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Radio Bristol Book Club: Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore books inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 12:00 noon when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

Cultural historian Karl Hagstrom Miller’s first book, Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow, combines cultural, economic, and intellectual history to chart the development of a segregated commercial music industry in the early 20th century. Segregating Sound examines popular music in the United States through the intersections of race, gender, sound, and money. A musical color line, corresponding to the physical color line of southern segregation, emerged as both commercial record companies and academic folklorists scoured the south for new songs and categorized them according to the racial ideologies of the day. This book gives readers a more nuanced understanding of the making of musical genres and the impact on these delineations on the music industry. After its publication in 2010, Segregating Sound received the Woody Guthrie Award for the best annual book on popular music from the International Association for the Study of Popular Music.

Black-and-white book cover with title in the center dividing two close-up shots of a guitar player's hands on the neck of the guitar -- one hand is that of a Black musician, the other that of a white musician.

Dr. Karl Hagstrom Miller is an Associate Professor in the Department of Music at the University of Virginia, focusing on Critical and Comparative Studies. He received a Ph.D. in history from New York University and has received fellowships from the Smithsonian Institute and the American Council of Learned Societies. His writing on various pop music topics has appeared in Wax Poetics, Texas Observer, American Music, American Historical Review, and PopMatters, among other venues. Miller is particularly interested in how transformations in commercial markets and music technology changed the ways people used music to forge their conceptions of race and region, imagine their relationship to the broader world, comprehend the past, and dream about the future.

Color image of a white man shown from the upper chest/shoulders up. He has short light brown/dark blonde hair and a "soul patch" tuft of hair below his lower lip. He is wearing a green shirt.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, October 27 at 12:00pm for the discussion of Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow. You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library, so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to exploring this book on-air, and if you have thoughts or questions about the book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for November is Voices Worth Listening: Three Women of Appalachia by Thomas Burton; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, November 17. Check out our full list of 2022 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows! We will also be releasing our 2023 reading list in November!

Tonia Kestner is the Executive Director of the Bristol Public Library.

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.

Radio Bristol Book Club: The Man in Song: A Discographic Biography of Johnny Cash

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore books inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 12:00 noon when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

Johnny Cash sold more than 50 million albums over his 40-year career and is the only artist to be inducted into four different Hall of Fames – the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Many biographies have been written about “the Man in Black” but none are quite like The Man in Song. This unique approach to a biography tells the story of Cash’s life through the lens of the music that meant so much to him. By studying the songs Cash wrote or chose to record, John Alexander takes the reader into the mind of the legendary singer and shows how deeply intertwined Cash’s life and music were.

Johnny Cash was a man who prized authenticity in his music, and Alexander demonstrates this as only a music historian can. He leads the reader though a detailed look at how the music and lyrics Cash wrote or recorded throughout his life reflect specific events, people, and memories that tell the story of his life.

The Man in Song book cover shows a black-and-white image of a young-ish Johnny Cash. He is looking straight at the camera, wears all black, and has his chin on his hand.

John M. Alexander is a music journalist and a lifelong fan and historian of Johnny Cash. He has a PhD in English from City University Graduate Center in New York and has worked as a professor and was the Senior Music Editor and Producer at Reader’s Digest for 18 years. He is now Senior Editor at the Brooklyn Eagle and has opened his own Alexander Records where he focuses on creating timeless compilations. He has created almost 400 CD box sets throughout his career. In 1977, he compiled Cash’s greatest gospel songs into a 3-CD box set collection called Johnny Cash Timeless Inspiration that prompted Cash to pen a personal note expressing his gratitude, saying “This is an album that has always been my dream project…I am eternally grateful that someone like yourself could share this love with me and put it out there for people to hear.” This note and the work on that collection led to a relationship and four more Johnny Cash box sets.

The Timeless Inspiration album cover shows an ocean and sunrise/sunset view with Johnny Cash's image in the foreground. He is in profile holding his guitar and wearing a black jacket over a white long-sleeved shirt.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, September 22 at 12:00pm for the discussion of The Man in Song: A Discographic Biography of Johnny Cash. You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library, so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to exploring this book on-air, and if you have thoughts or questions about the book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for October is Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow by Karl Hagstrom Miller; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, October 27. Check out our full list of 2022 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

* Be sure to check out the current special exhibit at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum – 1968: A Folsom Redemption – to learn more about Johnny Cash and his music. It is on display through October 20, 2022.

Erika Barker is Curatorial Manager at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and an avid reader.

Radio Bristol Book Club: The Thread That Runs So True

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore books inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 12:00 noon when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

This month we are reading The Thread That Runs So True by Jesse Stuart. This book tells the story of Stuart’s life told in six sections or parts. Among these parts are several stories that define Stuart’s career as a Kentucky Mountain school teacher. Conversational in tone, you soon forget the book is autobiographical because the characters come alive in the richness of their speech and personalities. The book’s title and chapter headings were taken from a folk song children would sing at Lonesome Valley School. At 17, after only three years of high school, Stuart began his teaching career in a one-room rural school. Stuart does not allow himself to come between the reader and the community he describes because he functions as a guide to the experiences of his community. Stuart’s disguise of the people and places within the book give the stories artistic freedom. This book will make you grateful for the teachers you had growing up who influenced your life.

Cover image of The Thread That Runs So True has an illustration of a young white man wearing light-colored shirt and pants leaning against a tree with a one-room white clapboard schoolhouse in the background.

Jesse Stuart was born in a log cabin in Greenup County, Kentucky, in 1906. He was the first in his family to finish high school, graduating from Greenup High school in 1926, and he worked his way through Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, from which he graduated in 1929. While at Lincoln Memorial, he studied under Harry Harrison Kroll, a well-known novelist and one of Stuart’s greatest influences. Stuart returned to Eastern Kentucky and, after two years of public school teaching and administrative service, he decided to enroll in graduate school at Vanderbilt University. He pursued, but did not complete, a Master of Arts degree in English.

Stuart married Naomi Deane Norris in 1939, and they settled on his ancestral land in W Hollow. They had one daughter named Jessica Jane who became an accomplished novelist and poet. Stuart was a remarkable and original writer becoming an accomplished poet, short story writer, novelist, and essayist by the time he was in his 40s. He received the 1934 Jeannette Sewal Davis poetry prize for his first major book of poetry, Man with the Bull-Tounged Plow (1934), which included 703 sonnets, many mimicking the style of great Scottish poet Robert Burns.  The book was described by the Irish poet George William Russell as the greatest work of poetry to come out of America since Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass. He was the recipient of many awards, among them a Guggenheim Fellowship (1937), the Academy of Arts and Sciences award, the Berea College Centennial award for literature, the Academy of American Poets award, and several honorary degrees. He died in 1984 in Ironton, Ohio, and is buried in the Plum Grove cemetery near W Hollow.

A colorized photograph of Jesse Stuart. He is a white man with dark hair, and he wears a light-colored suit and tie. It looks like he is leaning on the side of a boat in this photograph. He is smiling widely at the camera.

Author Jesse Stuart

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, August 25 at 12:00pm for the discussion of The Thread That Runs So True by Jesse Stuart. You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library, so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to exploring this book on-air, and if you have thoughts or questions about the book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for September is The Man in Song: A Discographic Biography of Johnny Cash by John Alexander, a book chosen to go along with our upcoming special exhibit 1968: A Folsom Redemption about Johnny Cash’s concerts at Folsom Prison. We’ll be discussing this interesting book on Thursday, September 22. Check out our full list of 2022 Radio Bristol Book Club picks HERE, where you can also listen to archived shows!

Tonia Kestner is the Executive Director at the Bristol Public Library.

Radio Bristol Book Club: The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore books inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 12:00 noon when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

For those who don’t know, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate museum, and so that connection inspired our July book club pick: The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian by Heather Ewing. British scientist James Smithson (1765–1829) left his estate to the United States to found “at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Congress authorized acceptance of the Smithson bequest on July 1, 1836, and ten years later the Smithsonian was officially founded. Drawing on unpublished letters and diaries from archives across Europe and the United States – including the entirety of the Smithsonian’s archive – Heather Ewing paints an in-depth and fascinating portrait of James Smithson. His compelling story takes us from his complicated beginnings as the illegitimate son of the first Duke of Northumberland to his career in science, the closest thing the 18th century had to a meritocracy. Against a backdrop of war and revolution, Smithson and his friends, who included many of the most famous scientists of the age, burst through boundaries at every turn, defying gravity in the first hot air balloons, upending the biblical timeline with their geological finds, and exploring the realm of the invisible with the discovery of new gases. This book presents readers with a wonderful journey through science, ambition, and philanthropic vision, resulting in the largest museum and research complex in the world!

Book cover shows a painted portrait of James Smithson - he is a white man, middle-aged, wearing a high collar and white cravat, and a black frock coat.

Heather Ewing is a graduate of Yale University and the Courtauld Institute of Art. She is an architectural historian who has worked for the Smithsonian and the Ringling Museum of Art. She lives in New York.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, July 28 at 12:00pm for the discussion of The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian. You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library, so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to exploring this book on-air, and if you have thoughts or questions about the book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for August is The Thread That Runs So True by Jesse Stuart; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, August 25. Check out our full list of 2022 Radio Bristol Book Club picks HERE, where you can also listen to archived shows!

* The featured image above is the original Smithsonian Institution building, Washington, D.C. in 1864. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs. http://lccn.loc.gov/2017659613

Rene Rodgers is Head Curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and an obsessive reader!

Radio Bristol Spotlight: The Willy Nillys

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 latest Radio Bristol Spotlight post. This blog series highlights top emerging artists in our region – through interviews and performance, we learn more about the musicians who help to make Central Appalachia one the richest, and most unique musical landscapes in the world.

Recently at the Radio Bristol studio, we hosted the newly re-formed duo The Willy Nillys, comprised of the easygoing road warrior couple, Christy Lynn Barrett and Ryan Schilling. Currently based in Asheville, North Carolina, the two have been hitting the highway on multiple DIY cross-country road trips for the better part of a decade, playing dive bars and open mics sprawled across sleepy countryside towns. Their long musical journey has incorporated multiple converted vans or other “assorted vintage vehicles,” nights spent everywhere from sketchy Walmart parking lots to majestic National Forests, self-recorded albums with hand-cut vinyl, and a menagerie of analog audio gear including the 1987 Ford Econoline known as the American Sound Truck, which houses a direct to vinyl recording studio.

A young couple stand in front of a big window with a building seen through it. They are both white and wearing light-colored denim short-sleeved shirts and dark blue denim jeans. The woman stands to the left; she has chin-length slighly wavy red hair and leans her head on the man's shoulder. The man stands to the right and has dark brown shoulder-length hair and a beard/moustache.

The Willy Nillys’ Christy Barrett and Ryan Schilling pose in unquestionably classy denim on denim attire. Photo Credit: Izzy Nelson

The dream-manifesting pair grew up in small dusty desert towns in Southern California, home to mystic cowboys such as Gram Parsons and creative origin for the legendary Laurel Canyon folk music scene of the 1960s and 1970s. Meeting by happenstance at a late night party, Barrett and Schilling quickly began writing music together, delving ever deeper into musical influences that lead them to the rich soils of Appalachia. Nowadays the couple own and run  American Vinyl Co., a one-stop shop for everything from custom lathe-cut vinyl records, record mastering/pressing, direct-to-lacquer recording, live musical performances, a record shop, and a well-curated collection of historical audio equipment – all located in a beautifully renovated 1940s warehouse on the South Slope near downtown Asheville. To fully grasp the breadth of everything that happens at American Vinyl Co., we highly suggest going there for a visit – you can order from their “menu,” which includes recording a single inside the sound truck, or you can check out a show where they host an impressive variety of emerging roots music and Americana acts. You can check out their event schedule here.

A converted warehouse-style studio space is seen in this photograph. Large multi-paned windows line the back wall; it is night-time outside and you can see the glow of greenish lights in the windows to the left. In the studio can be seen various vintage microphones, instruments on stands, and other music paraphernalia. A record-shaped sign for American Vinyl Co. is hanging in the windows to the right.

American Viny Co. Stage located just outside of downtown Asheville in the “Brewery District” of South Slope. 

This industrious duo also still finds time to crank out inspiring original music, amidst refurbishing retro musical equipment and pressing loads of vinyl records for independent artists. Their latest iteration as The Willy Nillys is the third progression of their musical brainchild. Past projects have included the Christy Lynn Band, which is heavily inspired by Barrett’s lifelong love of classic country, and Triumph of the Wild, which won the couple first place for best recording at the San Diego Music Awards and began their relentless pilgrimage to musical sites of inspiration throughout the rural south. In the Radio Bristol studio, we got to witness a few of their brand new songs and talk about new recording projects on the horizon.

Starting out they played a tune called “American Daydream,” a hopeful yet rugged romp accented by cinematic swells of harmonica and hair-raising vocal harmonies. The lyrics seem to recount their idyllic but at times dangerous and unglamorous experience as OG van lifers – living off of sink showers and hints of Ola Belle Reed melodie,; learning how to befriend locals, and staying out of trouble with local police. The chorus proclaims “Livin our life like we wanted to…In an American Daydream with you,” ending with the road-weary affirmation: “A couple beggars, a couple of crooks, A couple of nobodies you overlooked…There ain’t a risk we ain’t never took.” This band is definitely for lovers of Shovels and Rope, The Everly Brothers, and 1950s pop employing powerhouse vocals and swishing echo-like back beats.

They also shared a somber number, “It Ain’t Fair,” a tune with a lilting melody that felt reminiscent of classic country balladry. The song slowly gallops along with regretful lyrics that recount sacrifices made as traveling songwriters – missing their nephews grow up and their parents aging. The stoic beauty and honesty of this song will leave a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes, with the last verse admitting:

“To my two sisters, I’ve been meaning to call
It breaks my heart knowing, I don’t know you at all
So I’ll pack my suitcase and I’ll go back in time
Back before a song was always on my mind.”

This is a band that is definitely worth checking out – so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for a new EP coming from them this summer, one that is sure to be self-produced and released with hand-pressed vinyl from American Vinyl Co.

Check out The Willy Nillys playing “It Ain’t Fair” live in the Radio Bristol studio.

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 Book Club: Crooked Hallelujah

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore books inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 12:00 noon when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

Our June book club pick is Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford. A saga about family, the bonds between women, and surviving in a world filled with challenges and dangers, Crooked Hallelujah tells the stories of Justine – a mixed-blood Cherokee woman – and her daughter, Reney, as they move from Eastern Oklahoma’s Indian Country in the hopes of starting a new, more stable life in Texas amid the oil bust of the 1980s. Justine’s mother Lula and her Granny were powerful forces in her life, and leaving them and the home she’s always known behind is hard. Throughout the book, Kelli Jo Ford explores the mother-daughter bond and the ways that this family sacrifices much for those they love, amid the larger forces of history, religion, class, and culture.

A black book cover with the silhouette of two women holding hands. The silhouettes show a red sky and open landscape.

Courtesy of Grove Atlantic

Kelli Jo Ford is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Crooked Hallelujah, her debut novel-in-stories, was longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel, The Story Prize, the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, The Dublin Literary Award, and The Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize. She is the recipient of an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, The Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize, a Native Arts & Cultures Foundation National Artist Fellowship, an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, and a Dobie Paisano Fellowship. She teaches writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

A photograph of a Native American woman. She has short black hair and is wearing a dark blue long-sleeved top and dangly earrings. She is smiling at the camera.

Courtesy of Grove Atlantic, © Val Ford Hancock

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, June 23 at 12:00pm for the discussion of Crooked Hallelujah. You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library, so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to exploring this book on-air, and if you have thoughts or questions about the book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for July is The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian by Heather Ewing; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, July 28. Check out our full list of 2022 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

Rene Rodgers is Head Curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and an obsessive reader!

Radio Bristol Spotlight: Chance Lawson

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. As part of Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to share our latest Radio Bristol Spotlight post. 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 of the richest and most unique musical landscapes in the world.

Singer-Songwriter Chancellor (Chance) Lawson has been turning heads with his acoustic solo originals, recently winning the Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition for the Northeast Tennessee region. Local finalists performed at The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee, competing for a chance to play a showcase at Nashville’s acclaimed listening room, the Bluebird Cafe .The competition was hosted at six different historical venues throughout the state, and celebrates the “foundation of the craft for which Tennessee is known – music.”

A photograph of a white man standing in front of a vinyl banner for the Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition; you can see a stage area with instruments behind the banner and the man. The man is young, with wavy brown chin-length hair; he is wearing glasses, a white t-shirt, and jeans. He holds a guitar in one hand.

Chance Lawson at The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee, following his performance for Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition finals. Courtesy of Chance Lawson

Growing up in Kingsport, Tennessee, Lawson has been a staple at open mic nights and stages surrounding the Tri-Cities, performing with the collectively run indie-rock band Donnie and the Dry Heavers. This summer the musician also plans to open up a brand new venue in his hometown – the Market Street Social Club will be an inclusive space for pickers of all levels and performers of everything from music to stand-up comedy. The club will host multiple open mics weekly, as well as live performances by regional and touring artists. Recently we got to visit with Lawson in the Radio Bristol studio where he shared plans for the new space, plus some of his original tunes and off-the-cuff asides about his laid back approach to creating music.

Complete with Stetson and cowboy hat, Lawson confidently strolled into the studio and started things off with a bluegrassy original tune called “The Flood.” Fashioned together with idyllic imagery and fluid flatpicking, the song depicts a listless experience of existing – using water as a metaphor for the ebb and flow of emotion, proclaiming Lawson’s ability to remain stable and to keep “holding on” even while expressing an inner need for traveling that keeps his feet from “rooting.” Inspired by heralded Americana songwriters such as Jason Isbell and John Prine, Lawson is an astonishingly polished performer whose dues earned at countless local venues are paying off. His songs, embellished by effortless guitar playing and velvety smooth twang-tinged vocals, offer a bona fide look into the raw talent that comes from our region.

Playing on a brand new Taylor guitar that was part of the prize for winning the Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition, Lawson admitted that he was shocked when his name got called as the overall winner for the Northeast Tennessee region at The Down Home. Lawson’s flare for creating original music has been opening up major doors for the songwriter. He spoke highly about his experience playing at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, saying that he felt like folks there were super supportive, and he was impressed by the other songwriters such as Tyson Leamon and Jacob Rice, who made it clear why they had won for their prospective regions.

A black-and-white photograph of a white male musician wearing a white Stetson-style hat and holding a guitar. He is standing in front of a radio booth.

Chance Lawson at the Radio Bristol studio. © Birthplace of Country Music

Raised playing gospel music at Cross Roads United Methodist Church and taught guitar by his mother, Lawson comes from a family with deep musical roots. His grandfather was celebrated country music star Red Kirk, who made appearances on historic radio programs such as WNOX’s MidDay Merry-Go-Round, WLS’s National Barn Dance, the Louisiana Hayride, and the Grand Ole Opry. With country music and traditions running through his veins one might find it surprising that one of Lawson’s earliest and most impactful influences was The Grateful Dead. He described first hearing “Friend of the Devil” during a hazy car ride and becoming completely hooked on the sound, which to him blended the traditional bluegrass scales he grew up on with a more meandering sideways-hippie-infused sound. Becoming a “Dead Head” seems to have sparked a creative ember for Lawson who then shared a song called “Jerry and Jesus.” The song reads as a thoughtful plea for reconciliation across musical and philosophical boundaries. Lyrics such as “Let’s get along, let’s throw a party tonight…now that’s worth praying for. Let’s make mistakes, that’s how we learn anyways…Who said you can’t love Jerry and Jesus?” offer a heartfelt perspective on merging Lawson’s Tennessee roots with a broader worldview. The seemingly paradoxical inclination to meld stylistic influences from traditional music along with subjective songwriting makes Lawson’s songs a provocative and compelling listen.

While playing in the Radio Bristol studio, Lawson also performed “Happy Man,” the tune that won him the Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition. Inspired by his girlfriend, the catchy song mixes pop sensibilities by blending country twang with rhythm-and-blues vibes…think Bill Withers meets Gary Stewart. The song is refined yet maintains its authenticity. To watch a live performance of the song watch the video below, and be sure to follow Lawson’s music online via his Facebook page.

Chance Lawson performing “Happy Man,” winner of the 2022 Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition.

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 Book Club: My Old True Love

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore books inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 12:00 noon when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

Our May book club pick is My Old True Love by Sheila Kay Adams. My Old True Love is a fictional story inspired by Appalachian ballads and Adams’ own family history. This tale of doomed love, heartbreak, and betrayal takes place in a close-knit 19th-century Appalachian community. Arty Wallen narrates the story as she reflects on her life and the lives of those closest to her. When Arty was nine years old her cousin Larkin Stanton was born and orphaned by the death of his mother, so Arty raises him as her own. Larkin and Hackley, Arty’s younger brother, are close but rivalrous friends. Both boys are musically gifted and enchanted by the old songs their grandmother used to sing to them. Eventually they find themselves competing for the love of Mary Chandler, the prettiest girl in their mountain community. Though Hackley wins Mary’s love, he does not stop his womanizing ways even after their marriage. When the town gets swept up in the Civil War, Hackley is conscripted to fight for the Confederacy, leaving Larkin and Mary behind. What Larkin does next reminds us that these sad songs of old are often reflective of imperfect people and the decisions a troubled heart can make.

Book cover showing an artistic rendering (painting or colored etching) of a mountain landscape with a river passing through it.

Cover design for My Old True Love

Sheila Kay Adams is a seventh-generation ballad singer, storyteller, and musician. She was born and raised in the Sodom Laurel community of Madison County, North Carolina. Her skill as a storyteller and deep familiarity with Appalachian music and culture is apparent right from the beginning of the novel. She interweaves ballads, depictions of rural community life, and Appalachian vernacular into the tale so naturally that you feel as if you are there. Adams learned the tradition of unaccompanied ballad singing from her great-aunt and other notable singers in her community. She is also an accomplished clawhammer-style banjo player and has been performing publicly since she was in her teens. In addition to her books, she has recorded several albums of ballads, songs, and stories. She was the vocal coach and technical advisor for the movie Songcatcher (2000) and made an appearance herself in Last of the Mohicans (1992).

A white woman with long straight white hair wearing a reddish-orange quarter-sleeve dress and a brown vest. She is holding a large head banjo and looking.

Sheila Kay Adams

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, May 26 at 12:00pm for the discussion of My Old True Love. You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library, so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to exploring this book on-air, and if you have thoughts or questions about the book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for June is Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, June 23. Check out our full list of 2022 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

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

 

 

 

Radio Bristol Book Club: What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore books inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 12:00 noon when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

Our April book club pick is What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte. While the book is only 146 pages, it packs in a lot of history, culture, and analysis into its examination of Appalachia and the too-frequent stereotypes or perceptions of this region. Appalachia covers over 700,000 square miles, with counties in 13 states from Alabama to New York. Despite this huge area and the widely different characteristics and peoples who live and work here, Appalachia has too often been viewed over the years as a monolithic region and described predominantly with words like backwards, poor, white, uneducated, rural, isolated, etc. A lot of those perceptions were strengthened by J. D. Vance’s popular book (and now a movie) Hillbilly Elegy, published in 2016. Catte knows a different Appalachia – and her book is a powerful answer to the caricatures and assumptions made about the region as she explores its diverse peoples and voices and why stereotypes about Appalachia have been embraced.

The cover of What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia shows a yellow sky with the title words in black on it. The sky is above a dark green and black forest and the reflection of the trees in the red water below as standing people.

 Elizabeth Catte is a writer and historian from East Tennessee. She writes about history, politics, and culture, and her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Washington PostGuernicaThe NationMcSweeney’sIn These Times, the Boston ReviewGravy, and has been reviewed in The New York TimesBookforumNew York Review of Books, and the Los Angeles Times. Currently she is an editor-at-large for West Virginia University Press and the co-founder of Passel, an applied history firm. She has a PhD in public history from Middle Tennessee State University and uses her master’s degree in museum studies to curate a website dedicated to food eaten on King of the Hill called Pork Chop Night. She also serves on the board of the Appalachian African-American Cultural Center in Pennington Gap, Virginia.

This photograph is a headshot of a white woman. She has reddish brown hair that reaches to her shoulders, and she is wearing a blue button-down shirt. Her eyes look blue and she is smilling at the camera.

Author Elizabeth Catte.

 Please make plans to join us on Thursday, April 28 at 12:00pm for the discussion of What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia. You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library, so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to exploring this book on-air, and if you have thoughts or questions about the book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for May is My Old True Love by Sheila Kay Adams; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, May 26. Check out our full list of 2022 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

René Rodgers is head curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and an avid reader.