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.
“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!
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!”
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.
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
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.
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
“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.
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
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.
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”
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
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 BelieveInBristol.org, and for more on Bristol and the surrounding region, visit DiscoverBristol.org.
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.
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!
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.
In contrast you may find characters on a mission, like Tallahassee inZombieland 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:
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.
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.
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!
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?
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!
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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.