Blog Archives - The Birthplace of Country Music
Loading station info...

The Stories of I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music, Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard

Voice Magazine for Women, a free, monthly publication distributed regionally in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to 650 locations, partners with the Birthplace of Country Music an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, to take you inside the special exhibit I’ve Endured: Women Old-Time Music, on display at the museum through December 31, 2023. Each month through the duration of the exhibit, Voice features impactful stories of the hidden heroines, activists, and commercial success stories of the women who laid the foundation for country music. Inspiring, insightful, and Dolly-approved, you may just find a piece of yourselves, or a loved one, in the stories of some of these hidden figures in American music.

With their permission, we have duplicated our “I’ve Endured: Woman in Old-Time Music” special feature article for this month – we hope you enjoy it! To read this month’s issue in its entirety, click here.

The Stories of I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music
Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard
By Guest Contributor Charlene Tipton Baker

old Photo of Alice Gerrard posing with guitar with no shoes
Alice Gerrard, Photo by Henry Horenstein

“When I was 13 years old I heard a Hazel Dickens song and it changed my life. I would not be doing what I do without her, Elizabeth Cotten, Ola Belle Reed, Alice Gerrard, and so many other incredible women featured in this exhibit.” ~ Molly Tuttle

Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard were two of the most influential bluegrass musicians of the 20th century. Their focus on women’s issues and their influences from old-time music helped to create a unique sound that set them apart from their male counterparts. Their contributions to the genre continue to be felt today, as they have inspired countless musicians and helped to shape the sound of the genre.

Dickens was born in the coal mining community of Mercer County, West Virginia, and though she later moved to Baltimore, she continued to be an advocate and activist for mine workers and their families. A native of Seattle, Washington, Gerrard was exposed to folk music while in college. The duo met in Washington, D.C., in the early 1960s and quickly formed a musical partnership that would last for several decades. They recorded their first album together, Who’s That Knocking? in 1965. Featuring a mix of traditional ballads and original compositions, the album showcased their vocal harmonies and instrumental skills. It was a critical success and helped to establish Dickens and Gerrard as influential musicians in the bluegrass scene.

Hazel Dickens sitting down playing the guitar outside
Hazel Dickens, photo from the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection, 1965—1989, #20004, Southern Folklife Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

One of the most significant contributions that the duo made to bluegrass music was their focus on women’s issues. Their music often addressed themes of social justice, economic hardship, and the struggles of rural women. In a genre that was largely dominated by men, Dickens and Gerrard were trailblazers for women in bluegrass music.

Gerrard and Dickens’ influence on the genre can be seen in the many female bluegrass artists who have followed in their footsteps – along with women in other genres who have been inspired by their example. Women such as Emmylou Harris, Naomi Judd, and Claire Lynch have all cited Dickens and Gerrard as significant influences on their music. Additionally, the all-female country band, The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks), has credited Dickens and Gerrard with inspiring their sound and their approach to songwriting.

In an interview with the Washington Post in 1996, Naomi Judd recalled the moment she and a then 12-year-old Wynonna first heard the album Hazel & Alice:

“Their whole sound was so unpolished, so authentic, they were unabashedly just who they were – it was really like looking in the mirror of truth. We felt like we knew them, and when we listened to the songs, it crystallized the possibility that two women could sing together.”

Dickens was the first woman to receive the Merit Award from IBMA and was presented with a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2001, the highest honor for folk and traditional arts in the United States. A tireless advocate for traditional music, Gerrard has earned numerous honors including an International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Distinguished Achievement Award, a Virginia Arts Commission Award, the North Carolina Folklore Society’s Tommy Jarrell Award, and an Indy Award. Dickens and Gerrard were inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame in 2017.

Last fall Smithsonian Folkways released newly remastered editions of their first two albums Who’s That Knocking? and Won’t You Come and Sing for Me? The albums had been unavailable on vinyl for over 40 years. On the same day, Folkways released Pioneering Women of Bluegrass: The Definitive Edition, which included every track recorded by the duo for Folkways in addition to a bonus track. The CD features notes and an essay by Gerrard who is now 88 years old and still performing. Dickens passed away in 2011 due to complications of pneumonia. She is often referred to as the “First Lady of Bluegrass.”

Stay tuned! Next month’s I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music spotlight will focus on renowned Piedmont Blues guitarist and singer Etta Baker who performed music up into her 90s. The North Carolina native said she received chords for her music in her dreams. Artists such as Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd cite Baker as an influence on their own music.

To learn more about I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music, visit!

“Enjoy the Pluck:” The Farm and Fun Time Heirloom Recipe with Michael Henningsen

Radio Bristol’s Farm and Fun Time is the flagship show of Radio Bristol’s programming, and it continues to grow in popularity as we begin reaching a broader audience through the magic of television! Music is just one part of the cultural celebration that is Farm and Fun Time. Each show also includes various segments focused on our region’s culture and traditions. The “Heirloom Recipe” segment has become a fan favorite.

The segment highlights the significant role food plays in our region’s culture. Just as one ingredient can be used to make many dishes, a recipe can mean many different things to different folks. Each recipe presenter, ranging from park rangers to professional chefs to authors, brings a distinct recipe with a meaningful history behind it. To round out the segment, Bill and the Belles performs an original jingle written to commemorate each recipe and the story presented.

Cooking and passing down recipes is a big part of Appalachian culture, and the stories that go along with them often become part of our family – and wider – lore. Our recent contributor Michael Henningsen presented on the wonders of the polarizing Scottish staple known as “the common man’s meatloaf” – haggis! We spoke with Michael about the history of this famed (and sometimes shamed) dish.

A bearded Michael Henningsen standing behind a bar, holding a bottle of wine. He is wearing period clothing including a straw hat with a black ribbon, a jacket and plaid vest and a neckerchief.
Michael Henningsen in character as Scottish poet Robert Burns.

“During the early settlement of the Appalachians, the local tavern, or ‘ordinary,’ was the center of music and dance. The Scots who settled here brought with them their music, instruments, dance, ideas, and ethics. Two characters who were prominent in influencing the culture of the area were Robert Burns – the national poet of Scotland – and Niel Gow, the famous Scottish fiddler. Their fame grew in Scotland during the American Revolution, and they at times performed together, often complementing each other’s work. Burns’ loyalty to the English crown was frequently called into question as much of his work seemed to promote the American cause, even scribing an ‘Ode to George Washington’ and his ‘Ballad of the American War.’ Although Burns and Gow never played the colonies, it was in the taverns where Burns’ verse would be recited by local poetry societies and Gow’s jigs and reels would keep feet dancing until the wee hours of the morning. It is believed that the American square dance can even be traced back to taverns in Southwest Virginia, who engaged full-time dance instructors to teach the young ladies and gentlemen all the popular dances of the day – Appalachian style!

Henningsen piercing a haggis with a long knife/short sword while it sits on a wooden sideboard.
Henningsen taking a stab at cooking haggis.

In the ‘ordinary,’ a weary traveler could find good company, lively music, a warm bed – although you may be sharing that bed with a stranger – and you could find ‘ordinary’ food like ‘peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.’ For the Scots, extra-ordinary food would have to wait for special occasions, and one such dish was what Burns dubbed the ‘chieftain of the puddin’ race’ – the haggis! Haggis is a stout sausage made of lamb and roasted grains, particularly known for including the ‘pluck’ of the lamb – the liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs boiled in the stomach as a casing. Haggis was considered farm food, only fit for peasants, until Robert Burns immortalized the haggis in his poem, ‘Address to the Haggis.’ Often referred to as the ‘Heaven-taught Ploughman,’ Burns fancied himself a farmer, and much of his work brought honor to the common man and common struggles, helping usher in the ‘romantic’ era of the arts. Today, Robert Burns is honored annually at Burns suppers around the world, featuring the music, song, dance, and culture of the Scots. Central to the evening’s festivities is the grand entrance, address to, toasting to, carving of, and dining on the chieftain of the puddin’ race … the Haggis!”

Address to a Haggis poem and its translation.

Michael Henningsen is Executive Director of Corps Values Music Heritage (CVMH), a local non-profit organization dedicated to “bringing history to life through music.” They offer History Alive! Tours as an educational service that tells the stories of Southwest Virginia through the eyes of folks who lived here and influenced our culture – particularly the Scots, whose music and dance are at the heart of so much of Appalachian culture.

Do you enjoy a hearty helping of haggis from time to time? Watch the full “Heirloom Recipe” segment below including an original haggis jingle “Enjoy the Pluck” performed by Bill and the Belles! For more heirloom recipes watch Farm and Fun Time weekly on Blueridge PBS, East TN PBS and WUNC TV.

A (Safe) Weekend Getaway to Bristol

The COVID-19 pandemic may have foiled our plans for Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion this year, but you don’t have to cancel your trip. Bristol, Virginia-Tennessee is a great little getaway, and it’s the perfect opportunity to experience things you’d otherwise miss hopping from stage to stage at the festival. Plus, a Bristol visit is more economical than trips to larger cities and way less crowded – a great option for satisfying your need to travel while keeping your distance during the pandemic.

Get a Room

View of Bristol sign and mountain range from Lumac rooftop bar above The Bristol Hotel.
The view from Lumac rooftop bar above The Bristol Hotel.
Photo credit The Bristol Hotel

Maybe in festivals past you haven’t been able to snag reservations at the fabulous Bristol Hotel or gotten to see the newly opened – and stunning – Sessions Hotel, which honors our cities’ legacy as the birthplace of country music. Both hotels are located in our Historic Downtown so they are steps away from everything State Street has to offer, plus they have amazing dining options. From drinks with a view at Lumac or The Rooftop to fine dining at Vivian’s Table or Southern Craft, each location offers all the comforts of home in a sophisticated atmosphere. Vision Day Spa and Salon is slated to open in September at The Sessions Hotel, so call ahead to book that much-needed spa package! The Sessions Hotel also offers a package that includes a visit to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Both hotels are taking social distancing precautions for your safety. Call ahead for more information.

The Museum

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
Photo credit Birthplace of Country Music

Speaking of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, fans of Bristol Rhythm may not always have time to stop and explore it during the festival. Planning a trip to Bristol apart from the event allows time to dig into the musical history of the region and the legacy of the 1927 Bristol Sessions – the reason the festival exists! An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, this award-winning, interactive museum offers an unforgettable experience that’s truly world-class. Come for the permanent exhibits, and the stories they tell, and you can also explore different special exhibits. Right now, we have Real Folk: Passing on Trades & Traditions through the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program (through August 30). And coming soon you will be able to explore Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music, 1972-1981, featuring the photographs of Henry Horenstein, on display September 29, 2020 through March 28, 2021, along with two small displays celebrating the women’s suffrage movement and the centennial anniversary of women gaining the right to vote from the Smithsonian Institution and the Tennessee State Museum. Additionally, your health and safety is priority one at the museum. Masks are required by all guests, volunteers, and staff, groups are socially distanced, and heightened sanitizing practices are firmly in place. Learn about the museum’s Healthy Business Certification by clicking here, or click here to watch a brief video about the museum’s safety measures.

The Underground Scene

Photo of the inside of Bristol Caverns.
Majestic Bristol Caverns.
Photo credit Bristol Caverns

“Far below the earth’s surface, in the timeless beauty of Bristol Caverns, a strange and exciting experience awaits…” reads the website description for this wondrous attraction that Native Americans used as an attack and escape route by way of underground river. A popular location for school tour groups, these caverns are a rite of passage for elementary school kids across the Tri-Cities region. During the pandemic, school tours are likely on hiatus, so September would be a great time to check it out. Tours are scheduled every half hour and masks are required. Schedule in advance to guarantee a more private and socially distanced experience. A little further away in Blountville, Tennessee, Appalachian Caverns is dog friendly and offers primitive tent camping.

Park It

Three men playing Disc Golf at Steele Creek Park.
Disc golf, obstacle course, biking, and hiking at Steele Creek Park.
Photo credit

Steele Creek Park in Bristol, Tennessee and Sugar Hollow Park in Bristol, Virginia are terrific for light hiking and biking excursions. A few trails within Steele Creek offer a bit more of a challenge. Sugar Hollow offers on-site camping for RVs with social distancing and health screening required. The Nature Center, train, and paddle boats at Steele Creek are closed for now, but the disc golf course is super-fun and a great excuse to get outside for some friendly competition.

Jump in the Lake

Lovely view overlooking South Holston Lake with fluffy clouds in the sky.
South Holston Lake
Photo credit

Bordered by the Cherokee National Forest, South Holston Lake is an outdoors playground, with over 10,000 acres of reservoir and 160 miles of shoreline. Boat rentals are available at Laurel Marina or Painter Creek Marina and there are lots of little islands and coves to explore once you’re out on the open water. Each location has a restaurant on-site or you can pull into a guest slip at Lake View Dock’s Wheelhouse for lunch or dinner. Social distancing is a rule at the restaurants, and some marinas require masks unless you are dining.

Go Fish

2 fishermen showing off the catch of the day for the camera. One man is giving a thumbs up, the other is holding a nice sized fish.
Catch of the day!
Photo credit South Holston River Lodge

South Holston River is a fly fisher’s paradise and considered one of the best locations for smallmouth bass and trout in the Southeast. Go your own way or let one of the pros at South Holston River Lodge take you on a guided journey surrounded by natural beauty. Cabins at the Lodge are also available for rental, and the lodge is taking extra precautions for health and safety during the pandemic.

Ride “The Snake”

Deep sh-shaped curves along HIghway 421, what  motorists call The Snake 421
The Snake 421 weaves through the Cherokee National Forest.
Photo credit Dave Richard

Top off your weekend with a nice Sunday drive along The Snake 421, a favorite among motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts. Journey from State Street to State Route U.S. 421 along a 37-mile section of road between Bristol and Mountain City, Tennessee that offers 489 curves. The journey takes you across South Holston Lake, over three mountains, and down to lovely Shady Valley, Tennessee. Keep an eye out for bears and other wildlife and don’t forget the Dramamine. On the way there or back, be sure to take a quick drive across South Holston Dam, the third-largest earthen dam in the world. There’s a picnic area and a small visitors’ center installation on site where you can learn more about this amazing project. Fun fact: 342 families and 559 graves were relocated in order to build the dam, which was completed in 1950. The flooding inspired author William Hill to write the fictional novel Dawn of the Vampire, where he imagines the undead rising from the depths to prey on the living. Chilling!

Other Fun Stuff

The iconic Bristol sign reads: Bristol VA Tenn A Good Place to Live
The Bristol Sign.
Photo credit Briana Morris

So whether it’s a stay-cation or a full-blown weekender, a trip to Bristol could be just what the doctor ordered for pandemic blues as long as you play it safe. Downtown is filled with great restaurants and breweries that offer curbside service and/or distancing, and there are also lots of great spots to picnic and unwind. If you want to learn more about what’s happening Downtown, visit, and for more on Bristol and the surrounding region, visit

Cardio, Double Tap, and Other Stuff Scary Movies Taught Us About Avoiding COVID-19

Cool Spooktacular Bristol Rhythm playlist included!

I think we can all agree 2020 has been one giant dumpster fire. As we enter the Halloween season, you might be thinking reality has become a little like living a scary movie. This got me to thinking: if this were a scary movie, how could we flip the script? Hasn’t the horror genre taught us everything we need to know about surviving until the credits? And because every good Halloween flick needs a killer soundtrack, I’ve included a Spooktacular Bristol Rhythm playlist on Spotify to aid in your assault on COVID-19, with nearly five hours of music by your favorite festival artists! From the trailer through the double feature, we got you covered.

Various memes about 2020. 1) A dumpster on fire with 2020 captioned. 2) Rod Serling from the Twilight Zone captioned "Historians Introducting A Documentary about 2020 - What you're about the watch is a nightmare." 3) A sign that says "I wanted zombies this virus sucks. 4) Someone holding a protest sign that reads "This episode of black mirror sucks."
Top 4 memes of 2020.

Please understand, I mean no disrespect. My intent is not to make light of the pandemic, its victims, or the tragedies we are facing as a society. COVID-19 has attacked my industry and many others, our friends and family, cancelled our favorite festival and now my favorite holiday – Halloween. But if the horror genre has taught me anything, it’s that light almost always conquers darkness, and that keeping a sense of humor through hard times is crucial to survival. But. Like Laurie Strode beat down the Boogeyman, I’m ready to kick some COVID ass!

Ultimate scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in John Carpenter's 1978 masterpiece Halloween. A pandemic mask with tiny Halloween pumpkins has been photoshopped to her face.
“I got your mask right here, Michael.”
Ultimate scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece Halloween. Credit Compass International Pictures, Falcon International Pictures, and Falcon International Productions.

An examination of the zombie sub-genre of horror by masters Romero, Kirkman, Boyle, Brooks, and Fleisher is essential right now because their work imparts an over-arching social commentary, including the dissection of human behavior, during times of fictional global crisis. Therein you may find one section of the population, like besties Shaun and Ed of Shaun of the Dead, who just want to wait it out over pints at The Winchester until help shows up.

Cast members of the film Shaun of the Dead sitting in a booth at The Winchester pub raising up pints of beer and smiling.
Liz (Kate Ashfield), Shaun (Simon Pegg), Shaun’s Mum Barbara (Penelope Wilton), and Ed (Nick Frost) “waiting it out” over pints of beer at The Winchester, a neighborhood pub.
Good times.
From the 2004 feature film Shaun of the Dead, credit Rogue Pictures, StudioCanal, Working Title Films

In contrast you may find characters on a mission, like Tallahassee in Zombieland who would face down a horde of the undead for a single Twinkie. Eventually Tallahassee meets up with Columbus and learned there are rules. If those rules were applied to the here and now, they kind of make sense. Let’s break it down:

Columbus (Jesse Eisenburgh) and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and the search for Twinkies in Zombieland 2009.
Credit Columbia Pictures, Relativity Media, Pariah.

Rule #1 – Cardio (References the ability to outrun danger.)
Conditioning during the pandemic isn’t the worst idea. Stay strong, friends!

Rule #2 – Double Tap (Always make sure a zombie is decommissioned, i.e. a second shot to the head)
When a sink is nowhere to be found, have sanitizer ready as a back up. Go for the big guns and hit that pump twice so you’re covered.

Rule #3 – Beware of Bathrooms (Don’t get trapped with your pants down.)
Public restrooms can be sketch, so make going potty in a strange place a fun game! It’s called “Not Touching Stuff with Your Bare Hands” and anyone can play! Be resourceful, get creative! Give yourself points for ingenuity!
Judge if you will, but I was playing this game for years before COVID-19 because poo.

A tidy midcentury modern looking bathroom with someone about to open the shower curtain from inside the bathtub.
The bathroom in room 237 at The Overlook Hotel appears clean, but it’s very, very dirty.
1980 The Shining, credit Warner Bros., Hawk Films, Peregrine, Producers Circle

Rule #4 Seatbelts (For obvious reasons.)
Okay, this one really won’t protect you from COVID-19, but I mention it because it’s a safety precaution, just like wearing a mask, and seatbelts don’t seem to trigger anybody into a political argument. You just wear ’em and shut up about it.

Rule #7 Travel Light (You never know when you need to bolt.)
Wallet? Check. Keys? Check. Mask and hand sanitizer? Check, check.

Four people in a car wearing seatbelts with COVI-19 masks photoshopped to their faces.
Mark (Will Poulter), Christian (Jack Reynor), and Dani (Florence Pugh) believe in safety first, but their first mistake was trusting Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren).
From Midsommar 2019 credit A24, B-Reel Films, Nordisk Film, Square Peg.

Rule #17 Be a Hero (Amended rule from the previous, don’t be a hero–sometimes you have to be a helper.)
Imagine how many times you’ve distanced, masked up and not infected anyone with COVID-19! You’re already a hero!

Sigourney Weaver in the movie alien stalking her prey with a big gun and wearing a photoshopped COVID mask.
Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) knows what it takes to be the final girl.
From Ridley Scott’s legendary sci-fi horror film Alien, 1979. Credit Brandywine Productions.

Rule #22 When in Doubt, Know Your Way Out
Don’t be afraid to say “no” to situations that don’t make you feel safe. These are extraordinary times, and the sooner we lick this thing, the sooner we can all get back to normal.

Rule #31 Check the Back Seat
Can’t find your mask? Did you check the back seat?

Actor Alex Wolff in the driver's seat of his car looking pensively into the rear view mirror.
You don’t want to know what was really in his back seat.
Alex Wolff as Peter in 2018’s Hereditary, one of the greatest and most
disturbing horror movies of the last decade.
Credit PalmStar Media, Finch Entertainment, Windy Hill Pictures.

Rule #32 Enjoy the Little Things
Don’t take anything for granted. Let’s show each other some kindness and compassion, and be grateful for all the little things that make us happy. Like family, friends, and good music!

Several cast members of the show The Walking Dead standing in a field at sunset holding weapons as if they are ready for battle.
Even through a zombie apocalypse, Rick Grimes and the gang understand that the key to living their lives with unmasked freedom is by having a good moral compass, protecting the group, and taking down walkers (a.k.a. zombies) with a swift headshot.
The cast of The Walking Dead credit American Movie Classics (AMC), Circle of Confusion, Valhalla Motion Pictures, Darkwoods Productions, AMC Studios, Idiot Box Productions

One positive thing about scary times and scary stories is what they teach us about ourselves. Even the most unassuming characters can turn out to be the toughest and most resourceful, and there is safety in numbers when we all choose to stick together and do the right thing. I pray we all actively choose to be heroes and protect each other, because our lives just may depend on it. I desperately want us all to dance together next year during Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion on State Street without masks and without the threat of COVID-19. Even scary stories sometimes have happy endings, and after all we’ve been through in 2020, I think we deserve one.

We hope you enjoy this musical Halloween treat from us: A Spooktacular Bristol Rhythm Spotify Playlist! From Appalachian murder ballads to rip-roarin’ rockabilly monster rock, some roots songs conjure an atmosphere worthy of any big screen thriller. I dug down deep into the vault of past Bristol Rhythm artists to come up with some killer tracks for this season of the witch – and found dozens of chilling tunes that rattle bones and tell some scary little stories of their own.

Down with the Sickness: Protecting Our Local Live Music Culture

We are a little more than six months into the COVID-19 global health crisis. Though statistics in the U.S. are through the roof, states are in varying stages of reopening, the quarantined masses suffer from Spring fever, and Americans are divided into two camps: those who believe COVID-19 is a real concern and those who do not. As Virginia and Tennessee reopens, locally we’re seeing more and more people in restaurants and shopping centers, and some venues are starting to test the waters of hosting live music after a three-month drought. The opportunity for musicians to get back to work is a great thing, right? But I can’t help asking, is it safe?

Lawrence Olivier in the thriller Marathon Man
“Is it safe?”
Lawrence Olivier as Dr. Christian Szell in an iconic scene from the conspiracy thriller Marathon Man (Paramount Pictures 1976).

Back in May, I contributed a BCM blog post called The Day Live Music Died, which examined the toll COVID-19 was having on our Bristol area music scene. At that time, we were a little over a month into the national emergency; restaurants, bars, and a slew of live music venues had been shuttered, and the income of touring artists was confined to whatever online sales could be generated by selling merch and asking for Venmo tips during livestream concerts. The music industry as a whole was forced to hit pause. Fast forward to this:

Chase Rice Concert
Country music singer Chase Rice’s now- infamous selfie captured during a concert on June 27 outside Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.

On Saturday, June 27 videos surfaced from a blatantly non-socially-distanced Chase Rice concert at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee. The country singer performed the show before an unmasked crowd of around 1,000 fans just as the number of COVID-19 cases in the Volunteer State was peaking at an all-time high of over 43,000 and 609 deaths. Rice was unapologetic in a video released to his Instagram page following the controversial show. Fellow artists Kelsea Ballerini and Jason Isbell checked his audacity on Twitter, then on Tuesday The Today Show covered the story and revealed Chris Janson had performed a similar concert in Filer, Idaho that same weekend.

I get it. Artists are losing their wealth by not touring. Concerts are their number one source of income. But if they truly care for their fans, as Rice claims he does in his video, don’t they have a responsibility to make sure venues hosting their concerts are enforcing social distancing guidelines to keep fans – and artists – safe at their shows?

The number of active COVID-19 cases and deaths in the United States are at an all-time high right now. On July 1, the Centers for Disease Control had reported a staggering 127,299 deaths and 2,624,873 total cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. alone – that was 43,644 new reported cases from the day before. In comparison, the population of Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia combined is 44,352. Let that sink in.

COVID-19 Graph
Current COVID-19 sitch available at

So what does this mean for artists here at home who desperately need income but are facing this very difficult situation? My advice to them would be to seek out venues that are taking their safety, and the safety of their patrons, very seriously. Social distancing is really the best solution for restaurants that offer live music, and I think the venues should state their protocols in writing for the artist and be open to working with them if they don’t feel they can safely perform.

A few years ago my interest in helping local musicians led to a side hustle as a booking agent and publicist. Last year I transitioned to mainly booking music at Lumac Rooftop Bar at The Bristol Hotel here in downtown Bristol, which has been amazing. When the pandemic hit, Lumac went dark for nine weeks. In late May, when the Commonwealth of Virginia entered Phase 2 of reopening, the hotel decided to book live music again to help revive the scene they had carefully cultivated over the previous year.

Though I was excited to book local musicians again because they desperately needed the work, I was also very nervous. I am super protective of the artists I work with and the hotel staff, and I have formed some lifelong friendships in both circles. Personally, I have been practicing social distancing and working from home since the onset of the pandemic. I have autoimmune issues, and my husband and I are caring for family members who likely would not survive if they caught the virus. I continue to be conflicted about sending artists into public spaces where I myself will not go. Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love live music and going to shows, and I made it a point to see as many performances as I could before COVID-19. These days I enjoy live shows online from the comfort of my couch.

Virginia’s guidelines on live music as of May, 27, 2020.

I read through Virginia’s guidelines for reopening and spoke with hotel management at length about safety protocols. The hotel’s general manager, Sean Copley, immediately put me at ease and reassured me that staff would go above and beyond to make artists feel protected and safe. He was equally concerned for the health and safety of his staff, along with the bar’s patrons, and incorporated some of my suggestions for live music into their protocols. In accordance with Virginia guidelines at the time, Lumac was allowed to reopen at 50% capacity – which is around 50 people – with tables seated six feet apart. Bar stools were removed as seating around the bar, and performers had to be distanced from patrons. Performances would be held outdoors on the patio, and Lumac provided more distancing between the artist and patrons than was mandated by the state. If artists were uncomfortable using the elevators, hotel staff would help load their equipment on the elevator for them while the artist was given access to the back stairwell.

Momma Molasses performing at Lumac Rooftop Bar above The Bristol Hotel May 22, 2020, all dolled up in her signature style and handmade cowgirl mask with fun fringe!

Ella Patrick, a.k.a. Momma Molasses, (who also hosts Folk Yeah! on WBCM Radio Bristol) agreed to be the first artist back to Lumac after the long hiatus. I spoke to her at length about safety precautions over the phone so she could make an informed decision about whether or not to take the gig. I also detailed that same information in the confirmation email I send out to all the artists. After the gig, she texted me the photo above and a heart emoji-filled message. It did my own heart good knowing she was back to earning a living, and that her experience was so positive.

I also reached out to JP Parsons, “Bristol’s own troubador” and host of Appalachian Travels on WBCM Radio Bristol, to perform the following evening, laying out all the safety measures. He had been performing a lot of shows online during the pandemic, and for a potential live show, he consulted his wife Shana before agreeing to perform. They have a young son together who I knew they’d want to protect, so I wasn’t sure if he’d take the gig. When I asked him how he felt about performing live at that time, he said, “I feel like if you know the location and the audience, I don’t really worry because I would be more careful not to get too close to people and just play my music. Hopefully stay healthy, protect myself and keep protecting others, but no one knows. I feel okay going.”

(L) Sullivan County, Tennessee COVID-19 spike on June 30, (R) Washington County, Virginia numbers on July 2.

On June 26 Bristolians were saddened to learn that one of our favorite Downtown eateries, Blackbird Bakery, had temporarily closed after announcing one of its employees had tested positive for COVID-19. On June 30 Sullivan County, Tennessee reported a spike in COVID-19 numbers, which jumped to 87 new cases in one day, with the total number standing at 174 cases. Combined with neighboring Washington County, Virginia, that’s 239 total cases in the region directly surrounding Bristol. These numbers may seem small in comparison to other communities, but those numbers could triple and quadruple quickly based on what we’re seeing across the country.

After news of Blackbird Bakery broke, Parsons took to Facebook to cancel his band’s July 4 performance at O’Mainnin’s Pub. A group I had booked to perform at Lumac reached out to me to cancel a scheduled July 3 show, also due to the spike in cases. Hotel management was so concerned that they asked me to cancel Amythyst Kiah‘s July 4 performance on the rooftop as well. Both venues are located about a block from Blackbird, and with all of these cases hitting so close to home, no one wanted to risk a heavy holiday crowd that could potentially create even more infections in our community.

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion’s 20th anniversary celebration rescheduled for September 10-12, 2021.

On Monday, July 6, the Birthplace of Country Music delivered the heartbreaking news that our beloved festival, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, would not take place this September as planned. With tears in my eyes as I write this, I can’t tell you how devastating this is for me emotionally. This would have been our 20th annual event – a huge milestone – and it isn’t happening. I will write a blog about this a little later and share with you all of the events leading up to the final Board of Director’s decision, which I stand by 100%, but for now I will only say this: events like ours would not have to cancel if such an alarming number of people weren’t still getting sick and dying from COVID-19.

It makes me hopeful to see our local music community doing what it can to protect our neighbors, especially when there are so many out there distorting the facts and showing complete disregard for the health of our community. The last few months have undoubtedly been difficult, with many pandemic-related hardships and challenges, but COVID-19 doesn’t care that it’s summer and that we’ve all been cooped up for months and can’t wait to get out of the house. It also doesn’t care who you are, how old you are, or where you stand on the issue. If we want to see live music again on a regular basis in Bristol, see our downtown businesses thriving instead of shutting their doors, and get our musicians back to work, we must do everything we can to keep each other safe. I, for one, am glad to be part of a music community that recognizes its responsibility to protect us and takes action to stop COVID-19 from taking more lives.

In closing, I beg you – pretty please, with sugar on top, wear a mask, wash those hands often, and practice social distancing as much as possible to keep our community safe and prospering. Thank you, in advance.