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Country Music as an Academic Probe

“Country music”, along with its variations, is not often a term you’d associate with academia, at least not until you have a good understanding of the vast field of musicology. As a historian of music, I often find myself at the crossroads trying to explain what I study and how I study it. My succinct answer is, a historian of music studies music, but not strictly musicologically, but rather uses music to scrutinize history. This, in my opinion, is disparate from music historians, or musicologists with an emphasis on history, for whom the product of music itself is the central subject. As for country music historians, country music as an art form comes first and foremost, but that doesn’t mean it’s just about the music. As a genre with humble roots, one can’t talk about country and folk music without referring to historical and sometimes political contexts.

Today, country music is a recognized, albeit small, academic discipline with international appeal. One of American folk music’s early advocates, Charles Seeger (1886-1979) helped spearhead the founding of the Society of Ethnomusicology (SEM). Seeger envisioned for music to be communicated and studied musically, instead of merely through linguistics as crutch. He advocated the role of the (ethno)musicologist to be a transmitter of music but also critic of culture. The field today has mostly evolved a long way from the days of Seeger. Musicology nevertheless still relies heavily on textual analyses of music, which, tellingly, did not necessarily become a point of concern for professionals. Currently, country music in academia is taught primarily as a form of performing arts, and less as a theory or history. The International Country Music Conference (ICMC), founded in 1983,  has been held annually at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee since 1998. This year it runs from May 30th to June 1st.

A white man holding a baby plays a piano outside a trailer while a standing woman plays fiddle and two children sit on a bench beside her.
Ethnomusicologist Charles Seeger, Jr., with his wife, Constance, and their three sons, Charles III, John, and Pete. This photograph may be from a tour they made of the American South in a homemade trailer. Image is from the National Photo Company (1921) and is in the public domain.

For those who aspire to become professional musicians or work in the country music industry and adjacent, East Tennessee State University, Morehead State University, and Denison University offer degree programs in the genre. Other institutions in North America including the Berklee College of Music, USC Thornton School of Music, University of Miami, University of Saskatchewan MacEwan University offer, or have offered in the past, courses and an initiative on country music. The Country Music Foundation based in Nashville had published the Journal of Country Music from 1971 to 2007. The journals are archived and still accessible through many higher institutions, as well as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum digital archive.

If you are interested in reading academic writings on country music, a good place to start is with anything by historian Bill C. Malone, professor of history emeritus at Tulane University. Country Music U.S.A. (1968) is inarguably the first academic history book on country music. The turn of the twentieth century saw the political bifurcation within country music, shown through monographs such as Charles K. Wolfe’s Country Music goes to War (2005) and Rednecks and Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music (2007) by journalist Chris Willman. In recent years, academics have leaned more toward socio-political themes, displayed in work like Diane Pecknold’s Hidden in the Mix: the African American Presence in Country Music (2013), Nadine Hubbs’ Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music (2014), Peter La Chapelle’s I’d Fight the World: A Political History of Old-Time, Hillbilly, and Country Music (2019), and anthology Whose Country Music? Genre, Identity, and Belonging in Twenty-First-Century Country Music Culture(2022).

Collaged image of the cover of four books. Country Music U.S.A, Rednecks and Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music, Hidden in the Mix: the African American Presence in Country Music, and Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music.

Just like the grassroots of country music itself, the academia of country music also reflects the debates that are present in the country music scene. The problem of “authenticity” has plagued various art forms and genres, but with a genre like country music, it is particularly prominent. Recently, philosophy professor Evan Malone published an excellent piece on the topic in the British Journal of Aesthetics in a 2023 issue. With references to a range of scholars with backgrounds from Anthropology to Aesthetics with an emphasis on country music, including Jack Bernhardt, John Dyck, Richard Shusterman, it demonstrates the versatile ways country music can be studied academically.

In my very own first year of PhD for a final’s assignment, I assembled a lecture in history on medieval Celtic and African musical traditions and their manifestations in Appalachian folk music—a connection that often surprises non-listeners. Outside of traditional academia, current events surrounding and within country music have been covered by journalists and critics, such as Emily Nussbaum’s 2023 piece for The New Yorker.

Alas, it is challenging to include a more thorough academic country music discography here. In an effort to keep this blog digestible, I am only able to give you taste of the available literature and must leave many scholars out of this post. I encourage you to start your own reading journey and dive into the academic world of country music with me. As country music enters a new phase both artistically and in popularity, we can certainly anticipate further exciting discussions in the near future!

Image of a young Chinese-American woman with long black hair and wearing a grey long sleeve shirt.
Emily Lu, PhD Candidate at Florida State University.

Guest Blogger Emily Lu is a PhD candidate in History at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.

Who is Linda Martell? The Story of the First Commercially Successful Black Woman in Country Music

This month is African American Music Appreciation Month, to celebrate, I want to shed some light on a particularly underappreciated artist. As time passes, some artists are forgotten for their achievements until someone rediscovers them. One of these artists is Linda Martell, the first commercially successful Black female artist. A self-titled website calls her the “unsung hero of the genre,” and a Rolling Stone article refers to her as “Country’s Lost Pioneer.” Recently, Martell has reentered the public radar after being mentioned in Beyonce’s album Cowboy Carter, specifically on two songs, “Spaghetti” and “The Linda Martell Show”. After the release of the album, magazines such as The Rolling Stone soon began publishing articles with titles of “Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ Includes a Shout-Out to Linda Martell — Who Is She?” Let’s find out! 

Up close image of Black woman singing into a mic.
Linda Martell in Ebony Magazine, March 1970.

Linda Martell was born Thelma Bynem on June 4, 1941, in Leesville, South Carolina. She was one of five children to parents Willie Mae and Clarence Bynem. Her mother worked in chicken slaughterhouses, while her father was a sharecropper and preacher in a Baptist Church. Her church life influenced her love of music, and her gospel roots can be heard on later recordings. She recalled that growing up, her family would listen to the radio station WLAC which was based in Nashville and played country music. Her father’s favorite song was “Your Cheatin’ Heart” by Hank Williams, and he would sing it around the house often.  

In her teenage years, she formed an R&B trio with her sister and their cousin, creating “Linda Martell and the Anglos” (later spelled “Angelos”). By the early 1960s, she was touring with the group and performing at clubs. They caught the attention of a local DJ named Charles “Big Saul” Greene, who suggested Bynem use the name Linda Martell. He wrote her a note stating, “Your name is Linda Martell. You look like Linda. That fits you.” The group soon disbanded, but only after recording a few singles with reputable labels.  

Bynem, now going by Linda Martell, continued as a solo act performing in nightclubs. While singing on a Charleston Air Force base in 1969, the crowd begged her to perform a few country songs and heard by William “Duke” Rayner. He offered to buy a tape of her performing. Originally, Martell thought Rayner was a “kook” and ignored him, but eventually decided to hear him out. He then introduced her to Shelby Singleton Jr., who was involved in the Nashville music industry. 

During her first meeting with Singleton, he shocked her by asking her to sing country. She recounted later that she had performed mostly pop up to that point. At this point, Black country musicians, especially female ones, still had a lot of trouble getting signed onto labels and performing. Singleton signed on both black and white performers but considered Martell a risky move because she was a woman. All Black country artists who were successful up to this point were men. Nevertheless, Martell signed a management deal on May 15, 1969, and a record deal.  

The next day she recorded a cover of “Color Him Father” by the Winstons. It was originally in the funk and soul style, but Martell transformed it into a mix of country and R&B. But more importantly, she focused on the storytelling aspect of the song. At the height of the Vietnam War, this song resonated with people. It is a story from a boy’s perspective after his father died during the war. His widowed mother remarried, and the song tells the boy’s view of this new father figure in his life – a very harsh reality for many in the years surrounding the song’s release.  

Album cover. The words "Color Me Country" sit atop "Linda Martell" in large white font on a black background. The title is above a large box that takes up most of the image with four different shades of orange boxes getting progressively smaller inside it until the middle box, which is filled with an image of a black woman singing.

They finished the album in a single 12-hour recording session. The album, called Color Me Country, included eleven songs, but “Color Him Father” was released on the record and as a single. It reached #22 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, the highest a Black female country artist had reached until the release of Cowboy Carter by Beyonce earlier this year. Martell soon appeared on TV, in live shows, and even at the Grand Ole Opry. She was the first solo Black female country singer to appear on the Opry stage and received two standing ovations.  

She was also invited to perform on Hee Haw, a comedy and country music show. Despite her success, racism plagued her career. After hearing her during rehearsals, a show executive approached her and attempted to correct her pronunciation of her own lyrics. She did not listen and sang the words the way she always did. She later stated, “He wasn’t too happy about it. But I did anyway.”  Charley Pride, a well-known Black country artist who had been performing for almost two decades at that point, gave Martell advice during a party: “Develop a thick skin and get used to the name-calling.” She tried to ignore it but never truly got used to it and refused to learn to tolerate how she was being treated. 

In the South, she was advertised as the “First Female Negro Country Artist.” Her first gig after signing with Singleton was in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. She later recounted that night, “You’d be singing, and they’d shout out names, and you know the names they would call you.” There was another instance when a promoter in Beaumont, Texas, canceled her show after discovering that she was black. He claimed that her “Fans would tell her she didn’t sound black.”  

Singleton recorded her record with a separate label from his regular SSI International label. This sister label was called “Plantation Records”. When she confronted Singleton about the racism behind that name, he denied it and said he chose it with no particular meaning. She stated in later interviews that she told him, “What you are telling me is that black people belonged on the plantation!” She recorded only one album with Singleton and Plantation Records.  

A black woman in a rhinestone studded outfit sits on a fence playing a guitar and smiling.
Linda Martell in Ebony Magazine, March 1970.

In May 1970, Rayner sued Martell because he believed that he deserved a higher commission from her. Singleton managed to make the issue go away, but Martell had other concerns. Singleton was focusing his attention more on another artist named Jeannie C. Riley. This was not simply a suspicion but something Singleton himself told Martell he was doing intentionally. After her year-long contract expired, Martell left Plantation Records. However, when she attempted to record with a new label, Singleton threatened to sue them, causing her deal with them to collapse. This trend continued and she was effectively blackballed, her reputation ruined, and she was forced into an early retirement in 1970. 

Despite her incredible achievements, her short career caused her to be largely forgotten in country music history. After her country music career ended, Martell spent the next two decades living a nomadic lifestyle, singing in bars and clubs, and on a cruise in California. At one point, she ran a record store in Bronx, New York, and at another, she was in Florida, where she joined an R&B cover band with her brother. Eventually, she returned to South Carolina to be with her family.  

After her father’s death in 1991, she became a school bus driver and later worked in a classroom helping children with learning disabilities. She became a local hero to some, but others still had no idea who she was. When magazines reached out for interviews, many remembered her as a “kindly older lady who worked for the school system.” After being diagnosed with cancer in 2004, she retired from her job. Up until 2011, she performed with a band called Eazzy, which covered R&B songs. For years, she lived alone in a mobile home until her health decreased. After that, she moved in with her daughter Tikethia Thompson.  

Collage of images with bright colors and varying textures surrounding a black woman in an orange shirt with teh words "Color Me Country Radio with Reece Palmer"

From time to time, she has come up in the media. She was mentioned in the 2013 film A Country Christmas Story starring Dolly Parton. It follows the story of a biracial girl who aspires to be a country singer. Parton tells her the story of black musicians in the genre, including Martell, showing her the LP cover of her only record, Color Me Country. A more recently successful black country artist, Rissi Palmer, named her podcast started in 2020 after Martell’s album and plays her music on the show. In 2021, Martell was nominated for and won the CMT Music Awards Equal Play Award. That same year, her filmmaker granddaughter Marquia Thompson started a GoFundMe in honor of creating a documentary about her grandmother’s story titled “Bad Case of the Country Blues.” And, of course, most recently, she was mentioned in two tracks off of Beyonce’s album Cowboy Carter


Guest Blogger Donna Walker is a student at King University and a Birthplace of Country Music Museum Intern. 

The Transformative Power of Traditional Music: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dulcimer. Part II

My time at ETSU taught me a lot of things. I think the most important lesson it taught me was that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. It started changing my worldview as well. I learned a lot about what it means to be Appalachian and the cultural inheritances that come with it. I grew as a musician, but I also began to think differently about my identity and the kind of person I wanted to be.

My work study was as a literacy tutor at a local elementary school, where I was assigned to a first-grade class led by a teacher named Claudette Decker. She became a friend and advisor to me. It was at her insistence that I began incorporating instruments in my work. Initially, I played a tune or two at the end of class before I left, but it became a way to connect with some of the more withdrawn children. It made learning more fun and helped some of them feel more comfortable opening up. It made me remember how powerful music was for me as a child.

I was becoming more serious as a dulcimer player now and had a better instrument. I met my first dulcimer teacher that spring: Jim Miller. He noticed my case one day and asked about it. We had a conversation and soon I was taking lessons with him. He took my understanding of the dulcimer to a new level. Our sessions felt like a break from the daily grind. Dulcimer became my joy.

Three people play instruments together in chairs in front of mics. The woman on the left is playing a guitar. The man in the middle is playing a mandolin. The woman on the right is playing a dulcimer.
Roxanne playing dulcimer with Jim and Cheri Miller.

After graduation, I worked as a preschool teacher. I continued using music in my work as much as I could, and the dulcimer was especially well-liked. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve had to play a rendition of “Baby Shark” on it. I worked in childcare right up until the start of the pandemic.

The pandemic was a watershed moment for me. I was out of work and gigs had dried up, but it was during this time that I met my second dulcimer mentor: a man named Don Burger. Don and his wife Deborah became sort of like surrogate grandparents to me during the pandemic. He led a dulcimer group in Jonesborough, but I only got to have a couple of in-person meetings with the group before everything shut down, and the group moved to meeting online using video call software like Zoom. It was something to look forward to each week; there weren’t many things going on, and this provided us with the opportunity to come together safely.

Two people in chairs playing dulcimer together outside.
Roxanne and Don Burger

Don taught me taught me a lot about dealing with life and other people. He was more like a guru who happened to play dulcimer. He operated a small, now-defunct festival called Jonesborough Dulcimer Days and recruited me to help him keep it going during the pandemic. We would bring musicians into town and host them where we’d had our dulcimer meetings. Artists would perform for the small number of people in attendance, as well as viewers at home, via social media streams. He and I also set up around Jonesborough on different days and played our dulcimers publicly, often recording videos to share on social media. This gave me an opportunity to meet a number of dulcimer players, reunite with my old teacher Jim, and also play semi-regular gigs. In many ways, the pandemic was like a reset button for my life. It was a scary time, but on the other hand, I got to work on my craft and spend time doing things I enjoyed with people I cared about.

Don and Deborah moved back to New York towards the end of the pandemic, and I was deeply saddened to see them leave. However, Don left me with a couple of things. He recommended me as his replacement for teaching ukulele at the Memorial Park Community Center. I would also inherit a dulcimer class there from a man named Willis Jones after he became too ill to continue teaching. Being able to work with older adult students was a good experience because I could teach them about music, and they would often share stories or give me advice based on their life experiences. There’s a lot of valuable learning to be done in an environment like that.

Don also made an important connection for me. He introduced me to a man named Brian Mills, who runs a nonprofit called Art Transforms. It’s an organization that provides supplemental music and art education for students in the Johnson City School System. Don wanted to offer a two-week summer school class where students could learn about the dulcimer and build their own from cardboard using a kit. Since he was leaving, I was brought in to conduct the class. It ended up being very well-received, and we have continued it every year since.

When I heard about the Tradition Bearer’s fellowship, I didn’t initially think much about it, but some friends encouraged me to apply. I reluctantly did so, but didn’t want to get my hopes up. When I received word that I had been approved, I was overjoyed. It was a chance to expand on the work I was already doing with the dulcimer. It was also an opportunity to get more people involved with making music and keeping an Appalachian tradition alive. I used the funds to purchase as many cardboard dulcimer kits as I could and partnered with local schools, nonprofits, and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum to provide dulcimer-building workshops for as many people as possible, many of them children from lower-income backgrounds.

three images of a woman teaching. One with children sitting in a circle playing dulcimer. One with children learning to build cardboard dulcimers. One with a woman teaching adults to build cardboard dulcimers.
Roxanne in various dulcimer teaching roles.

The last few years of my life have been especially healing. I’ve been able to let go of a lot of the pain and bitterness of the past. I’ve also come to have a new level of appreciation for not only the dulcimer, but for teaching and community building. I’ve been able to connect with more people and introduce the dulcimer to a wider demographic. It feels like I am finding my place, and I’m very grateful for what feels like a second chance at life.

When I think about how music has changed things for me, it makes me want to share that possibility with others. Music makes the good days better and the bad days bearable. Music has helped me embrace my Appalachian roots and gain a greater appreciation for them. It’s also given me strength in the face of persecution. Our identities, our communities, our traditions, and our stories matter. Music can not only keep all of these alive but strengthen them. It is my hope that music can be a source of strength and refuge for all who need it.

The Transformative Power of Traditional Music: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dulcimer. Part I

Trigger Warning: This post contains content about suicide. If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Hotline.

I didn’t come from a particularly musical family. My father sang in the church choir and I had a half-sister who played piano. Other than that, there weren’t any musicians in my family. In fact, there wasn’t a great deal of music in my community in general. My only real exposure to live music was the choir at our church. Attending church wasn’t something I enjoyed as a child, but those hymns were always a highlight of my Sunday mornings. It was simple accompaniment: usually just a piano and one or two acoustic guitars. The guitar fascinated me. I asked my parents for one many times, but we couldn’t afford one. I was also very young and my parents were concerned that I might not stick with it.

Woman with short brown hair and glasses wearing a pink cardigan and jean skirt sits in a floral chair with crossed legs and holding a dulcimer upright in her lap.
Image provided by Roxanne McDaniel

I was a quiet child and a bit of a loner. It was difficult to make friends, but music was the thing I always found refuge in. My mother was a big classic rock fan, and she probably influenced my musical tastes more than anyone. I began listening to music obsessively at an early age, but the music that I listened to put me a little out of step with the other kids at school. They all had CD players and were listening to what was current. I was carrying around a walkman, listening to my mom’s old Aerosmith cassettes.

My mom also bought me my first instrument when I was about four years old. It was a Hohner harmonica in the key of C. I never learned to play it well, but I carried it with me almost everywhere I went all the way through middle school. When I was 11, after years of asking, my parents bought me an acoustic guitar. There wasn’t anyone to teach me, so I had to learn a lot from books, as well as lots of trial and error. Once I started getting comfortable with the guitar, I began trying to write songs of my own. It was very therapeutic for a young person as lonely and unhappy as I was.

In my late teens and early adult years, I became increasingly withdrawn. I’d always felt different but was afraid to say why. It made me the subject of a lot of rumors and bullying. It reached a point where I had to make a decision. I could continue keeping my secret and being miserable or try to be happy. I took my chance and revealed to everyone that I was transgender. The reaction I received was hostile. People were threatening to hurt me, I had my tires flattened at work, and I was removed from the church I had belonged to since birth. Things reached such a low point that I even tried to take my own life by crashing my car. Thankfully, I failed, but I will never forget the ambulance ride. A paramedic asked me, “Can I give you some advice? You need to get out of this town”. I knew he was right.

I don’t tell this part of the story to be sensational or to make a political statement. I just feel that it’s necessary to provide this information for context and to give a framework for what follows.

Roxanne McDaniel photographed in Bristol on 8/2/23. Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities

Life became dangerous for me; I had to keep my head down and be careful for a while. I needed to leave, but I needed a place to run to. Music was the only thing I was passionate about, and I wanted to go back to school. A friend told me about the bluegrass program at ETSU, and I applied. I wasn’t particularly interested in bluegrass or old-time music, but I figured I would be fine with it if it meant I had somewhere to go. It was ironic: the treatment I had been receiving back home, combined with the negative stereotypes of the region I’d begun believing, had made me want to distance myself from all things Appalachian. Yet, here I was running towards one of the most stereotypically Appalachian things I knew of. When my acceptance letter arrived, I was overjoyed. I didn’t know what to expect, but at least life was going to be different.

During this time, I had become interested in dulcimers by happening across a video online. It was of a dulcimer player named Wendy Songe playing a tune called “King of the Faeries.” The instrument had an almost ethereal sound I found captivating. I bought a cheap dulcimer and practiced for hours on end. I began listening to artists who played the dulcimer, such as Jean Ritchie, Joni Mitchell, David Schnaufer, Stephen Seifert, and Sam Edelston. Edelston was particularly interesting to me because his playing of classic rock songs on dulcimer brought together the two musical worlds I found myself in.

A Conversation with CALT Fellow Pierceton Hobbs

Pierceton Hobbs is a SWVA musician and recipient of the Greater Bristol Folk Arts & Culture Team’s Central Appalachia Living Traditions (CALT) Tradition Bearer Fellowship in 2022-23. This fellowship provides financial support, professional development, and public presentation opportunities for people working in traditional or folk arts and culture.

Tell us all about your CALT Tradition Bearer project

I was very honored to be rewarded the CALT Tradition Bearer Fellowship Grant to support my work as a teaching and recording artist.  I used my funds to acquire necessary equipment to practice my art as well as finish a recording project of original music.  

How has the grant impacted your craft and your ability to do this work?

Without this grant, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my album.  It has been a work in progress since 2022 because of funding issues. I started with an expansive vision and beautiful friends who own a basement studio. They graciously lent their knowledge and expertise in laying down the bones with me.  With help from the CALT Tradition Bearer Fellowship Grant, I have finally completed all production and the project is in post-production with a release date set for August 31! 

White man with backwards ballcap, glasses, and overalls sitting in front of a mic stand. A guitar sits on his lap and he is smiling and resting his head on one arm propped on the guitar.
Image courtesy of Pierceton Hobbs.

Who are your biggest inspirations for your artistic and creative work and music making? 

This is a loaded question, aha! There are so many beautiful people who have either mentored me in some way or helped me come into my own. Apologies in advance if I miss anybody:  


Tyler Hughes, Sam Gleaves, Thomas Cassell, Will Cassell, Kenny Miles, Hayden Miles, Linda Jean Stokely, Montana Hobbs, Larah Helayne, Don Rogers, Jesse Wells, Matthew Carter, Don Rogers, Mitchella Phipps, John Haywood, Rich Kirby, Senora May, Corbin Hayslett, Chris Rose, Anna Mullins, Ron Short, W.V. Hill, A.K. Mullins, Jimmy Mullins, Ron Kennedy…


Circus No. 9, Wayne Graham, The Local Honeys, Foddershock, Sparklehorse, 49 Winchester, Geonovah, The Empty Bottle String Band, The Foodstamps, Kaleb N.F.I., Amythyst Kiah, The Stanley Brothers, Jim & Jesse, The Carter Family… 


Why do you think your work is important to preserving and sharing Appalachian Folkways?

I consider myself a community-based artist.  Every faucet of the work I partake in contributes to capacity building in a resource-deprived area. We have to build the supportive artist community we want to see together! 

As a tradition-bearer, I also pass along tunes I have learned (and continue to learn) to students in the local Junior Appalachian Musicians program.  

A white man sits playing a guitar in front of a mic on a stage with a quilted backdrop.
Image courtesy of Pierceton Hobbs.

You are an Appalachian artist, a musician, songwriter and storyteller. Tell us what these roles mean to you.

The most astounding thing for me is the tendency of Appalachian artists to stick together like burrs in the wilderness fighting to land somewhere fertile to grow…no matter the genre or level of experience there is support to be had out there. 

Songwriting has always proved important in highlighting disparities everywhere, especially here. For me, it’s about comfort. I spill words to get things off my chest, hairy or otherwise. I write and arrange in the context as if I were a spectator or fan looking for something comforting to listen to whether that be happy, mad, melancholy, sad, or silly – it’s all related to human emotion. I try to make music that I want to listen to.  

Stories from Appalachia are fluid and ever-changing.  I love folktales and carry a few with me but emerging stories are my favorite. I think we’re putting away trauma and collectively lifting each other up…not “by the bootstraps” but with open arms.   

Your music tells the honest and true stories of life in Appalachia, be it an original composition or your rendition of a traditional song. What do you want people to take away from hearing these stories and experiences?

I tend to hope listeners have an open mind.  

Interpretations of meanings are just as diverse as the experiences we have in life.  

A white man in a baseball cap and overalls playing a guitar while singing.
Image courtesy of Pierceton Hobbs.

You also teach students music, tell us about the rewards of this experience

My students are a blessing! I feel as though they teach me more about the world around me than all of the world’s wisdom combined.  

It feels especially rewarding when I show them the basics on any number of instruments and they take flight on their own! When I see that creative spark flare, I think I’ve done what I’m supposed to do. 

What is the most difficult thing about being a musician in the Appalachian region? What is the easiest? What do you like most about it?

It’s hard for me to share anything easy about being an artist here. As we talked about earlier, Appalachian artists are very supportive of each other and it’s a beautiful thing. With that being said, there are still so many limiting factors for artists in the region including but not limited to a lack of creative spaces, funding, healthcare, resources, services, transportation, and venues. This subdues our ability to thrive!  

A white man with glasses and a jean jacket is singing into a mic and holding a guitar.
Image courtesy of Pierceton Hobbs.

Pierceton, is a hotdog a sandwich?


What projects are you currently working on/ and or what’s next for Pierceton Hobbs You could mention any upcoming craft shows this summer, workshops etc.

2024 is a busy and exciting year for me! This summer, I’ll be assisting teachers instructing traditional music at Cowan Creek Mountain Music School the last week in June.  This summer, I’ll be performing and releasing singles in anticipation for an album release on August 31! My first show after the release will be at Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion on September 15th!  

Folks can keep up with my artistic endeavors by visiting or on social media (links are accessible on my website). 



Karma Chameleon: The Ever-Changing Muse of “In the Pines”

In February Birthplace of Country Music announced In the Pines, a new music experience coming to Historic Downtown Bristol, TN-VA June 1. Dwight Yoakam, Elle King, Paul Cauthen, and Wyatt Flores are slated to perform at the inaugural event, but the inspiration for the concert goes much deeper than the artists who will take the stage that day.  It is a celebration of Bristol’s music legacy, bridging the traditions of the past with the innovation of the present.

In the Pines takes its name from a song recorded for the 1927 Bristol Sessions by the Tenneva Ramblers called “The Longest Train I Ever Saw.” From its origins of Southern Appalachia in the 1870s, “In the Pines” emerges as both a muse and a chameleon, seamlessly adapting its melody and lyrical essence to the unique styles and interpretations of every artist who dares to unravel its enigmatic allure. The song is believed to have been the combination of two songs, “In the Pines” and “The Longest Train;” the writer is unknown. It has been recorded under many titles over the years, with some artists adding their own lyrics.

“In the Pines” and all of its adaptations serve as a metaphor for Bristol’s creative music scene, which draws inspiration from the roots of Appalachia yet continuously evolves into new territory and genres. Below are a few interesting examples of the versatile tune that continues to shape-shift over time:

In 1923, King Oliver‘s Creole Jazz Band released a version for Okeh records entitled “Where Did You Stay Last Night” as a B-side for “Dipper Mouth Blues.” Louis Armstrong and his wife Lil Hardin Armstrong, both members of Oliver’s band before Armstrong left the group to pursue a solo career, are listed as composers of the track. This jazz instrumental stands out in sharp contrast to numerous other versions, showcasing a remarkable level of creativity and innovation that sets it apart as a distinctive and captivating interpretation of the timeless song.

The Tenneva Ramblers, an old-time string band based in Bristol, Tennessee, recorded “The Longest Train I Ever Saw” for producer Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company on the iconic 1927 Bristol Sessions. The Ramblers were briefly a backing band for Jimmie Rodgers under the moniker Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers, Rodgers and the group were supposed to audition for Peer together under that name. Instead, Rodgers auditioned as a solo act. There’s some controversy as to why the band split, but Rodgers’ solo performances for Peer would be his first recordings. The Tenneva Ramblers, sometimes performing as the Grant Brothers, remained active on various radio stations until the 1950s but never achieved the level of stardom enjoyed by Rodgers.

“Father of Bluegrass” Bill Monroe recorded “In the Pines” in 1941 and 1952 as an anthem of heartache and sorrow–a man “pining” for the girl who cast him aside. The crooning “who hoo hoo hoo” vocal harmonies mimicking the sound of a train whistle in that distinct “high lonesome sound,” combined with Monroe’s innovative bluegrass instrumentation, helped elevate the song to that of a country standard for decades to come.

In 1944 Huddie Ledbetter, a.k.a. Lead Belly, first recorded “(Black Girl) Where Did You Sleep Last Night” for release on the New York-based label Musicraft Records. Though he is responsible for the wider popularization of the song, he is often incorrectly cited as its author. Lead Belly’s interpretation was inspired by the 1917 transcription collected by Cecil Sharp and he went on to record several more versions of the track. It has been documented that when performing the song live Lead Belly adjusted the lyrics to “Black girl” for black audiences and “My girl” for white. His haunting depiction of a cheating lover and a grizzly decapitation is in stark contrast to Bill Monroe’s more G-rated tale of lost love, perhaps made darker by Lead Belly’s own past as a convicted murderer.

Joan Baez is an icon and activist who, during the folk music revival of the 1960s, marched for social justice and change during a time of segregation and political unrest in the United States. Baez’s rendition of “In the Pines” shares lyrical similarities with Lead Belly’s version, yet her voice and the contemporary context in which she sang it infused the song with a novel significance for the era. Baez’s iteration was a commentary on racism and violence against Black people from a woman’s perspective. The Black girl referred to in the song is fraught with anguish over the gruesome killing of her father and the disappearance of her lover as she mourns–or pines–her life away, leaving her cold and distant from an unjust world. Joan performed the song live during her concerts from 1961 to 1963, a volatile time in the civil rights movement, but it was not released until 1982. “In the Pines” appears on the album “Very Early Joan,” which contained 23 other previously unreleased live recordings.

Kurt Cobain‘s raw interpretation of “In the Pines” not only paid homage to Lead Belly, but also served as a poignant symbol of the grunge era’s cultural ethos. Prior to the performance Kurt erroneously credits Lead Belly as the writer of “In the Pines,” while declaring him the band’s favorite performer. By infusing the song with his own emotive intensity during Nirvana‘s iconic MTV Unplugged performance in 1993, Cobain brought this traditional folk tune to a new generation. It resonated deeply with Gen X in what is known as the “grunge” era,  which was defined by a sense of non-conformity and disillusionment of society norms. Tragically, Cobain’s performance of the song stands as a haunting reminder of his artistic legacy, forever tied to his untimely death at the age of 27 just a few months after the show aired.

Xavier Dphrepaulezz, a.k.a. Fantastic Negrito, recorded a searing version of  “In the Pines” for his Grammy Award-winning album The Last Days of Oakland, released in 2016. Growing up in Oakland, California, Xavier was one of 14 children. After leaving home at the age of 12, he went into the foster care system. He hustled the streets of L.A. to survive and lost a brother and a cousin to gun violence. “In the Pines” resonated deeply with Xavier. In his version of the song, he added the verse “Black girl, Black girl, your man is gone/ Now you travel the road alone / And you raised that child all by yourself / Then the policeman shot him down” to emphasize the trauma Black women face when their lives are impacted by such senseless acts. The haunting video below is the accompanying “docu-narrative” featuring one such mother whose son was tragically killed.

Pick 5: Songs to Celebrate International Women’s Day

By Andrea Price. Andrea is a student at East Tennessee State University studying history, museum studies, and Appalachian studies. This semester she is an intern with the Birthplace of Country Music learning about museum management, educational programming, and marketing. When not busy researching and writing, she enjoys the outdoors, spending all her money on concert tickets, and listening to her favorite country and bluegrass hits. 

As a history major and lover of country music, I am excited to share with you my picks of songs for International Women’s Day and some of the stories behind the artists!

“Wildflowers,” Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris

Is there anything more iconic than Dolly Parton? Well, maybe Dolly forming the female supergroup Trio with stars Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris in 1987. In a world of radio charts and limited air time (especially for women), it can be easy to view other performers as competition. Alternatively, you can take notes from these three world class musicians and choose friendship in the form of beautifully crafted harmonies and paperdoll album artwork. This song in particular makes my list because of its theme of growing up and exploring the world outside the gardens of home. As a “wild rambling rose seeking mysteries untold,” I love the empowering feeling of freedom granted to me by this trio on the road they’ve so excellently paved as women in music. 

“You’re Lookin’ at Country,” Loretta Lynn

As the most awarded lady in country music, Loretta Lynn proved that the pinnacle of success could be achieved by overcoming whatever obstacles life threw her way. Throughout her career, Loretta had multiple songs banned from country radio as she tackled controversial topics in several of her songs. Loretta’s music may have been autobiographical, but her blunt honesty and stubborn nature connected with many of the women who tuned in to her performances. I’ve always loved “You’re Lookin’ at Country” for its outright display of Loretta’s unapologetic ‘what you see is what you get’ attitude. Nowadays, this is my soundtrack to carefree confidence and unabashed action. 

“Keep on the Sunny Side,” Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters

I could never write about women of country music without including one of the women who started it all – Maybelle Carter. After recording with her family at the 1927 Bristol Sessions, Maybelle continued her career as a performer throughout her lifetime and became known as the “Mother of Country Music.” Maybelle revolutionized country style guitar playing with her popularization of the playing style known as the “Carter Scratch,”  was integral in the guitar becoming a lead instrument, and is credited with transforming the way the autoharp is played. I truly believe country music would not be where it is today without the influence of Maybelle Carter and her enduring legacy as an innovator and trailblazer. This song reflects the continuation of Maybelle’s career as she shared her passion with her daughters and passed the baton to the next generation of country music. 

“Mean (Taylor’s Version),” Taylor Swift

Before she was the princess of pop, Taylor Swift was dominating country radio and sweeping award shows with her catchy early 2000s country chart toppers. “Mean” is a single from her third studio album Speak Now which was single handedly written by Swift after critics claimed she didn’t write her own songs. This song in particular, which took home Grammy wins for Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance in 2012, directly addressed those critics with an earworm of a chorus. Watching this saga unfold while I was growing up, I was inspired by Swift’s courage to stand up to the bigger man and prove herself worthy of the rooms she would one day dominate. I’ll always be indebted to Taylor Swift for the confidence I gained by singing “Mean” at the top of my lungs while I forgot what the girls at school and the comments on social media said about me. 

“Girl Goin’ Nowhere,” Ashley McBryde 

In the world of modern country music, no one does it quite like Ashley McBryde. With an array of hits, it was hard to nail down just one for this blog post but “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” is a song I’ve obsessed over since my first listen. As a love letter to the naysayers, this song is a perfect anthem for proving everyone wrong. Several times in my life I’ve felt like all eyes were on me hoping I would make a fatal mistake or throw in the towel on my seemingly unattainable dreams. Ashley’s lyricism and incredible stage presence are frequent reminders to me that one day when my dreams have been achieved I’ll get to have my moment “where they said I’d never be is exactly where I am.” 


A Blog of Soundtracks and Books

Connections between the Hunger Games and Appalachian Traditions and Music in the Hunger Games

By Erika Barker, Curatorial Manager

Sometimes people discover new passions in unexpected places. The 2023 release of the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, is helping introduce new audiences to Appalachian culture and country music. Although it might be surprising that a dystopian young adult novel about children being forced to fight to the death could even loosely be based on real cultural and physical landscapes, this is not the first time a Hunger Games book has sparked a conversation about Appalachia. 

The first Hunger Games book was released in 2008 and spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Since then, the series has been translated into 52 languages and sold over 100 million copies worldwide. The first three books have won a combined 77 literary awards with the film series grossing over $3.3 billion worldwide and is the 20th highest-grossing film franchise of all time. The books are about a totalitarian country that forces two teenagers from each of its subjugated districts to fight as tributes in a highly publicized battle to the death called the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are an annual reminder of the Capitol’s power and the failed rebellion of previous generations from the districts. Although the series is fictional, through the popularity of these books, and their respective movies, a wider audience has been subtly introduced to some of the places, people, and music that makes Appalachia unique.

So, how does the Hunger Games make people think about Appalachia? Well, Suzanne Collins’s fictional country of Panem is set in North America at an unspecified date in the future after an apocalyptic event has left the continent with little resemblance to the Americas we know today. The country is divided into a Capitol and 13 districts. Each district has a distinctive export that symbolizes that region, such as luxury items, textiles, grain, livestock, fishing, or electronics. Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the original trilogy and Lucy Gray Baird, a protagonist in the prequel, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes are both from District 12, a district centered around coal mining. These two characters give us a glimpse at the fictionalized traditions inspired by real Appalachian people. Here are just a few examples of real Appalachian music, landscape, and cultural connections found in the world of The Hunger Games. 

Two images show a group of coal miners walking forward in the open. The image on the left is a scene from the 2012 Hunger Games movie and shows citizens from Panem wearing helments, dark clothing, and carrying lunch boxes. The image on the right features a historical image of coal miners in the same setting from the mid 20th century.
Left: Still of miners from District 12 in The Hunger Games (2012) film. Right: Miners Line Up to Go Into the Elevator Shaft at the Virginia-Pocahontas Coal Company Mine #4 near Richlands, Virginia. This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 556338.

Mining and southern stereotypes 

District 12 is based in the southern Appalachian region, an area that has historically produced and exported coal as a resource across the country.  Several movie scenes were filmed in North Carolina where interested fans and movie buffs can visit those locations and experience the natural beauty of the region firsthand. Although Katniss and Lucy Gray both think fondly of the woods and natural landscapes of the district, they are not blind to the plight of the people living there. 

District 12 is the poorest district, with industry centered on coal mining. Throughout all three Hunger Games books and the prequel, many citizens of Panem look down on District 12. Outsiders talk about the district in ways that resemble the real-life negative stereotypes often placed on the people of Appalachia

In Appalachia, the coal industry has sustained mountain communities for over a century despite being a notoriously dangerous profession. In addition to being an intensely physically demanding job, occupational hazards such as collapses, explosions, accidents, and ailments like Black Lung disease have ensured coalfield communities are consistently among the least healthy. Oppressive business practices, like those portrayed in the Hunger Games reflected in the Capitol’s treatment of District 12, led to even worse living conditions and quality of life for coal miners and their families. 

Beyond the surface-level similarities between the fictional and real-world regions, there is also a strong underlying similarity in the history of resilience and resistance found in the people of Appalachia. It is fitting that the location of the West Virginia Mine Wars was the inspiration for the birthplace of the girl who was brave enough to defy the Capitol with compassion and spark a revolution.

Protest Music

Appalachia has a strong tradition of turning current events, especially tragic events, into songs. In A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Lucy Gray Baird writes a song after witnessing a hanging. Lucy Gray’s “The Hanging Tree” is reminiscent of Florence Reece’s Which Side Are You On,” which Reece wrote after a raid on her house during the Harlan Country Wars. The song became a popular protest song and has been used for many causes since. In the same way, Katniss Everdeen sings Lucy Gray’s “The Hanging Tree” over 60 years later, turning the tune into the anthem of a revolution. Just like how music reaches people on an emotional level, often inspiring them to action in the books, music has been used as an outlet for frustrations and a rallying cry for solutions throughout much of Appalachian’s history. 

Video: Black Lung was written by Hazel Dickens about her brother’s struggle with the miner’s disease.


Murder Ballads are one of the most popular forms of balladry in folk music today. Ballads are a narrative form of songwriting that tells a story, in this case, one of murder. The book, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, is written in much the same way as a traditional murder ballad and explores many of the same themes commonly found within the genre. Murder ballads often expose the weakness of humanity in much the same way Coriolanus Snow realizes the brutality of hunger games in the books. 

The Carter Family

To the left is a promotional black and white photo of the Carter Family holding guitars and facing the camera. AP Carter is seated in the middle sitting on decorative furniture while Maybelle and Sara are standing on both sides of AP. Sarah and Maybelle are both holding guitars. The image on the right features a scene of a young women holding a vintage Gibson guitar and singing on a dimly lit stage, a scene from the recent film.
A publicity still of The Carter Family – Maybelle holds her Gibson L-5 guitar. From the collection of the Center for Popular Music, Middle Tennessee State University. Still of Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird in The Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

The early country music scene of the 1920s and 1930s is easily spotted in the dance scenes at the Seam – referring to the most distressed area of district 12 – in A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Collins even pays homage to The Carter Family when Maude Ivory sings “Keep on The Sunny Side.” While many of the songs are inspired by the real music of Appalachia but written as originals for the books and movies, “Keep on the Sunny Side” is one of the few cover songs that make an appearance. Lucy Gray’s vintage Gibson L-10 guitar is another notable nod to the Carter Family. While Lucy Gray’s guitar may not be the exact same model, it is clear that an effort was made to match Mother Maybelle’s iconic guitar.

The soundtrack

Much like the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack from 2008, the 2023 soundtrack for A Ballad of Song Birds and Snakes is making waves and bringing new attention to country music styles. Many roots and Americana musicians are represented on the soundtrack including Billy Strings, Sierra Ferrell, Charles Wesley Godwin, Bella White. Molly Tuttle contributed her version of another Carter Family classic, “Bury Me Beneath the Willow,” which they first recorded at the 1927 Bristol Sessions! Tuttle also lends her guitar skills to the character of Lucy Gray. She and Dominick Leslie provided the guitar and mandolin parts for much of the film. 

May the music be ever in your favor.

Erika Barker is the Curatorial Manager at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. 

The Power of Music: Five Songs for Civil Rights

January 15th is recognized as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In recognition of Dr. King’s important work and fight for the equal rights of  black Americans during the Civil Rights movement, this blog details the music of the movement.  Originally  posted on December 29, 2018 and written by Rene Rodgers. 

Here at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, we’ve spent the past month and a half exploring the power and impact of visual imagery through the NEH on the Road exhibit For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights (on display until January 7, 2019). But we’re a music museum, and one thing we know for sure: music has power and impact too.

And that is certainly true when you think about the music of the Civil Rights movement. Many of these songs had their origins in traditional hymns and African American spirituals, and while they weren’t all originally about freedom and social justice, their message was clearly relevant. Some were also revised to include new lyrics that spoke directly to the issues people were facing, such as voting rights. Others grew out of the musicians’ personal experiences or observations of the discrimination around them.  These songs – often and rightfully called anthems – inspired determination and bravery, helped to lessen fears and steady nerves, focused activists’ passion and energy on the task at hand, and acted as motivators to protesters and observers alike. They were delivered by professional musicians and groups like the Freedom Singers, but more importantly they became the unified voice of ordinary people displaying extraordinary courage at rallies, marches, and protests and in churches, meetings, and workshops.

The album cover shows the CORE logo, the title, and a series of music notes in the form of diner counter stools.
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) produced a record of “sit-in songs” in 1962, which included “We Shall Overcome.” The musical notes are in the form of diner counter stools. This record went along with the Freedom Highways project, when activist volunteers worked to integrate chain restaurants along the main federal highways. Image from

There are many accounts of this music history and the songs of the Civil Rights struggle in books, audio collections, and films such as Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song, We Shall Overcome: A Song That Changed the World, Let Freedom Sing: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement, Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs, Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs, 1960-1966, Freedom Song: Young Voices and the Struggle for Civil Rights, and Soundtrack for a Revolution (screened at the museum in November). All of these are worth exploring to get a better understanding of the place and significance of music in the fight for civil rights over the years.

A blog post about this music would be incredibly long – it’s a long and interesting history and each song has a story! And so, we’ve chosen just five songs that highlight the power of this music, including a brief history or description of each, to get you started on an incredibly inspiring musical journey.

“Uncle Sam Says,” Josh White (1941)

Josh White’s 1941 record Southern Exposure: An Album of Jim Crow Blues, co-written with poet Waring Cuney, was called “the fighting blues” by author Richard Wright, who wrote its liner notes. One of its songs, “Uncle Sam Says,” highlighted the frustration felt by African Americans when faced with the continuing effects of Jim Crow even as they fought and gave their lives for their country. It was inspired by White’s visit to his brother at Fort Dix in New Jersey where he saw the segregated barracks and unequal treatment of the black servicemen. After the album was released, White was invited by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the White House for a command performance, the first black artist to do so.

“This Little Light of Mine,” Rutha Mae Harris

For many of us, “This Little Light of Mine” is a song of our childhood sung at school or church. But the song has a much more interesting history within the Civil Rights movement and beyond as a “timeless tool of resistance” – check out this NPR piece from August 2018 that celebrated the song as a true “American Anthem.” The song, both a spiritual popular in the black churches and a folk song, became even more impactful when it was employed by Civil Rights protesters and activists who often personalized the lyrics to the situation or as a way to name the oppressors they were facing. Original Freedom Singer Rutha Mae Harris demonstrates the energy and power of the song as she leads a contemporary group in its verses at the Albany Civil Rights Institute:

“I Shall Not Be Moved,” The Harmonizing Four (1959)

This African American spiritual is based on Jeremiah 17:8—9, reflecting the idea that the singers’ faith in God will keep them strong and steadfast. The song became a popular resistance anthem during the Civil Rights movement, especially in relation to sit-ins; it was also used as a labor union protest song. As with “This Little Light of Mine,” the lyrics were sometimes altered to speak to the specific cause. Maya Angelou’s poetry collection I Shall Not Be Moved was named after the song.

“Why Am I Treated So Bad?,” The Staple Singers (1966)

The Staple Singers met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 after a performance in Montgomery, Alabama. Roebuck “Pops” Staples, the band’s patriarch, said afterwards: “I really like this man’s message. And I think if he can preach it, we can sing it.” The group went on to write and perform many Civil Rights songs, including “March Up Freedom’s Highway” and “Washington We’re Watching You.” “Why Am I Treated So Bad” was written in reference to the treatment of the nine African American children at the forefront of integration in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. It became a particular favorite of King’s and was often sung before he spoke to a crowd.

“We Shall Overcome,” Mahalia Jackson (1963)

One of the most well-known songs of the Civil Rights movement, “We Shall Overcome” exemplifies the resilience, determination, and hope of the activist leaders and the everyday protesters alike. Its origins stretch back to the early 20th century with Charles Tindley’s “I Will Overcome.” Striking workers took up the song in the 1940s, later sharing it with Zilphia Horton at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, a center for social justice and activism. White and black activists came together at Highlander for workshops and planning during the Civil Rights movement, and some of that work involved learning songs and how to employ them in protests. Musical director Guy Carawan learned a version of the song from Pete Seeger; Carawan later introduced the song at the founding convention of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. (To hear Candie Carawan talk about the work at Highlander and the power of music during the Civil Rights movement, check out December 19’s archived On the Sunny Side show on Radio Bristol; her interview is towards the end of the show.)

Finally, did you know that there is a connection between Carter Family favorite “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and civil rights? The song has been sung by various activist musicians, including Jimmy Collier and the Movement Singers and Freedom Singer Bernice Johnson Reagon, and an audio history of the Civil Rights movement takes the song title on as its name.

Rene Rodgers is the Head Curator of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

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.


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 for more information.

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