A Recap of the Festival on the Tennessee/Virginia Border
Last month, another milestone in the ever-growing lineage of Bristol’s music history was recorded. Returning after a year of uncertainty, the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion took place during the second weekend of September, bringing a mix of national acts and regional Appalachian favorites to the downtown main drag of State Street, which runs along the Tennessee/Virginia border. There were smaller crowds than usual, but the music was as lively as ever. With autumn-like temperatures and a lineup including Blackberry Smoke, A Thousand Horses, Charlie Crockett, and the final performances of Folk Soul Revival, the festival continued to honor and carry forward traditions established in the city known as the Birthplace of Country Music.
Smiling faces filled the streets of Bristol, as many people checked out the goods from local vendors before heading off to catch a set at one of the 13 stages scattered throughout the historic downtown.
Rising Americana stars 49 Winchester started on the Piedmont stage on Friday, gathering a crowd that rivaled many of the headliners. They went on to play the State Street Stage on Saturday and finished with a set at Cumberland Square Park on Sunday, covering all three of the main stages during this year’s festival. These southwest Virginia natives were the talk of the festival, drawing throngs of fans that were captivated by the group’s gritty Southern-hued rock tunes.
“The Reunion means so much to 49 Winchester, as a band and as individuals,” said the band’s bassist, Chase Chafin. “Most of us have been coming since we were in elementary school with our families, and from an early age we got to see everything from legendary roots music songwriters to really cool local indie bands right in our backyard. It’s in our DNA for sure and now we have played everything from the dive bars to the main stages.”
Headliners Blackberry Smoke wowed the crowd with Southern rock riffs and unforgettable melodies, while Amythyst Kiah’s larger-than-life voice soared through the streets as she sang songs like her Grammy-nominated track “Black Myself.”
Long time Bristol favorites Folk Soul Revival offered their last performance and had many people weeping as they played through favorites like “Other Side” and “Honey Do” for the last time before a large crowd of loyal fans, known as “The Congregation.”
Charlie Crockett sang his way into many people’s playlists at the festival with a fantastic set performed on the Piedmont stage. Charley’s classic country sounds had the audience dancing in the street, singing along, and cheering him on.
A Thousand Horses tied the whole festival up, putting their stamp on this year’s event with an energy-packed performance was a great way to close out the weekend.
Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion blended sounds both old and new, offering a variety of current and up-and-coming artists in the place where country music started a century ago.
Added Chafin: “The love and excitement is in the air as soon as you step onto State Street and it’s definitely still the show that we look forward to the most each year.”
All photos by the author, Josh Moore