Decisions, Decisions: From Twinkle in the Eye to Band at Bristol Rhythm - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Decisions, Decisions: From Twinkle in the Eye to Band at Bristol Rhythm

By Brent Treash, May 4, 2017

How does my band get booked for Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion?

This has to be one of the most popular questions I get when someone learns I’m on the music committee for the festival.

For the answer, let me pull you up a seat to the table and offer you a biscuit, because that’s the payment the nine members of the committee get for thousands of hours of listening to music, negotiating with agents, and handling special requests from bands during the festival. I’m not complaining. It’s a great biscuit.

Members of the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Music Committee enjoy the fruits of their labors during the 2016 festival. © Laken Fontaine

The individuals sitting around that table all have day jobs that pay the bills for our musical addictions. We’ve got a teacher, a lawyer, public relations experts, radio personalities, contractors, and more. Most of this group has been together for the better part of a decade – so we know each other’s likes and dislikes. I know when a band I’m pitching is going to make one-person nod in approval, and I know when I’m going to get pelted with jokes about the band being “just another guy with a guitar.” (Thanks, Randy.)

Let me be clear: the meetings may happen over biscuits on scheduled Saturdays but the conversations never seem to stop. It’s hard to recall the last time I didn’t have a Facebook message, email, or phone call from a band or someone connected to the festival.

But let’s head back to the table, where I bet you’re ready to dive into the main course: the headliners. It’s a big part of the festival – they are at the top of the poster after all! And they are the ones that we are continually asked to divulge by friends and family before the official reveal.

Finding those special two or three bands for the top of the poster is an intricate process. Lots of potential headliners get volleyed about during our discussions, and many factors, like budget and availability, come into play. It’s not easy to land those special artists that our fans want to see, and every year my heart breaks over the band that got away. Everything has to fall into place to make one of these big bookings happen, and we are always grateful when the stars align and allow us to bring artists like Emmylou Harris, Robert Randolph, Buddy Guy, Bela Fleck, Steve Earle, and Lucinda Williams to the festival.

The cost of music shocks many people, and some of the bands we would love to have would take our entire budget.  Amazing, Top 40, or even huge Americana acts and stadium bands deserve everything they’ve earned, and so we seek out those artists while they are on the way up. We’ve done this with bands like Old Crow Medicine Show, The Avett Brothers, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and St. Paul & The Broken Bones, to name a few. It’s finding the next Avett Brothers or the next Carolina Chocolate Drops that keeps many of us going.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones performed at the festival in 2013 and 2014. © Birthplace of Country Music

I love going to shows or down internet rabbit holes in the search for new music. I can easily get lost in websites like Pandora, YouTube, and Spotify with no real idea where the journey started.

I also just love to ask questions. Who should I be listening to? What bands are other bands listening to? If you asked me which artist I’m most excited to see at the festival in 2017, the answer would be an up-and-coming singer-songwriter sent via Facebook Messenger by a friend. (Thanks, Greg.)

The author backstage at the Piedmont Stage. © Ed Stout

The reality of it all is that there is so much that goes into building a festival roster. I could go on and on about radius issues, backlines (I actively avoid stages where I know my help might be needed in carrying a piano), transportation, and about a dozen other things it takes to get a musician from a pitch at the table to performing on one of our 20 stages.

Yet what I think you most need to know is that we all take this very seriously. There is no glory. There is no plaque that comes with discovering that artist that breaks out each year at the festival.

We do this because we love Bristol. We do this because of our history.

We work hard to plan the musical soundtrack to the annual celebration of our roots, and we are always amazed and grateful that you all show up to see it. That’s the jelly on a fine buttermilk biscuit.


Brent Treash is this year’s Festival Chair and serves on the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Music Committee. May 4 is the “big reveal” of the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion headliners, all the acts, and the festival poster so check out to find out more!

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