive organic soundscapes that feel epic in scale and intensity.

Image: Album cover has a stark black background with a Black woman sitting in the center of it. She has her hair pulled back and faces to the left; she is wearing a white cross-over short-sleeved top and dark pants/skirt.

The A’s // Fruit

Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath and longtime musical collaborator Alexandra Sauser-Monnig teamed up for a new project as The A’s, recently releasing Fruit, an idiosyncratic collection of folk songs that glean inspiration from early country music’s yodeling farm girls, The DeZurik Sisters. Recorded over a two-week stint during balmy summer nights at Sylvan Esso’s Chapel Hill studio “The Betty,” the pair playfully procured songs such as Harry Nilsson “He Needs Me” and traditional ballads like “Swing and Turn Jubilee” and “Copper Kettle” with endearing whimsy and hair-raising vocal harmonies.

The clarity of their voices peppered amidst a capella and thoughtfully accompanied atmospheric tracks create a glowing sense of intimacy, harkening back to early American field recordings, while sounding ultra contemporary. A perfect choice for a rainy day or a sun dappled picnic!

Image: Two white women lie in the center of the image looking at the camera. The woman in the foreground is wearing all black and sunglasses; she has medium-length brown hair. The woman behind her is wearing all white and has platinum blond hair. Vibrantly colored fruits and flowers are painted on the background behind them.

Brennen Leigh// Obsessed with the West

Brennen Leigh’s collaborative Western swing-inspired record Obsessed with the West hit the vintage vibes music lover’s scene with a punch. Produced by Ray Benson, whose legendary band Asleep at the Wheel also backed Leigh on the recording, this album is a grand excursion into a well-loved subgenre of country music. Punctuated by 1940s jump blues, folk cowboy balladry, and jazz-infused country, the tracks read like a love note addressed to the austere beauty of the Western plains. Nashville by-way-of Austin, Texas-based singer Leigh’s voice sways across the rollicking big band like a silk cloud of sawdust with a mellow swagger that feels effortlessly cool.

Image: Album cover has a reddish brown border around the central photograph. In the photo, a young white woman with long brown hair is walking towards the camera; she wears a reddish-brown and white prairie-style top and skirt with western belt. A landscape of scrubby brush and mountains can be seen behind her.

Charlie Crockett // Man from Waco

Charlie Crockett, the record-slinging Texan with an ever-expanding discography of retro-tinged Americana gold, has now become one of the most popular artists in independent country. Crockett is currently landing in a new stratosphere for roots musicians dominating the independent Americana radio with the #1 album and #1 song on the release of Man from Waco.

Man From Waco is a loosely conceptualized project with a theme song that both introduces and closes the album, drawing its inspiration from legendary country music singer James Hand. Mostly recorded live by Crockett and his band The Blue Drifters,’ this new album solidifies Crockett’s monstrous talent and incredible ability to turn out top grade recordings.

Swimming through multiple genres – including funk, R&B, soul, Tex-Mex, Western swing, folk, and traditional country – Crockett treads water through uncharted territories with an easy grin, maintaining his authentic aww-shucks attitude and relaxed cowboy charm though vulnerable lyrics.

Image: This album cover shows a scrubby mountainous landscape with a Black man in western clothes walking down a slope in the foreground. He wears a cowboy hat, blue shirt, and jeans, and he carries a black guitar case.

Willie Carlisle // Peculiar, Missouri

Peculiar, Missouri, Willi Carlisle’s newest release on Free Dirt Records, further authenticates the rising songwriter’s rare talent for storytelling. Packed full of poetic grit and intimate ruminations on the human condition, Carlisle’s musical performance feels like Allen Ginsburg and Utah Phillps bore a folkster lovechild with a voracious proclivity for personal truth.

This album acts as a stylistic barometer of American folk music, with flashes of honky tonk on the socially-aware single “Vanlife,” Tejano-on-Cowboy border ballad “Este Mundo,” and talking blues on the title track – an anxious Guthrie-esque account of an existential “come apart” in the Walmart cosmetic aisle. Every so often Carlisle releases a tremulous yawp amidst impossibly witty lyrics like a reflexive revolt against the absurdity of existence; his voice feels like something familiar and something wholly new that we’ve never heard before.

Image: Album cover and CD, both pink. In the center of the album cover is a sepia photograph of a white man from the shoulder up. He has dark hair and a short beard, and is wearing a cowboy hat and collared button-down shirt. In each corner of the album are graphic symbols like a hand with a pen and a crying eye.

Tyler Childers // Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?

Liberator of free thought in country songwriting the Kentucky poet Tyler Childers’ triple-LP Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? is a complex celebration of traditional Appalachian religious music, offering social commentary with an ecumenical scope. The album’s eight tracks are imagined in three different arrangements – the “Hallelujah” version, which has an unadorned “live” feel; the “Jubilee” version, which has more of the production you’d expect from a country music recording, and a “Joyful Noise” version, which seems to delve into the energetic essence of each song though electronic remixes and auditory environments with sound bites from artists such as Jean Ritchie and country comedian Jerry Clower.

Deeply divisional for fans of Childers’ more acoustic releases, Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? is striking for its imaginative qualities and Childers’ uninhibited sonic journey through nostalgia, spirituality, and contemporary awareness.

Image: Album cover is red with a linen-like book cover feel. In the center in gold writing is the name of the album, Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? and a small dog.

 S. G. Goodman // Teeth Marks

Western Kentucky-based songsmith, S. G. Goodman made an indelible mark on southern music with their debut album Old-Time Feeling in 2020; its pensive production and self-aware lyricism caught the attention of major music industry players, such as Tyler Childers who recently covered the single “Space and Time.”

Now the queer-identified farmer’s daughter who grew up near the banks of the Mississippi River is carving a place as a rising voice in new-south roots rock on Teeth Marks. Enveloped by surging post-punk meets 1960s southern rock reverb clad guitar, Goodman’s achy voice quavers like an exposed nerve with acute realizations that stem from a progressive rural consciousness, making this album easily one of most intriguing releases of the year.

Image: Album cover is white with a line drawing in the style of connect-the-dots. Numbered dots outline the main part of the drawing -- that of a woman who sits backwards in a wooden chair; she looks to the right and holds a red ball in one hand.

Melissa Carper // Ramblin’ Soul

For the second year in a row, we have to include Austin-based stand-up bassist Melissa Carper’s and her latest recording Ramblin’ Soul. With a similar recipe that created her beloved Daddy’s Country Gold in 2021, Carper’s newest collection of songs was also recorded at the Bomb Shelter in Nashville, Tennessee. Produced by Andrija Tokic and Dennis Crouch of The Time Jumpers, Ramblin’ Soul definitely has a healthy helping of that extra special sauce that has made Carper become a stand out artist on the Americana charts.

With an alluring varnish of vintage tone, Carper masterfully encapsulates a multitude of classic American sounds with glimmers of Western swing, rhythm and blues, country, soul, jazz, and folk, that both sound impressively authentic to the era, and gratifyingly pleasant to hear. This is definitely an album you can put on without skipping a track, perfect for cooking up a mess of biscuits with Caper’s blissful Billie Holiday by way of Loretta Lynn-sque vocals simmering on the backburner.

Vaden Landers // Lock the Door

We would be remiss to not include a local release on this list. East Tennessee native and Bristol resident Vaden Landers envisions traditional country music through a lens made razor sharp by countless performances at dive bars and regional venues, with an undeniable finesse that can only be gained through road-worn experience.

You may have caught Landers performing at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion this year or at State Street’s Cascade Draft House where he and his band – The Hot n’ Ready String Band – played a weekly residency this summer. As a rising purveyor of irrefutable country music, Landers’ newest release on Hill House Records has masterful production, calling to mind the golden era of country music production in the mid-1950s known as The Nashville Sound. Produced at The Bomb Shelter by Andrija Tokic and John James Tourville, the 12 tracks on Lock the Door relay songs of love, heartbreak, and hard living, while Landers’ satisfyingly raspy twang summersaults and yodels across old-school sounding lyrics. No doubt borrowing vocal techniques from country greats such as George Jones and Johnny Paycheck, the album feels like a country fan’s daydream. At Radio Bristol we’ve been spinning this album in heavy rotation and think it’s well worth the listen!

Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah! on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rx for the Soul: A Bristol Rhythm Thanksgiving Playlist

Though BCM is in perpetual motion, we are grateful for a bit of calm in the months after a busy Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. The 2022 event was a very good festival year by all accounts – we celebrated the 95th anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, attendance was up, and the lineup was just stellar. We’re so appreciative to everyone who made the trip to State Street to be with us; we hope you had as great a time as we did and that your experience was both meaningful and memorable!

A collage of three photos depicting evening aerial scenes of the State Street Stage at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2022, packed with people.
Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2022 and crowds on State Street. (L to R) Photo credit Johnson City Aerial Photography, Earl Neikirk, and Johnson City Aerial Photography.

As we have moved through fall – my favorite season of all – with its glorious red, gold, and amber colors of the changing trees, the crisp morning air, and vibrant, floating leaves that blanket everything below, it’s time to prepare for another busy holiday season and all its traditions. It’s also great time to reflect on all the things that went right in our collective lives this year and give thanks.

A collage of photos including a woman making a heart symbol with her hands, a photo of five women from different ethic backgrounds smiling at the camera, and a third photo of three children, two boys and a girl, enjoying the festival.
Images of music fans at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2022. (Clockwise L to R) Photos by Earl Neikirk, Cora Wagoner, and Earl Neikirk.

There are a few things I love most about music, including

1) How it brings people from all walks of life together in a way nothing else can

2) How favorite songs can lift our spirits and validate our emotions

3) How – faster than a heartbeat – a familiar song can nostalgically take you back to a time and place in your life of great significance.

The holidays can often be a source of anxiety for many of us for any number of reasons, and though I’m not a doctor, I’d like to prescribe something for you that may help soothe your soul and take the temperature down when things get a little overwhelming: Good music. You can take as much as you want and though symptoms may vary, the right combination of lyrics and melodies can change hearts and heal old wounds.

As a small gesture of gratitude to our festival goers and the amazing musicians we’ve hosted on our stages over the years, and in an effort to transmit cosmic gratitude and positive energy through the transformative power of music this Thanksgiving season, we’ve curated the Spotify playlist below of Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion artists – packed with sentimentality and feel-good tunes that are guaranteed to set the mood for an amazing holiday season.  Thank you, friends, and may your blessings be bountiful.

 

*NOTE: Early bird weekend passes to Bristol Rhythm 2023 go on sale Black Friday for $100. Discount is good through Cyber Monday. Purchase online at BristolRhythm.com

Radio Bristol Spotlight: Florencia & the Feeling

Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission we are pleased to bring you our Radio Bristol Spotlight series, which highlights the top emerging artists in our region. Through interviews and performance, we will learn more about the musicians who help make Central Appalachia one of the richest, and most unique musical landscapes in the world.

Last month in the Radio Bristol studio we hosted a band that is very much on the rise in the Tri-Cities – Florencia & the Feeling, a Johnson City-based jazz-infused pop-funk band with Latin roots. This band has several top-tier gigs under their belt, including shows at The Down Home, The Jones House in Boone, North Carolina, and recently opening for country Tex-Mex great, The Mavericks. The group also had their debut performance at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion this September. With tight rhythmic jams and groovy guitar riffs, Florencia & the Feeling have been majorly wowing regional audiences. We were thrilled to catch them on a day off the road for a quick chat and live performance in our studio. Front woman Florencia Rusiñol talked about her musical background, influences, and new music on the horizon.

¡Qué buena onda!  (What a good vibe!)

The bandon stage with a multitude of colored lights shining down on them, coalescing into a purpse aura.

Florencia & the Feeling performing at local venue Capone’s in Johnson City, Tennessee. Photo courtesy of Jason Vaper

 An abbreviated version of “The Feeling” joined us on air in the Radio Bristol studio with guitarist Noa Wise and keys player Isaac Ratliff. Typically, the band consists of six pieces with a full drum kit (Austin Herron), electric bass (Nick Castro), and violin (Diego Núñez). The trio started things off with a song called “Meant to Be,” a soulful heartbreak song with cohesive syncopated stops and old-school R & B-inspired three-part harmonies. Florencia’s soaring voice was accented by dazzling progressive jazz chord voicings; making it crystal clear that this is a band with serious musical chops. It comes as no surprise that Wise studied musical performance as a jazz guitarist at East Tennessee State University (ETSU), and Florencia studied music therapy and guitar while at Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina. The depth of their musical understanding comes across instantly to the listener and packs a sonic punch that isn’t easily forgotten. You would think that this band had played together for years to pull off so many rhythmic acrobatics with silky smooth finesse, but in fact, they are relatively new and fully formed after Rusiñol left her full-time music therapy job in Washington, D.C. during the pandemic.

Although the current lineup of the band is new, Florencia told us she has had a few different mash-ups of musicians for her songwriting, and has always thought of her music in terms of being with a full band. She considers this the third iteration, now comprised of close-knit high school friends and exceptional local talent. The band began in early 2021 when Castro and Herron got together to play a virtual show with Florencia for a socially distant stream. Little did they know that this performance would be the kick-off to a whirlwind tour throughout the South East. As booking requests started pouring in, the band formulated around Florencia’s writing, drawing inspiration from progressive jazz, bossa nova, disco rhythms, thoughtfully executed choral arrangements, and Latin American bolero-style music, distinctive for its rumba-esque walking beat and bien parado (“sudden stops”). The group hit the ground running, playing over 50 shows in 2021, and this year “The Feeling” has accelerated into high gear playing dozens of regional music festivals and touring through multiple states.

Currently, the band is working on recording a new album, which should be out in the next year. Slated to be produced by Grammy winner Martin Walters, who is also the director of jazz studies and contemporary music at ETSU. While speaking about the new recordings on air, the band hinted that there may be some singles released by the end of this year, possibly joined by guest artists, and assured us they would most definitely include a horn section.

A close-up of Florencia from the shoulders up -- she has long brown hair and is wearing a red patterned hair band/scarf to hold her hair back from her face. The background is blurred but seems to be trees and buildings.

Florencia Rusiñol. Courtesy of Florencia Rusiñol

Before the pandemic, Florencia was no stranger to traveling and spent time teaching music and art therapy in Atlanta, D.C., and Ecuador. With family roots in Argentina, Rusiñol’s time in South America gave birth to her songwriting career, and in 2018 she recorded a debut EP in Ecuador. Backed by a dazzling full band, complete with a horn section and twinkling jazz piano, the self-titled EP is an eye-opening testimony to the young songwriter’s talent for envisioning musical arrangements and manifesting them into lush full-scale productions. To hear Florencia’s EP, check out this link, and don’t forget to share it with your friends!

Florencia shared that this past year she has dived headfirst into being a full-time musician, saying that in the past she had always told herself it was too hard or not a possibility. However, recently her heart has led her to give it a sincere effort – one that is playing off in regional accolades and top tier gigs. The last song they performed for us – “What Can I Do?” – expounds upon that subject and follows her journey to accepting the need to be a working musician. Sweeping extended chords and catchy pop-funk walk ups accentuate the song’s subject matter, connecting with Florencia’s voice, unregulated with breath-taking accuracy and improvisational melody lines.

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for new music from Florencia & the Feeling by keeping tabs on their website and following them on social media via Facebook, Instagram and Spotify. And catch “The Feeling” playing at a local venue or festival near you!

Radio Bristol Spotlight: Tyler Hughes

Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to bring you our Radio Bristol Spotlight series, which highlights the top emerging artists in our region. Through interviews and performance, we learn more about the musicians who help to make Central Appalachia one of the richest and most unique musical landscapes in the world.

Recently the Radio Bristol studio hosted ETSU Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music Studies graduate Tyler Hughes who hails from beautiful Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Tyler wears many metaphorical hats – some might even call him a modern-day mountain renaissance man – including songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, square dance caller, music teacher, regional music historian, avid gardener, and social justice advocate. During the pandemic, Tyler also worked as a ranger for Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park where he booked musical lineups for events such as Gathering in the Gap.

This past summer Tyler played dozens of events at regional venues and recently even performed at The Grand Ole Opry! While in our studio Tyler spoke with “The Old Ranger” – aka DJ Bill Smith – whose radio program, The Crooked Road Radio Hour, focuses on regional music from the 19 counties that comprise Southwest Virginia along the Crooked Road, Virginia’s heritage music trail. The two chatted about Tyler’s upcoming projects, his musical past, and his latest release, When the Light Shines Again, a collection of tunes centered around coal mining.

A white man holding a banjo in a sunny field with the hills and trees rising behind him. He holds a flower up to his face to smell it.He wears dark trousers, a white shirt, and suspenders. His hair is brown and cut short.

Tyler Hughes enjoying the natural beauty of a Southwest Virginia field. Photo courtesy of Trevor White

On-air, Tyler’s demeanor felt much like the gracious rolling hills of Southwest Virginia –  welcoming, sunny, and wise. Accompanied by a dimpled grin and an open-backed banjo, Tyler began his set with some traditional songs. One of particular note was his rendition of “Davenport,” a tune that is possibly a variant of another old melody called “Last Chance,” originally adapted by Scott Boatright, who was a historically important old-time musician from Fort Blackmore, Virginia. Boatright played throughout the 1920s and 1930s, accompanying well-known musicians such as Dock Boggs, Tom Ashley, “Fiddlin” John Carson, Clarence Greene, and Dudley Vance, as well as with his band, The Boatright String Band. Boatright played anywhere he could – at barber shops, barn dances, coal fields, and theaters.

While listening to Tyler, you can hear musical influence from both Boatright and Dock Boggs, as he employs a unique mixture of clawhammer frailing and three-finger “up-picking” banjo technique. It creates a style that feels extremely distinctive, polished, and organic, like a well-worn river rock – smooth, weighty, and comforting.

Talking about his musical inspiration, Tyler enthusiastically spoke about his experience attending The Mountain Music School camp as a young teenager. The camp is hosted annually at Mountain Empire Community College (MECC) and focuses on keeping traditional Appalachian folk music alive through engaging educational programs. Tyler now works on their faculty as a lead instructor and co-director of the Mountain Music School Stringband. While attending camp, Hughes met Boatwright’s daughter Sue Ella Boatright-Wells, who tirelessly worked to promote the preservation of Appalachian music traditions in Southwest Virginia during her 39-year-long service as the Dean of Workforce Development at MECC. Sue Ella was one of several community members who encouraged Hughes to pursue traditional music, and Tyler expressed extreme admiration for her work and character. Her legacy is something Hughes hopes to champion as a musician and educator. Indeed, in his online bio Tyler states: “I believe that through regional arts, Southwest Virginia can move beyond its current challenges, build a new economy and stronger communities where everyone can reach their full potential” – an inspiring mission statement that encapsulates his current work.

Tyler Hughes’ performance of “Sittin’ on Top of the World” in the Radio Bristol studio.

Tyler has recently returned to playing music full-time after wading through the hardships faced by many working musicians during the pandemic. His downtime was extremely productive, yielding a new album, and he has more original music in the works. His latest release was recorded at the legendary Maggard Sound Studio in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, the same studio that produced Dr. Ralph Stanley’s GRAMMY-winning albums. Tyler’s album When the Light Shines Again is a luminous collection of songs that share a central theme of coal mining. Hughes grew up in the heart of Southwest Virginia’s “Coal Mining Country,” and his Papaw was a miner. The concept for the album was born from conversations the two had about his grandfather’s experiences. Tyler’s interpretations feel purposeful and innate, seamlessly churned with care and bearing an unassuming accuracy that exists only through dedicated practice and deep empathy for ancestral wisdom. The recording features excellent musical performances by several members of the old-time music community throughout the region, including Todd Meade, Haselden Ciaccio, Rich Kirby, Stephanie Jeter, and Sam Gleaves.

Amidst the album’s 11 songs, Tyler maps out the complexities of Southwest Virginia’s relationship with coal through songs that explore the cultural, economic, and environmental impact of mining. A stand-out track, “Coal Miner’s Blues,” was first recorded by The Carter Family in 1938 and was collected by A.P. Carter around Lee County, Virginia in the mining community of St. Charles. The song explores tribulation and veneration of the human spirit with rollicking banjo rhythms and mournful lyrics. As a whole, the album depicts different aspects of the coal miner’s experience with songs that follow a 100-year span telling stories of tragic accidents, hardships of physical labor, and the trials faced by unionized workers. To listen to or purchase the album, visit the link here.

Tyler’s work as a budding forbearer of Appalachian folkways follows many different paths. You can find Tyler pickin’ and grinnin’ while playing an archtop guitar, autoharp, banjo, or dulcimer, solo or with accompaniment. He regularly plays with the Empty Bottle String Band formed by musicians he met when he attended ETSU’s Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music program.  Tyler also teaches young musicians in Wise County at the after-school music program Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) and is a caller for regional square dances. He learned to call square dances after a group of friends couldn’t find anyone to call a dance for them while in college. Tyler began scouring eBay to find old square dance instructional material and picked local callers’ brains, learning customary dances that were common in the Appalachian Mountains. You can catch all of Tyler’s musical performances and dance callings, or maybe even sign up for banjo lessons, through his website here.

Twp books stacked on top of each other, the bottom one is red with gold lettering and the top one is grey or beige with red lettering.

Tyler Hughes’ collection of vintage square dance instructional books. Photo courtesy of Tyler Hughes

Closing out the hour on air, Tyler shared renditions of two Ralph Stanley tunes – “Battle Ax” and “Shout Little Lulie” – with precise clawhammer banjo licks and jaunty singing. Tyler is a regional musician to watch, whose performances offer outstanding musicality and reach into the core of Appalachian life, telling the stories of its people and sharing its rich musical heritage.

* Top image: Tyler Hughes performing with the Empty Bottle String Band at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in 2019. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Tiffany Bower

Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah! on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.