Detour from Bristol Rhythm to Wise: Riding the Road to RTE 23 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Detour from Bristol Rhythm to Wise: Riding the Road to RTE 23

By Dave Stallard, August 23, 2017

The idea for what would eventually become the RTE 23 Music Festival dates back to a drive home from work in the fall of 2008. As I was headed up the mountain to my home in Wise, Virginia, I was ruminating on a simple thought: how could we bring the cool music of Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion to Wise? Though I lived in the heart of Southwest Virginia, Wise residents who loved live music generally traveled to Bristol, Johnson City, or Kingsport – more than an hour’s drive from home. For some, the drive and the distance to hear live music were problematic.

At that time, I was the current chair of the music committee for Bristol Rhythm. I took the idea to festival director Leah Ross (now Executive Director of BCM) about the possibility of doing some outreach in Wise. She agreed that it was a great idea.

Quick phone calls to a couple friends started the ball rolling, and in February of 2009 we began our first concert series on the campus of The University of Virginia’s College at Wise. Over the next five years, we hosted shows and festivals on both the UVa-Wise campus and in downtown Wise, bringing in bands like St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Folk Soul Revival, The New Familiars, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Last Train Home, Erick Baker, Dave Eggar, and more.

The evolution of our concert series to what would become RTE 23 began in the fall of 2013. Chatting with the folks who were involved with staging these concerts, we began to feel like we wanted to put all of our eggs in one basket, to create something bigger. In other words, instead of several smaller shows, we wanted one big one. And so that original thoughtful drive in 2008 culminated in the first RTE 23 Music Festival in 2013, which saw us partnering again with our good friends at UVa-Wise.

Love Canon and Elliot Root delighted the crowd at last year’s festival. © Jason Wamsley

The 2013 festival was quite an endeavor, bigger than our previous events and more complicated. We put together a fantastic lineup for this first RTE 23, one which included The David Mayfield Parade, Sol Driven Train, Jarekus Singleton, and Derek Hoke. Early in the planning, we knew that we wanted to tap into the spirit of our work in Bristol and feature an eclectic, rootsy lineup – and that diversity was on show with our first performers for sure.

We have continued down that route in the crafting of the lineup for more recent festivals, including The London Souls, Love Canon, Desert Noises, Annabelle’s Curse, This Mountain, and many more wonderful artists. Our goal continues to be to offer an experience that is varied and diverse, and we carry that out each summer with festival bills that feature bands from across the Americana soundscape.

This year’s festival on August 26 – our fourth – promises to be the best yet. We have streamlined the lineup, going from four acts to three, and have assembled what we believe to be the best collection of bands offered by a festival in Wise County this year. Budding southern rock guitar titan Marcus King and his band will headline the festivities. Rounding out the bill are vintage soul rockers The Broadcast, out of Asheville, and Demon Waffle, an energetic ska band from Johnson City.

Festival fans enjoying local libations and great music. © Jason Wamsley

In recent years, we’ve added wine, beer, and first-class food options from local and regional businesses that showcase the very best our region has to offer. There are so many talented producers in this area, and music is always more enjoyable when paired with the good things in life!

It is also important to mention that all of the events we have ever produced in Wise have been absolutely free to our patrons. How have we managed to do that? Simple. We have been blessed with incredible financial support from an array of sponsors in the area. We have presented our vision of what we want to do with RTE 23, and our community has responded with tremendous support. Without these great folks, we could not do what we do.

The team behind RTE 23 is incredibly proud of what this festival has become. It is a labor of love that requires hours of scheming, planning, and work. Hopefully you will come to Wise and join us for a great evening of music!

Fans of all ages love RTE 23! © Jason Wamsley

Guest blogger Dave Stallard is a member of the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Music Committee and one of the organizers of the RTE 23 Music Festival in Wise, Virginia.

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