Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion is just that, a reunion—a gathering of musicians from many genres of American music. Twenty crowded stages were scattered around downtown Bristol, packed at all times it seemed. Every corner I turned was full of beautiful music and amazing smells from the food vendors. Set up along State Street and Lee Street, vendors of all kinds were selling handmade goods, clothes, and most importantly, cold drinks.
Friday Evening At Bristol
My wife and I arrived shortly after 6 p.m. on Friday via the shuttle bus from the Bristol Mall. I couldn’t believe this was my first time at the festival, as I live just thirty minutes away in Church Hill, Tenn. I stepped off the shuttle and made my way to State Street, which was packed with people hopping from one stage to the next, shopping, eating, and having a great time.
Peering down State Street, the State Street Stage sits right in the middle of the road, just below the Bristol sign. A perfect setting for the city of two states. I arrived just in time for The Waybacks, who are a fantastic Americana band and a great set up for Railroad Earth. Railroad Earth unsurprisingly played to a packed crowd and, as I listened, I couldn’t help but think that they reminded me of a country music Grateful Dead.
Getting An Early Start On Saturday
Saturday came quickly and my wife and I made it to the festival early. We wanted to roam around and catch as many different bands as we could. Lauren Morrow of The Whiskey Gentry put on a great show at the Piedmont Stage. Meanwhile, Devon Gilfillian, a gospel-blues musician from Nashville entertained a large crowd on the nearby 6th Street stage.
I made my way back to the State Street Stage to hear The War and Treaty and was very impressed with this duo’s show. To top it off, Ketch Secor, of Old Crow Medicine Show joined them on stage to play harmonica for a song. The harmonica paired with the vocals of The War and Treaty so well that you could feel the energy as the crowd cheered them on. To be honest, it was great to see this kind of camaraderie between musicians. It really brought out the “Reunion” feel.
Chris Hillman, a Country Music Hall of Famer, performed a great show with Herb Pederson, John Jorgenson, and Mark Fain.
Folk Soul Revival, a local band, always draws a large audience known as the “Congregation.” They played an energy-packed show, with the crowd singing along to every song. I can’t think of a better band to open for Old Crow Medicine Show. They really set the tone for what I consider the best concert series I’ve ever been to.
Old Crow Medicine Show packed Bristol to the brim. As I looked out from the stage, all I could see were thousands of people crammed into every opening you could find. As the first chords were played to “Wagon Wheel,” you couldn’t hear anything but the roar of the crowd singing at the top of their lungs.
As they left the stage for the evening, the audience cried for an encore! Of course, they more than graciously came back to play two more songs. However loud “Wagon Wheel” was, it was topped by none other than “Rocky Top.” That’s how you end a show, especially here in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
Sunday rolled around and as I started to calm down from an exciting night I began to wander around listening to great music. The Old 97’s played a great show, Dale Watson and his Lone Stars delivered a classic country set, but one small group that really grabbed my attention was Birds of Chicago. This was another husband and wife duo with an accompanying guitarist from Nashville.
The original songs paired with the beautiful tones of the duo really drew me in. I loved every song they sang, which really topped off an amazing weekend of great music in a town known for music. The Birthplace of Country Music didn’t disappoint and left an impression I will never forget. This may have been my first Reunion, but it won’t be my last.