The Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion (BRRR) is a lively annual street festival on the Tennessee/Virginia borderline that celebrates the musical history of the Southern city known as the “Birthplace of Country Music.” Earlier this month, more than 100 bands— from national headliners to regional Appalachian bluegrass pickers—came to Bristol to play on 17 stages throughout downtown over a span of three days. The second weekend of September felt more like the years before the pandemic, with large crowds gathering to hear their favorite bands, even in the rain.
BRRR was established in 2001 to help celebrate the legacy of the genre-defining 1927 Bristol Sessions, and accordingly the festival hosts top artists in the roots music world.
This year’s lineup included country icons Tanya Tucker and Rosanne Cash. In addition, every type of Americana music (country, blues, folk, bluegrass, rock, and more) was represented, with artists like JJ Grey & Mofro, The Wood Brothers, 49 Winchester, The War & Treaty, Sierra Ferrell, and Del McCoury Band playing throughout the weekend.
While sounds rang through the air, artisan vendors lined State Street selling everything from tie-dyed shirts to hot sauce. Interweaved into the streets of downtown Bristol were some of the best food vendors from throughout the region. Cumberland Square Park also hosted a beer garden where concertgoers could relax and grab a drink under a shade tree while listening to tunes.
Emerging roots music buzz band 49 Winchester played to the largest crowd at this year’s BRRR, with the audience extending halfway down State Street. The group, local to nearby Russell County, had people singing and dancing in the streets to their gritty southern rock tunes.
Sierra Ferrell packed the Country Mural Stage and soothed those listening with her hypnotizing soft-toned voice and jazz/country-style music. The War & Treaty led an energy-packed set on the State Street stage, which gained the attention of many concertgoers, and fellow artists such as Tanya Tucker, who had them join her on stage later that evening.
Tuatha Dea, a family band playing Celtic and rock classics, was one of the best up-and-coming acts to perform and refreshing discovery for many.
Closing out this year’s festival, Rosanne Cash, Johnny Cash’s eldest daughter and a four-time Grammy winner stated, “So much of my personal history and cultural history is tied up in this very spot on earth,” referring to the Carter Family’s participation in the Bristol Sessions. Cash later said, “I owe the Carter family a tremendous debt because all of those Carter women, the first things I learned on the guitar was those Carter Family songs.”
A large crowd gathered to listen to her play many of her hit songs. And just like that, it seemed like everything was back in rhythm.
Photos by Josh & Jody Moore