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Meet the women behind the Birthplace of Country Music

Last month was Women’s History Month, and instead of looking backward, we chose to look forward and celebrate some of the amazing women who are leading the way, making a difference, and making history at the Birthplace of Country Music. The Birthplace of Country Music’s staff is majority female. This is not so surprising when you consider that women make up about 60% of the overall museum field, but what is surprising is that all of our leadership positions are held by women!

Even though the world has come a long way toward diversifying hiring practices and more women are now able to get in the door, it can still be hard to find a seat at the table. In many industries today, leadership roles are still held by men. For example, in the festival and event industry, where women comprise 40% of the workforce, 80% of all management-level positions are held by men.

Last month, we interviewed some of the women in upper management roles at the Birthplace of Country Music and have been sharing those interviews on our social media channels throughout the month to celebrate these women. Now we have compiled all of those interviews into one convenient blog! Read on to learn more about Dr. René Rodgers, Head Curator; June Marshall, Museum Manager; Paula Hurt, Managing Director; Kathryn Long, Director of Administration; Baylor Hall, Director of Operations; Shauna Tilson, Director of Development; Leah Ross,  Executive Director of Advancement; and Sarah Alexander, Director of Marketing.


What is your role in BCM, and how did you get there?

René: I am the Head Curator for the museum. I grew up in Bristol and knew the general story of the Bristol Sessions, but hadn’t dug deeper into this history. I went away to college and then on to graduate school in archaeology and a life in England for several years. And because I was a Rotary Ambassadorial scholarship winner my first year in the UK, I shared the story of Bristol’s country music connections to other Rotary clubs and groups while I was there. I moved back to Bristol at the end of 2011, right as the museum content development was ramping up, and in mid-2012 I was invited to be part of the content team, using my background in history, writing, and editing. I became the Associate Curator in 2013, followed by the Curator of Exhibits & Publications, and then finally Head Curator in 2018!

June: I am the Museum Manager. I began my employment on Frontline at the museum as a part time employee. As time went on, I was moved to full time. When our Museum Manager was moved to Operations, I was offered the position as manager before they reached outside BCM to look for someone. I accepted the position and have been here in that capacity ever since. That was about four years ago.

Paula: I am the Managing Director of the Birthplace of Country Music. I grew up in many different places as my father was a 20-year Marine so moving was the norm in our household. I graduated from East Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Business Administration – I am a first-generation college graduate. I have worked in cash management at a local bank, purchasing for a Fortune 500 manufacturer as well as cash manager/accounts payable supervisor for a global glass manufacturer. I served as the Vice President of Finance and Administration for the Bristol Chamber of Commerce for many years – which developed my love of the Bristol Community and the tourism industry. During this time, I was able to watch the evolution of the Birthplace of Country Music from the receipt of the designation by Congress, through the merger with Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion and then the opening of the Museum! I also volunteered for BRRR for many years. When the phone call came in 2022, I jumped at the opportunity to be part of this wonderful organization.

Kathryn: I am the Director of Administration. Leading up to my employment with BCM, I worked in a primarily male-dominated world of forestry. I led the Human Resources and Finance Department for my previous employer and was challenged greatly in my role. I was oftentimes looked at as less than during business meetings due to being a woman in a male-dominated field. I assure you, as I grew up in that industry, I knew more than most of the men about equipment and repairs along with the costs associated with both. After years of being in the forestry industry, I looked to be more fulfilled in my work life and decided a change was needed. Keith Liskey and BCM took a chance on me and I am forever grateful for their confidence in my abilities to be a working part of the BCM family. 

Baylor: I am the Director of Operations for BCM. When I joined the BCM team in January 2018, I worked as the Museum Manager. With 

my background in merchandising, retail, and customer service, I was a good fit to manage our Museum Store and work with the many local artisans we feature through our store consignment program. While I didn’t have experience working in a museum setting, it became a part of the job that I loved very much. BCM also hosted so many events – from concerts and shows to weddings and company parties – and I loved being a part of those as the Museum Manager. My love for working those events was one of the factors that led to me moving positions and becoming the Operations and Events Manager. Stepping into that position meant taking more responsibility over all events within the organization, especially in regard to our annual music festival, Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion. Little did I know when I took that position in January 2020 that the COVID-19 pandemic was right around the corner! The next two years, where I was navigating not only a new position but also a new world following the pandemic, was such a learning curve! My position within the organization continued to grow and adapt, and in January 2022, I became the Director of Operations.

Shauna: Since 2021, I’ve served as the Director of Development at BCM, where I lead initiatives in grants, individual giving, business contributions, sponsorships, planned giving, and our signature annual Super Raffle. My journey into professional fundraising unfolded naturally during my college years. It began when a former teacher faced a serious health challenge requiring extensive surgery. In response, a friend and I organized a fundraising event to support their medical expenses. This event’s success inspired us to continue hosting similar events for others in our community facing overwhelming medical costs. Graduating from college marked a pivotal moment when I transitioned my passion for fundraising into a fulfilling career path.

Leah: I started out as a volunteer in 2000 for Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion and was hired as the Executive Director in 2006. In 2022, I assumed the role of E.D. Of Advancement. In that role, I continue to be responsible for the festival. My role includes being a spokesperson, ambassador, advisor and fundraiser for the organization. I work with community groups, donors, government entities, the music industries and others. 

Sarah: I’m the Director of Marketing! I joined the team in 2022, where I lead all marketing efforts for all three of BCM’s branches. Prior to my role at BCM I worked in tourism in Galveston, TX and spent many years working in digital and social media marketing. While I enjoyed working in destination marketing, my heart has always been drawn to music. Growing up as a musician’s daughter, I watched my dad play bluegrass from many stages and listened to more Bill Monroe than I truly appreciated at the time. However, over the years, I began to treasure the very music I used to take for granted. In 2012, I interned at BCM as a college senior and knew one day I’d be back. I’m so glad that dream came true a couple of years ago!

Two images. Left image: June, a white woman with short grey hair wearing a black shirt and blue cardigan, is standing at a desk speaking with two people. Right image: Baylor, a blonde white woman wearing a white t-shirt, lanyard, and black baseball cap, has one arm around Leah, a white woman with short brown hair wearing a white t-shirt and lanyard.
Left image: June greets visitors at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Right Image: Baylor and Leah at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion festival. Both images are courtesy of the Birthplace of Country Music.

Have any women mentored or inspired you?

René: Yes, several! Two come to mind from my childhood: Anna Morgan and Barbara Bunn. Anna was my friend Annika’s mother and my mom’s best friend; she was also my 5th grade teacher. She wrote a novel in her youth, and today she is one of my best friends and someone I count on to have deeply meaningful conversations. Barbara was like a second mom to me, always encouraging curiosity and taking my whole family on adventures. She went back to school later in life, getting her Ph.D. in chemistry and starting Virginia Tech’s mobile chemistry lab. Both of them showed me the strength, creativity, and determination of women. When I lived in England, I worked for Professor Rosemary Cramp for a year. Rosemary was an archaeologist, responsible for excavating one of the most important early medieval sites in England. The time I spent with her was transformative — I learned so much about research, my place in the academic world, and how to get things done! My friend Susanna Baird also inspires me. She is one of the kindest people I know and one of the most talented, writing beautiful poetry and prose. And then there is my godmother Wanda Worsham, who has been the biggest cheerleader, supporter, and role model to me. She inspires me in so many ways on a daily basis — her favorite comic character is Wonder Woman for a reason! Finally, my mother Joyce mentored me through her constant love and support, even of things that scared her like my love of horseback riding and me living in a foreign country on my own for almost 20 years!

June: I don’t recall anyone mentoring me but I have had other women who definitely inspired me from the time I was a little girl. Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and Elizabeth Dole are a few of those women I looked to as having a strong influence in my life as a woman.

Paula: There have been many women who have inspired me over the years and displayed traits that have proven invaluable to me. As I try to choose one or two to list, I find myself thinking of the traits that I admire most in these women such as compassion, strength, drive, collaboration, intelligence, determination, kindness, and many others. I think of the strong core network my mother, grandmother, mother-in-law and aunts provided who raised strong families – instilling values, tenacity, respect and love. I think of teachers who taught not only academics but life lessons. I think of coworkers who have provided strength, support, teamwork, encouragement, and fun! Community and church leaders who have inspired a desire to make a difference, be a voice and step into volunteerism and community development.

Kathryn: I have been inspired by many women. Two being my mother and aunt. Both are strong, resilient women who have, by example. taught me that there is no challenge that is too large to concour. I have also been influenced by my fellow female coworkers at BCM. They tirelessly work to educate, drive, and excel in their departments all while juggling families and personal lives. I am humbled by the perseverance of my BCM family. 

Baylor: I feel that many women throughout my life have both mentored and inspired me – starting with my family. My mother was one of six daughters, and my dad had three sisters. Growing up, my Mom and my many aunts constantly supported me and helped show me what it meant to be a strong woman. I have also worked with, and for, many women throughout my career who have mentored me. From my very first job, where my boss took me under her wing and taught me so much more than was required, to female college professors, to women coworkers – I have really been lucky to feel the support of many, many women in my life.

Shauna: Absolutely! I’ve been fortunate to have been surrounded by many inspirational women in my life. Two remarkable individuals immediately come to mind. Firstly, my grandmother, India Gillespie, who is the namesake of my youngest daughter. She embodied intelligence, compassion, humor, and resilience, teaching me invaluable lessons about self-advocacy and standing up for what’s right. Secondly, Judy Franklin remains a cherished figure whom I always considered my guardian angel. Her unwavering kindness, boundless compassion, and generosity left an indelible mark on me, showcasing the profound impact one person can have on another’s life.

Leah: My sister, Sally, has always been an inspiration to me. She has always praised me when she thinks I’ve done good. However, she is quick to point out things that need more thought or could have been done better. She is always telling me she has my back.

Sarah: I’ve been inspired by so many women over the years, but the two that come to mind are my two grandmothers. My Nini, Kathleen. She taught me resiliency, compassion, and how to handle every situation with grace. My Nanny, Phyllis. She taught me to not take things so seriously and life is more fun when you take time to laugh.

Two images. Left image: Rene, a brunette white woman wearing a blue shirt, holds a large wall panel in a partially assembled exhibit gallery. Right image: Paula, a dark haired white woman wearing a black shirt and pink blazer, is speaking from a podium with the Birthplace of Country Music logo on the front.
Left image: Rene holing a wall panel while assembling the Women in Old-Time Music exhibit. Right Image: Paula speaking at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion line-up reveal press conference. Both images are courtesy of the Birthplace of Country Music.

What challenges have you had to overcome as a woman in your role?

René: I think all women face certain gender-based issues to some extent during their professional and personal lives, such as being talked over or dismissed in discussions, assumptions made about their interests or abilities, when asserting yourself is downplayed or criticized as “being emotional,” etc. We are often held to different or higher standards. I feel fortunate to have worked with many wonderful colleagues over the years at BCM where that is thankfully not the norm. I think the biggest challenge in my role as a woman has come from the juggling I do between work and home — while I am not a mother, I have helped with parental caregiving over the last several years (a role that more often falls on women), and this can make work-life balance even harder than it already is when work is the only thing on your plate.

June: I don’t really recall any real challenges as a woman in my current role. I will say that throughout my life, there have definitely been times when I was talked “down to” by men because I am a woman. My father was a very strong influence in my life and he always encouraged me to be independent in my thinking as a woman, especially. I will always be grateful to have had a father who guided me in the direction that gave me encouragement to make the right choices and speak up for myself, no matter what. 

Paula: Having worked in both the manufacturing and non-profit environments as a woman, there have been challenges. I have always searched for avenues to change perceptions, earn respect and make a difference in whatever environment I find myself a part. After all, it is the challenges that make you stronger.

Kathryn: Oftentimes a woman’s voice is stifled due to our soft spoken nature. Feeling heard and respected professionally can be a challenge at times. However, I look forward to a future where gender, race, and lifestyle choices are not judged nor are subject to preconceived notions.

Baylor: Thankfully, I feel the majority of the challenges that have come with my position have been more about understanding and executing the full scope of my work than it has been about the fact that I am a woman in this field. With that being said, I am not immune to the gender-based issues that many women face on a daily basis. Much of the work I do takes place in more male-dominated spaces, and so learning how to work within that environment can definitely be challenging. I have to give a shout out here to my Dad – I grew up working alongside him on our family farm, and never once do I remember him making me feel as if I couldn’t/shouldn’t be doing the work because I was a woman. I remember going to other farms, and people being surprised he brought his daughter, but he always just responded with “she’s the best cattle hand there is.” Make no mistake – I was not the best cattle hand there was! I know that now, but at the time I just felt proud and strong. I think having that type of support from a young age has helped me feel more confident throughout my career and definitely contributes to me not being as intimated when I’m in a situation where it’s recognized I’m a woman. Becoming a mother also presented additional challenges – trying to shift the balance to manage an already full workload and add in the new position as Mom has been extremely challenging, but rewarding! 

Shauna: Regardless of the role or workplace, navigating the challenges as a woman in the workforce is always significant and diverse. I’ve encountered numerous situations where I’ve sat at tables dominated by men, offering answers to questions or solutions to problems only to be talked over or disregarded entirely. However, I’ve learned not to let these obstacles hinder me. I make a point to assert myself—I answer the questions, provide solutions, reiterate if not acknowledged, and ensure my voice is heard even if I’m interrupted.

Leah: I have faced many challenges in my career, but I have always ignored or overcome them.

Sarah: I think women are often underestimated. This is something I use as motivation to exceed expectations, but I also think it highlights the importance of advocating for yourself and other women. 

Two images. The left image is Sarah, a blond white woman wearing a black tank top and yellow crossbody bag, taking a selfi with Charlene, a red haired white woman wearing sunglasses and a pink tie-dye shirt, while they drive a golf cart at a festival. Right image is of Kathryn, a blond white woman wearing a black and white striped shirt, sitting at her desk in her office.
Left image: Sarah (left) and Charlene (right) riding in a golf cart at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion. Right Image: Kathryn at work in her office. Both images are courtesy of the Birthplace of Country Music.

What is your favorite part of your job?

René: There are several things that I really love about my job. Firstly, I love the people I work with, and I am so proud of my team and all that they do each day. Secondly, it means a lot to me to be part of an organization that directly serves our community — from education and exhibits to the preservation of history. And on a personal level, I love being in a job where I get to learn all the time!

June: I love welcoming all our visitors! I have the privilege of meeting some of the most interesting people in the world. I also enjoy working with the wonderful artisans from our region.

Paula: My favorite part of working for BCM is that I am really working for the whole Bristol Community. Bringing new people to Bristol to discover the hidden treasure of our town. Imparting the proud heritage of the deep musical history to museum visitors and educating the next generation. Watching the crowds of people who come to Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion and LOVE our festival – and that I get to help organize and curate this event! Listening to Radio Bristol broadcast, educate and entertain a worldwide audience – that’s pretty special. But I have to say that I am blessed to work with a group of amazing people that are all driven by a passion and love for what they do and the organization they represent – that is priceless.

Kathryn: The most favorite part of my job is working with a team that is so passionate and forward thinking. Feeling support from your fellow co-workers is so inspirational. I feel very honored being a part of the Birthplace of Country Music!

Baylor: My favorite part of my job, and one of the most challenging aspects, is how it is constantly shifting. My days are never “status quo” types of days. I feel like I’m constantly getting presented with new puzzles to figure out. BCM has so many things going on all the time and I enjoy the “chaos” of working in an environment like that. It can be difficult to balance all of the moving parts, but it is never boring!

Shauna: Working at the Birthplace of Country Music offers numerous rewarding experiences. One of my favorite moments is strolling down State Street during Bristol Rhythm & Roots, witnessing thousands of people enjoying themselves, and realizing that the year-long effort was truly worthwhile. I also feel immense pride when I see elementary students learning about our region’s rich history at the Museum or witness Radio Bristol producing another successful Farm and Fun Time event. What I cherish most about my role here is knowing that my time and effort aren’t just about earning a paycheck; they’re about contributing to programs and creating experiences that significantly impact our community and region.

Leah: My favorite part of my job is working with people in the community. I have been fortunate to have been able to meet so many people in my years with BCM who have become lifetime friends and mentors to me. My wish is that I always treat people with respect.

Sarah: My favorite part of working at BCM is throwing live events. Bristol Rhythm & Roots is my favorite weekend of the year! Every morning, I drive to work down State Street and dream of the thousands of music fans crowding the streets. I take a lot of pride in knowing we’re responsible for carrying on such a sacred tradition.

If you had unlimited resources, what would your dream project be for BCM?

René: My dream project is actually one that I hope we will be able to accomplish one day — to have a Smithsonian SparkLab! as part of the museum. This would enable us to serve K-12 and families with STEAM-based activities, resources, and fun learning opportunities in really meaningful and engaging ways. Plus, it would just be super cool!

June: I would like to see the Museum become fully accessible to all physical and mental disabilities. For example, those who are blind or visually impaired and those without hearing or with hearing loss. And along with the physical disabilities, it would be so helpful to have chair lift transportation for when the elevator is out of order.

We could always use more storage space, especially for The Museum Store. We currently have a tiny closet that is very limited with its layout for storage of back stock and supplies for the store.

As much as I love our Performance Theater, it would be wonderful to have our own much larger theater also, to host bigger shows without having to utilize outside sources.

Paula: My dream for BCM is to be that organization with unlimited resources! If this staff and volunteers can produce what is produced with the limited resources that are available, what the future for the organization and the Bristol community would be with more robust resources would be amazing. Truly, my dream would be that the organization have an endowment program in place that would secure the future of the organization for perpetuity – to know that the Museum, Festival and Radio would continue and grow for many generations. Leaving the legacy of the past with the ability to build and expand toward the future is truly what makes BCM so special. 

Kathryn: A dream project for BCM would be the ability to provide travel exhibits to our regional school systems. Allowing the exhibits to come to schools rather than have the children travel would be amazing, as bus transportation has become so difficult for school systems.

Baylor: If I had unlimited resources, a dream project for me would be for BCM to travel! I would love to see BCM collaborate on and produce events all over the country. I love the idea of a “Brought to You by the Birthplace of Country Music” type of project that would reach different audiences and demographics and give us different platforms to share our story.

Shauna: I have numerous dreams for our organization, and it’s challenging to pick just one. One dream that’s coming to fruition is our event on June 1st featuring Dwight Yoakam, which I’m incredibly excited about. Another major dream project is the completion of the Museum Expansion, as I believe it will have a profound and positive impact on our community.

Leah: If I had unlimited resources (money), I would build an endowment for BCM so that we could have the staff we need to do all the things we dream about doing. For example, a robust education department, complete renovations of the Joe & Cindy Gregory Building for the expansion of the Museum, and increase the number of staff where needed, just to name a few. In closing, I would say that I have been blessed to be able to be with the organization for many years. It is an honor and a sense of pride for me because I love and believe in the work that we do each and every day every day. 

Sarah: If I had unlimited resources, my dream would be to grow our team!

Radio Bristol Spotlight: The Dimestore Cowboys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Lon’s Vinyl Record Collecting Guidelines

 Lonnie “Big Lon” Salyer is a vinyl record historian focused on local independent studios and labels in Southern Appalachia. His show “Diggin’ With Big Lon” airs weekly on WBCM Radio Bristol. 

Hey ya’ll this is Big Lon checking in to make sure you are aware that August 12th is National Vinyl Record Day, a celebration of vinyl records, their history, and their significance in music and culture. If you’re interested in collecting vinyl records, here are some guidelines on what to collect, where to find them, and how to store and clean them. 

A selfie of Big Lon inside of the Radio Bristol studio space holding a record with that reads "The Birthplace of Country Music Bristol" on the front. Big Lon (Lonnie) is smiling and wears a fedora straw hat and studio headphones.
 Big Lon is a Radio Bristol DJ and avid vinyl record collector. 

First off there’s not a wrong answer on what to collect, it all depends on you and what makes you happy. Music provides both a connective social bond and an individual experience, and no two people have the same tastes or collective life journeys. Collecting vinyl records bridges both realms together in a tangible format you can hold in your hand. I’m still learning and certainly don’t know all the answers but here’s my two cents based on my collecting experience.

What should I collect Big Lon? I’d answer that with what do you like about music? What are your motivations when it comes to hobbies, investments, collecting, socializing?  I can break this down into five basic categories to consider. First, what’s your personal connection with music? A great way to start is collecting records that have sentimental value to you on a personal level. Do you remember a song from Saturday morning cartoons or a song that you used to listen to with your grandfather on the drive to and from fishing trips? It may be as simple as the music you and your friends liked back in college or middle school. Make a list of all those songs you connect with as a bucket list you’d like to have on vinyl. Secondly, what genres of music and artists do you like? You can focus on records from your favorite artists or specific genres like heavy metal or even eras such as 1950’s jazz. This will be a great starting point that can lead to discovering similar artists or labels that specialize in the genre of music you like. Maybe you want to get into vinyl for the collectible aspect because you heard of valuable vinyl records and want to invest in records in hopes of your collection growing in value. Limited editions and limited pressings can fulfill this option. Limited releases, colored vinyl, and special editions can be valuable and unique additions to your collection. A great example is this limited pressing orange vinyl 45rpm release by Blake Berglund, recorded at The Earnest Tube in Bristol and released on Armadillo Tail Records. 

A closeup of a bright orange colored vinyl 45rpm record. The text on the front of the record reads "armadillo tail recording company presents" and the bottom text reads "Blake Berglund" in larger lettering with smaller text. An armadillo with his head inside of a cowboy boot is also on the record.
Limited orange vinyl 45rpm record in Big Lon’s collection.

Befriending the owners and sales people at your local vinyl record shop can lead to insight on when new releases will hit the shelves or what unique items your local shop will be getting for Record Store Day, which occurs annually in April. A fourth option is focusing on classic iconic albums that have had a significant impact on music history. A simple google search of the greatest or essential vinyl records in a genre you are interested in or maybe the top 20 of multiple genres so you can build a diverse interesting collection to match your mood or the social crowd you are having over for dinner or a cup of coffee. A final category I recommend is obscure and rare records. Once you get a little experience in vinyl collecting this one tends to happen organically. Seek out records that are hard to find or have historical significance. It can be that local band that you remember from high school that put out one independent record or whatever inspires you. For me, the hard-to-find Kingsport label from the 78rpm era of the early 1950s is one I actively collect.

A graphic collage of records with the text "Kingsport" labeled clearly. In the middle of the collage is a promotional graphic image of Big Lon. He is wearing a fedora straw hat and holding two records.
Big Lon’s Kingsport Records collection featured on an airing of Diggin’ With Big Lon on Radio Bristol.

Big Lon, where do I find vinyl records? We’ve already touched on visiting your local record shops to get an understanding of what they offer. Local record stores often have a diverse selection of vinyl records, both new and used. These stores can be a great place to discover hidden gems and interact with fellow enthusiasts. Online marketplaces like eBay, Discogs, and Amazon offer a wide range of vinyl records for sale. You can find rare and collectible records from various sellers. I’m a member of several Facebook groups of like interested collectors who specialize in specific record genres or format sizes such as LPs (33rpm), 78rpm or 45rpm. Flea markets and thrift stores are essential. Get to know those in your community. These spots can be treasure troves for vinyl collectors. You might stumble upon valuable records at affordable prices. In addition, don’t overlook estate sales and garage sales; occasionally, people sell off their vinyl collections, often at reasonable prices. I’ve personally bought four records that are valued over $1,000 each for a buck or less at rummage sales and from flea market dealers. Another great avenue is music festivals and conventions. Sometimes music events and conventions include vinyl vendors or the artists will have a merchandise table selling vinyl records along with t-shirts and swag. As you get your bearings in the hobby and a focused list of what you are looking for, I recommend record fairs. These events gather multiple sellers in one place, offering a variety of records for sale. It’s a great opportunity to network and learn more about collecting. I host one for Fun Fest in Kingsport, TN to meet new vinyl enthusiasts and network to find records on my want list.

A promotional image of Big Lon's vinyl record expo. The poster features a colorful graphic that resembles 6 hot air balloons in a circle. The background is black with blue clouds and stars. The text reads "Big Lon's Vinyl Record Expo at the 2023 Kingsport Fun Fest July 16 Civic Auditorium 10-4. 1,000's of 33's, 45's, 78's and More!"
Big Lon’s Vinyl Record Expo, July 2023.

How do I store vinyl records Big Lon? The key is vertical storage. Heavy flat stacks of LP’s and especially 78rpm records can cause damage. Store records vertically to distribute weight which helps prevent warping. Use record crates, shelves, or dedicated record storage units. Keep records in protective inner sleeves to prevent scratches and dust buildup. Outer sleeves can safeguard the album covers. For loose 45rpm or 78rpm records, your local record shop most likely carries packaged sleeves you can utilize to protect the vinyl. Climate control is a major priority. Direct sunlight can warp and damage the vinyl and fade the covers. A cool, dry environment is ideal. Extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations can warp records or cause labels and covers to mildew. I’ve run across records with mold growing in the grooves from dirt and debris in wrong storage climates, like records found in musty basements.

OK Big Lon, what if I find the perfect record but it’s not been well cared for, what do I do? Here are some tips for cleaning records: first, handle records correctly by their edges and avoid touching the playing surface with your fingers. This keeps the oils from your skin off the vinyl to avoid the collection of dust and dirt. Sometimes what’s perceived as scratches or skips can be resolved with a gentle cleaning of the grooves. Use a carbon fiber brush to remove dust and debris from the surface before playing. A microfiber cloth can help clean the album cover. Invest in a good cleaning solution or cleaning system. I personally use Pristine Platters and a microfiber cloth for light cleanings and a system called Spin Clean for more challenging cleans. Both products as well as several similar products can be found online or at a local record shop. A static roller can work wonders to remove pops and crackles associated with static energy build up. Some collectors come up with their own system for cleaning records. Research any household cleaners before you use them to make sure they don’t contain chemicals that can damage your vinyl collection. Dry your records including the labels before putting them back in the sleeves and before putting them on your turntable.

Collecting vinyl records can be a rewarding and enjoyable hobby. Remember that each collector’s journey is unique, so feel free to tailor your collection to your personal preferences and interests.

Happy collecting!

Local & Regional Record Stores 


Example Record Collecting Facebook groups 

Radio Bristol Spotlight: Lightnin’ Charlie

By Ella Patrick Radio Bristol Production Assistant

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 series – Radio Bristol Spotlight. Radio Bristol Spotlight is a series highlighting the 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.

Songwriter, storyteller, and soul-seeker local “songbook man” Lightnin’ Charlie recently paid a visit to Radio Bristol. Decked out in a velvet burgundy 3 piece-suit, and a black flat-topped cowboy hat, Charlie shared songs from his forthcoming release Life, and spoke with us about his journey as a working musician in the Tri-Cities. Well known in the area as a longtime staple in the music scene, Lightnin’ is also known for his magnetic personality and eclectic style, and can regularly be spotted cruising down State Street in his vintage Lincoln Limousine with the words “Lightnin’ Charlie” streaked down the side. “Lightnin’” has been a working musician since the mid 1980’s, making “good music for good people” and possesses all the musical chops and sordid stories of late night bar brawls to prove it.

Lightnin’ Charlie posing next to his vintage Lincoln Limousine, courtesy of Lightnin’ Charlie.

Charlie started things off in the studio with an unbelievably good cover of “Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me”. Accentuated by his silky blues-tinged voice, Lightnin’ played his expertly crafted rendition of the tune made a hit by Harry Nilsson in the late 1960s. Charlie shared with us that his musicality has always had a wide scope encompassing sounds from 60’s pop, classic rock, rootsy delta blues, and reflects his lifetime obsession with Elvis Presley, and his ability to effortlessly blend together different styles of music. When talking to Charlie you recognize instantly that he has an incredible depth of musical knowledge with a massive rolodex of a repertoire spanning multiple genres and decades. 

His repertoire and original music has won him regional accolades. He’s been voted favorite musician of the mountain south by Marquee Magazine several years in a row, and nationally he’s won awards such as best in piedmont blues at the International Blues Challenge held annually in Memphis, TN. Over the years Charlie has opened for countless large nationally touring acts such as BB King, Bobby Blue Bland, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Albert Collins. He even joked with me about Garth Brooks opening for him when Garth was just getting started at the National Guard Armory in Johnson City, Tennessee and about how he once taught Kenny Chesney how to plug in an XLR cable to a microphone. More recently Charlie ended a four year long residency at The Barrel House in Jonesborough, Tennessee that was always sold out, and extremely well attended by his large group of fans known affectionately as “The Lightnin’ Bugs”. You can find where Charlie will be performing, and catch his online stream of “The Lightnin’ Charlie Show” on his Facebook page 

Charlie began “playing out” while attending college at East Tennessee State University, when Walnut Street was “a happening” teaming with late night venues such as Poor Richards, and Quarterbacks. Local acts would be stacked up burning the midnight oil for college kids, and crowds that poured out of famed Johnson City historic venue, The Down Home. Known back then as Chip Dolinger, “Charlie” stumbled onto the scene and by his words when he accidentally became a lead singer when the band he was playing guitar for auditioned singers and couldn’t find the right fit. The then pre-med student found himself with gigs piling up, and gained his moniker “Lightnin'” from a friend who was sitting in the crowd at a show and said you playing like you were struck by lighting! Lightnin’ Charlie has tons of tales about his adventures of being a working musician and has compiled them in his book, Lightnin’ Charlie Off the Record the Trials and Tribulations of a Travelin’ Troubadour

Another song Charlie shared with us on air that will be featured in his forthcoming release was originally written by Washington state folkie, Danny O’Keefe; Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues. His version was recorded just before the pandemic at a Canadian based studio; Mushroom Studios. Charlie and his wife Elizabeth who regularly sings backup for his project happened on the recording space while visiting her brother in Canada. The studio houses a slew of vintage recording equipment collected from Bill Putnam’s United Western Recorders, considered legendary for turning out such albums as Brian Wilson’s production of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, and recording countless artists such as Sam Cooke, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and many many more! Lightnin’ Charlie’s new release is due out in spring of 2023 and is sure to wow his fanbase. To keep track of upcoming releases and learn more about Lightnin’ Charlie’s upcoming projects visit his website. 

Charlie closed out on air with an original song dedicated to his son called “The Gift of Wisdom”. The heartfelt acoustic tune instills tidbits of wisdom collected from a life well lived. One thing any listener can’t help but notice about Charlie is the joy he experiences from telling stories through music, a joy which is as uplifting as it is infectious. Artist’s such as Lightnin’ Charlie are the bread and butter of working musicians in this area, and we’re thankful to spotlight artists who continue to produce new exciting music throughout their career. Check out Charlie’s live performance in our studio and keep your ear to the ground for his new album Life.

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.


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

By Ashli Linkous, Marketing Specialist & Photographer

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Radio Bristol Spotlight: Logan Fritz

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

Earlier this year we hosted a local artist who is definitely on the rise: Logan Fritz, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. Fritz has been working as a musician in the region since he was just 12 years old. Growing up as a kid to a single parent in nearby Abingdon, Virginia, he learned early on that local breweries would pay him to come and perform, and the young troubadour ran with it – the extra cash only added to his passion to learn and write more.

Black-and-white photograph of two musicians. The male musician is to the left -- he is white, wearing a hat, glasses, and a patterned button-down shirt. He holds a guitar. The female musician is to the right, with long dark hair and wearing a patterned dress. They are in a radio studio and you can see two microphones to either side and the glass window of the booth behind them.

 Logan Fritz pictured with McKenna Blevins during their visit to Radio Bristol.

Fritz has since worn many musical hats, including producing for regional artists Adam Bolt and Andrew Scotchie, playing guitar for now-major acts like Morgan Wade, and regularly hosting open mics at Wolf Hills Brewery. The 24-year-old has masterfully honed his craft while working full-time as a musician, and he recently released an impressive self-produced album titled Pickin’ Up the Pieces . Recorded with his longtime band Fritz & Co at Classic Recording Studio here in Historic Downtown Bristol, the album is laden with heavy roots rock and Appalachian soul vibes, rolling acoustic guitar, and splashing country-tinged backbeats, all of which accompany Logan’s languid vocal fry that sounds like Lou Reed and Tom Petty crossed hairs with a winsome cowboy. Fritz’s recent release glitters as a luminous affirmation to the young songwriter’s talent.

While in our studio Fritz shared songs from the new album, spoke about his collaboration with other regional artists, brought insight to his creative process, and spoke freely about experiences battling depression and addiction. He was also joined on air by his significant other, McKenna Blevins, an excellent harmony singer and songwriter in her own right. The pair started things off with an acoustic rendition of the title track from Picking Up the Pieces. The song’s lyrics deal with tribulations found while coming of age and the bare-bones honesty it takes to hold oneself accountable for self-actualization. The song itself has some of the most breathtakingly vulnerable lyrics I’ve heard in a long while, words that stare flat-faced at the human condition with equal parts compassion and truth. You can find the lyric video for “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” below – though fair warning: it may bring a tear to your eye like it did mine!

Fritz and Blevins were childhood friends and met in Wise County when Fritz was attending a camp for theatrical performance. Currently the couple hosts a weekly show at BoneFire Smokehouse in Abingdon, which showcases other regional performers and is definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for great live music. Their chemistry as duet partners adds to the lyrical depth of their music with wonderfully polished vocal performances, the likes of which has been landing the duo major gigs recently, such as opening up for Jakob Dylan at the Paramount. I also want to encourage folks to listen and follow Fritz and Co. on Spotify here, it won’t be long before you see this act on the big stage so be like the cool kids and get on the Fritz fan boat early.

Apart from his newest album Fritz has also helped produce other artists such as Adam Bolt, one of the region’s favorite songwriters. This past year the two combined forces again at Classic Recording Studio to produce Gazetteer, a four-track EP that thematically explores the songwriter’s relationship to place and ability to feel connection to physiological space through the physicality of land. Complete with a blazing horn section and 1980s windswept country-fied twang, the production value on these songs feels expansive and extremely detail oriented. Electric guitars comb through well-crafted verses supported by a wall of vocal harmonies; listening to the songs you can’t help but recognize that putting this together was no small feat. It also feels like Fritz has just scratched the surface of his potential as a producer, something that he plans to expand on further with Ashville rocker Andrew Scotchie next year. To listen to Gazetteer and get a feel for Logan’s musical vision visit the link below.

While in the studio Fritz and Blevins also sang some new material, including the song “Sew It Seems,” which is part of a collection of singles Fritz plans to release sometime this year. He expressed his excitement to keep working and moving forward as a songwriter, and we can’t wait to hear what Fritz releases next. Part songwriter, part musical mastermind – be sure to keep your eyes peeled for live appearances and new music from Fritz and Blevins. To hear their performance “Sew It Seems” in our studio, check out the video below:

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crystal Gayle, “Miss the Mississippi and You”

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

~ Clint Holley, Pressing Matters

Jorma Kaukonen, “Prohibition Blues”

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

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

~ Marshall Ballew, Off the Beaten Track

Jimmie Rodgers, “Waiting for a Train”

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

~ Bill Smith – Crooked Road Radio Hour

Jimmie Rodgers, “Last Blue Yodel”  

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

~ Ella Patrick, Folk Yeah!

Leon Redbone, “T.B. Blues”

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

~ Scotty Almany, Scotty’s Tune Up


Kris Truelsen is the Radio Bristol Program Director.

Radio Bristol’s Top Albums of 2022

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

49 Winchester // Fortune Favors the Bold

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

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

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

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

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

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

The A’s // Fruit

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

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

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

Brennen Leigh// Obsessed with the West

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

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

Charlie Crockett // Man from Waco

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

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

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

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

Willie Carlisle // Peculiar, Missouri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 S. G. Goodman // Teeth Marks

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

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

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

Melissa Carper // Ramblin’ Soul

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

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

Vaden Landers // Lock the Door

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

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

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







Radio Bristol Book Club: The Star Fisher

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!

This month’s book is The Star Fisher by Laurence Yep, a book featured in Reading Appalachia: Voices from Children’s Literature, a special exhibit that was on display at the museum in 2019. Based on Yep’s mother’s childhood, The Star Fisher tells the story of 15-year-old Joan Lee, a Chinese-American girl who moves to West Virginia from Ohio in 1927. Joan and her siblings speak English but her parents only speak Chinese, and while she knows that they are all Americans, no one else seems to see her and her family that way. As they struggle to put down roots in their new town and run their laundry business, Joan encounters prejudice and racism but also kindness. Amidst these experiences, Joan believes that her desire for respect and acceptance mirrors the Chinese legend of the star fisher, a half-bird/half-human creature that sees with two sets of eyes – and so Joan sees life as an Asian and as an American. Aimed at upper elementary and lower middle school readers, this book wonderfully explores the story of an Asian American’s experience and the importance of treating everyone with empathy and respect.

Book cover with the drawing of a young Asian American girl standing at a fence with a house behind her. You can also see the expansive blue night sky and mountains behind her. She is wearing a blue top or dress, and her black hair in in pigtails/braids. She has her chin on one hand and gazes at the sky.

Born in San Francisco in 1948, Laurence Yep published his first story – a science fiction piece – when he was only 18 years old. Yep has said that he often felt torn between mainstream American culture and his Chinese roots when he was growing up, and this theme has often come to fore in his writing throughout his career. Focused on children’s literature, Yep has written over 70 books and other works, including two Newbery Award winners in his Golden Mountain series. The Star Fisher was published in 1991 and was followed by a sequel called Dream Soul in 2000.

A Chinese American man with dark, slightly graying, hair is smiling at the camera. He wears glasses, a greenish-blue checked shirt with a dark blue fleece or sweater vest over it. He has his arms crossed.

Portrait of Laurence Yep from a 2001 article in the Seattle PI

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, December 22 at 12:00pm for our discussion of The Star Fisher. 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 it! 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 (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for January 2023 is Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, January 26. Check out a full list of the books we will read in 2023 here, where you can also listen to archived shows.

Rene Rodgers is Head Curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and an avid reader.

Radio Bristol Book Club: Voices Worth the Listening: Three Women in 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!

Voices Worth the Listening: Three Women in Appalachia is a powerful look at the lives of three different women from different parts of Appalachia. This oral history paints a complex picture of the region through the unique yet relatable experiences of these interesting women. Their lives are influenced by issues such as race, class, drug culture, education, socioeconomic mobility, self-blame, dysfunctional family, religion, and perseverance, and their stories will resonate with the experiences of people in and outside of the region. This carefully crafted oral history faithfully recounts the lives of these women using their own words to expand the readers understanding of Appalachia and Appalachians.

Image of the book's cover, which shows a black-and-white photograph of what looks to be a rock and wooden beam structure with three blank framed rectangles (windows?) in the center.

Thomas Burton was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He graduated from David Lipscomb College before continuing his education at Vanderbilt University where he earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature. He taught at East Tennessee State University from 1958 until his retirement in 1995. During his time at ETSU he directed the Appalachian-Scottish Studies Program and was appointed Professor Emeritus in 1996. Dr. Burton has conducted many oral interviews in the Appalachian region and published several books including The Serpent and the Spirit: Glenn Summerford‘s Story, Serpent-Handling Believers, and Beech Mountain Man: The Memoirs of Ronda Lee Hicks. He also transcribed and edited Rosie Hicks and Her Recipe Book. He excels at presenting oral histories in text in such a way that brings the reader back to the speaker.

An older white man with grey hair and a white beard. He is wearing a charcoal suit jacket or blazer over a light blue shirt, and he is standing at a wooden dais with a microphone.

Author Thomas Burton.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, November 17 at 12:00pm (a week earlier than usual due to the Thanksgiving holiday the following week) for our discussion of Voices Worth the Listening: Three Women of 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 (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for December is The Star Fisher by Lawrence Yep; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, December 22. Check out a full list of the books we have read in 2022 here, where you can also listen to archived shows. Our 2023 Radio Bristol Book Club list will be added to the show’s page soon!

* Top image: Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Image by James St. John and taken from Flickr

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