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

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

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

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

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

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

In my late teens and early adult years, I became increasingly withdrawn.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

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

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

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

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

Unwrap the Joy: Birthplace of Country Music’s 2023 Holiday Gift Guide is Here!


Are you ready to rock around the Christmas tree and surprise the music lover in your life with gifts that hit all the right notes? 🎄🎵 Well, buckle up because the Birthplace of Country Music‘s holiday shopping guide is dropping some serious beats and festive treats!

From vintage vibes to strum-tastic swag, our curated collection is here to transform your gift-giving game into a chart-topping hit! And the best part? You can snag these melodic masterpieces both online at BirthplaceofCountryMusic.org and in person at The Museum Store inside the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

But wait, there’s more! When you shop with us, you’re not just getting awesome gifts – you’re supporting a nonprofit that’s all about keeping the music alive. 🎶✨ Your purchase goes the extra mile, helping us continue our mission to celebrate the rich musical heritage that makes our community sing.

And speaking of community, let’s crank up the volume on supporting small businesses! Explore the wonders of Historic Downtown Bristol, where local shops are ready to make your holiday shopping as unique as a catchy country tune. Your support means everything! 🌟🛒

Get ready to sleigh the season, support local, and spread the joy of music! Happy holidays, y’all! 🎅🤘 #ShopSmall #MusicMagic #HolidayHarmony

Weekend Passes to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

2024 Weekend Pass packaging with Christmas background.

Buy Now! | $135

Why settle for a run-of-the-mill present when you can gift an experience that will be music to their ears? Weekend passes to the 23rd annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival (Sept. 13-14) isn’t just a gift – its the key to a sonic adventure that traverses the magic of live performance, foot-stompin’ beats, and the electric energy that only this legendary festival can deliver. The colorful packaging for festival wristbands is a presentation in itself and contains a postcard you may send to a friend! 🎁🎸

Bristol Rhythm Swag

Photo of 2024 festival shirt, weekend pass envelope and trucker hat.

Buy Now! | $35 Shirt, $30 Hat

Deck yourself in fresh festival flair with a 2024 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion t-shirt and Honky Tonk trucker hat combo! Infused with the spirit of the music-filled weekend, these must-have accessories are more than just stylish – they’re a badge of support for the Birthplace of Country Music. Embrace the groove and let the world know you dig the Bristol Rhythm vibe! 🎸🧢

Bristol Babies
A photo of a toddler aged boy wearing a Bristol sign t-shirt with insets at the bottom of photos of a wooden train whistle and a little book entitled "It's Bristol Baby."

Buy Now! $23.99 Shirt, $12.99 Book, $11.99 Train Whistle

Introduce the youngest members of your tribe to the heart of Bristol with our delightful collection of kid-friendly treasures! From adorable Bristol sign T-shirts and onesies to the charming baby book “It’s Bristol, Baby!” and the timeless joy of an old-fashioned wooden train whistle – these gifts are a whimsical journey into the essence of our beloved city. Immerse your little ones in Bristol’s culture from the get-go, creating memories as cherished as the melodies of a Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. Let the fun begin, and watch as the magic of Bristol unfolds for the next generation! 🚂👶

Roots & Branches

A pendant dangling from a bronze chain. The pendant is made from twisted bronze wire, and shaped into a tree in the center. The "leaves" of the tree are made of tiny stones.

Buy now! $45 Necklace

Elevate your style with the “Tree of Life” necklace, a stunning creation handcrafted by local artisan Kathryn Jenkins. Crafted from intricately woven copper wire, this exquisite piece not only complements your wardrobe but also serves as a symbolic ode to our Appalachian heritage. With every delicate detail, the tree becomes a timeless emblem of our roots, connecting wearers to the rich tapestry of our community. Embrace the artistry and spirit of the Appalachians with this uniquely crafted necklace. 🌳✨

Vintage VibesPhoto of the Radio Bristol gramophone t-shirt.

Buy now! $20.00 On Sale!

Show your support for independent radio in style by donning the WBCM Radio Bristol “Putting the Roots Back in Radio” t-shirt in a beautiful shade of deep teal. This shirt isn’t just a fashion statement; it’s a bold declaration of support for the authentic voices that independent radio brings to our ears. Featuring a vintage gramophone design, it’s a nod to the roots of radio that paved the way for the diverse tunes we love today. Wear your support proudly and showcase your love for the airwaves with this cozy and chic tee. 🎙️👕

It’s 5:00 Somewhere…

Photo of a wine cup made from pottery. It features a rabbit design etched into the cup.

Buy Now! $50.00 Wine Cup

Sip in style with the enchanting handcrafted wine cup by Jen Otey of MOONbow ARTworks. Residing in the Appalachian Mountains of Southwest Virginia, Jen infuses her creations with the magic of the region’s natural beauty. Each cup is a testament to her artistic prowess and passion, offering a whimsical touch to your sipping experience. Elevate your moments with a piece of art that not only captures the spirit of the Appalachians but also supports the creative endeavors of a local artist and educator. 🍷🎨

Art Imitates Life

A photo of two fine art prints: watercolor drawings of Johnny Cash's mugshot and another of Dolly Parton.

Buy Now! $40.00 Johnny Cash, $40.00 Dolly Parton

Bring the legends of country music to life with Richard Graves‘ stunning fine art Giclee prints, featuring Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. As a Neo-Appalachian artist hailing from the Wolf Hills of Abingdon, Virginia, Graves infuses his work with a captivating blend of portraiture, figure drawing, and the surreal. These prints not only pay homage to the iconic voices of Cash and Parton but also serve as windows into the creative spirit of the Appalachian region. Each print comes in two sizes, 8″ x 10″ or 11″ x 14″. Elevate your space with the essence of music icons, crafted by a local artist with a unique and visionary touch. 🎨🎶

Hitting all the Right Notes

A display of the Tennessee Ernie Ford CD Box set contents including the cover of the album, a book with liner notes, and the CDs.

Buy Now! $139.95 Box Set

Immerse yourself in the timeless melodies of a true American icon with the “Tennessee Ernie Ford: Portrait of an American Singer” CD box set. This meticulously curated collection spans Ford’s inaugural twelve years as a recording artist (1949-1960), capturing the essence of his unparalleled musical journey. With a comprehensive 120-page hardcover book and 5 CDs featuring 154 tracks, this box set celebrates the legacy of Tennessee Ernie Ford, a native of Bristol, Tennessee, and one of America’s most treasured entertainers. 🎤🎶

A Taste of the Region

A photo of the book entitled "Past & Repast: A Fine Collection of Recipes, A Panorama of Food, Facts & Faces, Bristol Historical Association. The cover of the book depicts vintage black and white photos of the historic Bristol Sign, a photo of a historic marker, and a panoramic vintage photo of downtown Bristol.

Buy Now! $35.00 Recipe Book

Embark on a culinary journey through time with the “Past & Repast” cookbook from the Bristol Historical Association. This delectable collection not only brings together recent and vintage recipes from local culinary enthusiasts, but also serves up a visual feast with captivating pictures and stories from the rich archives of the BHA. Dive into the flavors of Bristol’s history and savor the traditions that have seasoned generations, all while supporting the preservation of local heritage. Spice up your kitchen with this delightful blend of recipes, anecdotes, and community spirit. 🍽️📖

Flavor of the Season

A photo collage of Birthplace of Country Music brand Apple Butter, Apple Cinnamon Jelly, Dutch Apple Jam and Apple Cinnamon BBQ sauce.

Buy Now! $4.95 – $8.95 Assortment

Indulge your taste buds in the sweet symphony of the season with Birthplace of Country Music’s apple-infused delights! Elevate your holiday spread with the warm, comforting flavors of apple butter, the zing of apple cinnamon jelly, and the irresistible sweetness of Dutch apple jam. For a savory twist, drizzle your festivities with the delectable apple cinnamon barbecue sauce. Each jar is a delicious nod to the Appalachian orchards, making these delights the perfect addition to your festive feasts and a thoughtful gift for fellow food enthusiasts. 🍎✨

Wishing you and your family a joyful holiday season from all of us at the Birthplace of Country Music! 🌟🎄

CLICK HERE to shop The Museum Store online for more great gifts!




Why High School Students Should Totally Come to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

This edition of the BCM Blog is contributed by Coleman Austin, our marketing intern and senior from Virginia High School. He’s been attending the festival with his friends since he was a middle school student, so we asked him for his perspective on the experience. Here’s what he had to say...

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion has been a part of my life since I moved to Bristol in 2012. I go to the festival every year I can and love it! Bristol Rhythm is such a fun experience for everyone. The festival always has something to do, for kids and adults. I highly encourage all my friends to go with me, and they always enjoy it regardless of if they like folk/country music or not. Going to the festival is an amazing opportunity for everyone to experience different walks of life, different people, and to learn about historic Bristol’s downtown and how country music came about.

Photo collage of 49 Winchester on stage at the festival, a backstage photo of Michael Trotter of The War & Treaty and audiences enjoying festivalThe Live performances are the main attraction at Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, there is something for everyone. This year’s artist lineup consists of some big names such as Margo PriceNickel Creek, 49 Winchester, Bruce Hornsby, and so many more that you can find here. There are well over 70 performers at Bristol Rhythm this year. The most popular genres of music at the festival consist of Americana, folk, blues-rock, folk rock, country, and bluegrass. I never knew I was a folk music fan until Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion! The festival features tons of up and coming artists, for example I got to see Rainbow Kitten Surprise at Bristol Rhythm in 2019 before they shot up as stars in the music scene. Rhythm and Roots has hosted The War and Treaty, Charley Crockett, Lucy Dacus, and so many more before they got their music fame. Luckily I have been at the festival in past years and been able to see these bands and artists perform first hand and been able to call myself a fan of theirs before they blew up.

Little girl reaching up to a tall street performerSome of my favorite things about the festival are not necessarily going to all the live performances with my friends but everything else Bristol Rhythm has to offer also. Bristol Rhythm has so much more to offer than the live performances. Some of my favorite things to do at the festival other than the live performances consists of walking the streets and seeing downtown Bristol decorated for the festival, hanging out with friends at Cumberland Square Park, stopping by all the food trucks and trying new food, making new friends, and shopping on the streets of downtown just to name a few things. Although I am not of age anymore to participate in Children’s Day I still have very fond memories of the event. Children’s Day is held on Sunday in Anderson Park from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.. There you can expect to see food trucks, arts and crafts, and live entertainment. For more information on Children’s Day you can click here.

My friends and I have created very fond memories at Rhythm and Roots. The festival truly is like no other. You will never run out of things to do, people to meet, food to eat, or music to listen to too. It is a great experience, and I believe everyone, especially in the local area should try going at least once. There is something for any bodies of any age at Bristol’s very own Rhythm and Roots. For more information on the festival click here.

Group of young people smiling
Friday, September 9, 2022.
Photo Credit : Earl Neikirk/Neikirk Image