The twin cities of Bristol, Tennessee, and Bristol, Virginia – separated by a road aptly named State Street – lay claim to being the birthplace of country music. Way back in 1927, Ralph Peer, an enterprising recording engineer, came to Bristol, set up shop in a makeshift studio, and promptly made history. Peer’s recordings – known as The Bristol Sessions – became a seminal event in American music, as Peer introduced listeners to, among others, The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.
Country music was born.
Each year, the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion – with whom I have worked for the last eight years – celebrates Bristol’s musical heritage. The best bands from across the Americana world converge on State Street, along with upwards of 50,000 music fans. This year’s bill includes Lucinda Williams, Keller Williams, Iris Dement, Hayes Carll, James McMurtry, David Mayfield Parade, Colin Hay . . . the list is so good that it is exhausting thinking about it.
I caught up with a number of my Reunion colleagues and posed to them a simple question – Who are you excited about seeing this weekend? Their answers are as diverse as the festival’s line up.
I can’t wait to see the David Mayfield Parade take the stage at this year’s Reunion, but not for the reasons many might think. A lot of the Parade’s fans are drawn by Dave’s hilarious stage presence, his quick-witted banter, and spontaneous interactions with the audience. I LOVE those things, too, so don’t get me wrong. I will hee-haw right along with everyone else, but it’s Dave’s songwriting that has me hooked. He’s incredible, so emotive and clear. His songs are striking, often breathtaking. I love moments like that on State Street, when a huge audience is laughing and yelling one minute and then sitting quietly together in an intimate moment the next while an artist like Dave Mayfield shares his heart.
– Katie Sword, Vendor Committee Chairman
I am really looking forward to seeing Paul Thorn again. I have seen him perform solo twice at Theatre Bristol and both shows were wonderful, but this will be the first time that I have seen Paul with his full band and I am really excited. His solo shows are intimate affairs; Paul is a wonderful storyteller and comedian, so if you are on State Street this weekend, try to catch him solo at The Foundation. But his full band rocks and I can’t wait to hear it. Plus, Paul told me if we didn’t book him for the festival that I would go to hell. My everlasting soul has a vested interest in having him here this weekend.
– Leah Ross, Executive Director
The Cactus Blossoms. Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion has seen major growth over the past years in both size and sound. My festival schedule has circles around Keller Williams and Blitzen Trapper, long time favorites I couldn’t stand to miss. But the beauty of the Reunion lies not with the familiar, but with the sounds rarely explored. For me, The Cactus Blossoms represent everything great about the festival. For a brief moment, I will allow myself to slow down and allow their aged harmonies to transport me back to a time when the Twin Cities were making history. The Cactus Blossoms are steeped in the tradition of country music, and this one circle on my already worn program will be about honoring the musical heritage of two cities already writing the next chapters of their musical lives.
– Brent Treash, Music Committee Co-Chairman
For me, it’s Lucinda Williams. I’ve wanted to see her since the early 80s, when I purchased her album Ramblin’ on the Folkways label. (Yes! Folkways! Just like Woody Guthrie!!) It was a classic album of delta blues and country standards that turned me into a faithful follower. I’ve seen her music grow and expand over the years. In my mind, she is “country alt” and defines Americana; she is country, she is blues, and she rocks. But perhaps her greatest strength is her songwriting. She can be vulnerable, joyful, sensual, and sad; if there is a sadder song than “Pineola,” I have yet to hear it. Her lyrics always ring true.
– Ed Stout, Festival Chairman
There are several acts I want to see this weekend, but one that I have had the pleasure of seeing before draws my attention every time: Marty Rabon & Full Circle. Marty is from Alabama and is the former lead singer of the country band Shenandoah, with whom he won the Academy of Country Music’s Vocal Group of the Year in 1991. Shenandoah had eleven #1 hits and multiple Grammy and CMA nominations Marty won a Grammy for his duet with Alison Krauss, “Somewhere In The Vicinity Of My Heart.” After leaving Shenandoah in 1997, Marty scored a big hit with his brother Tim on “Butterfly Kisses” and, finally, returned to his bluegrass roots in 2002. He calls the band Full Circle because he got his musical start back in the 1970s, playing with his dad and the family band. Marty is a great entertainer and the crowd enjoys his performance at any venue in which he appears.
– Larry Gorley, Music Committee Co-Chair
I am excited to have Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out in Bristol for this year’s festival. I purchased their album Live At The Mac back in 1998 and have been a fan ever since. The way they interact on stage coupled with their amazing talent is why this group has been voted IBMA’s Vocal Group Of The Year seven consecutive years. Be sure to check them out on the Country Mural Stage on Friday at 10:00 P.M. You will not be disappointed. I promise.
– Jim Tench, Artist Merchandise
I’ve seen many great concerts over the years. More, in fact, than I can remember. One, however, has stuck with me since it happened, and it often gets replayed in my mind. That show was when I saw former Men At Work front man Colin Hay at The Grey Eagle in Asheville in 2004. I had no idea that his simple, bare bones acoustic performance would resonate with me for nearly a decade. His humor and wit, along with his incredible voice and engaging songwriting, will make him a personal highlight of what promises to be a memorable festival.
– Charles Fontaine, Music Committee Member
Working in hospitality, I don’t get to see a lot of music during the festival, but – still – there is no way I can pick just one artist. I have grown to love so many of our performers as friends – M.S.G. Acoustic Blues Trio, the guys in Old Line Skiffle Combo, Pokey LaFarge, Leah Gardner, Ian Thomas and Paul Kupfer. Just seeing all of them in artist hospitality and getting to chat with them will always make this a true reunion for me. If I had to see a couple acts this year, it would be Masters of Bluegrass – there is so much history there – and Balsam Range, as they are history in the making.
– Kathi Leniski, Artist Hospitality
You can always discover new music at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. This is just a glimpse into my weekend, and I am purposefully leaving out the better known, obvious acts. Folks will go see them anyway. These are three bands – one per day – that you NEED to see. On Friday, I am really looking forward to catching Hey Rosetta! on the Piedmont Stage; this band has come all the way from Newfoundland to play the festival. Saturday afternoon will find me hanging at the 6th Street Stage for Rayland Baxter, perhaps the finest up and coming singer/songwriter we have at the festival this year. On Sunday, I will wind things down with Bronze Radio Return, a fantastic band out of Connecticut. I have left out more bands than I could list. It’s just a mind blowing weekend. But see these bands and more; put your running shoes on and have some fun!
– Eric Blevins, Music Committee Member
I am a complete 80s-phile, so Colin Hay is a must-see for me. Keller, Keller, Keller . . . J.D. McPherson, Whitey Morgan & The 78s, and St. Paul & The Broken Bones are high on my agenda. I have to give just props to Lucinda, Shovels & Rope, American Aquarium, and Hey Rosetta!. I’m also stopping by the Capo’s Uke Jam just to see if I can fit in. I’ve been taking lessons on Youtube.
– Charlene Baker, Marketing Director
Having worked with the music committee for much of the last decade, I am always filled with excitement as Reunion weekend approaches. I cannot wait to share with our festival goers the line up that we have painstakingly assembled over the course of the previous year. We always have tremendous bands on the bill, and this year is no exception; Keller Williams, Lucinda Williams, Colin Hay, Hayes Carll, and many more that bear mentioning will be appearing. But none of them has me more excited than this little local outfit called Mis’ry Creek. Unless you are friends with me on Facebook, or you live in Wise County, Virginia, you have probably never heard of this band. Mis’ry Creek is an acoustic trio and is pictured at the beginning of this blog. See the kid on the right? The one with the guitar? That’s my son, John Patrick. He plays both the guitar and upright bass in the band with Corbin Hayslett, the one with the bass, and Chris Rose, playing lefty guitar over on the left. Their performances have me more excited for this weekend than, probably, any of the other eight Reunions I have so far attended. When I see him up on stage this weekend, I get to say to myself, “That’s my boy.” Not much could be better than that.
– Dave Stallard, Music Committee Member and writer of this here blog
If you don’t have any plans this weekend, consider heading down to Bristol for the Reunion. Lots of great music, vendors, and country music heritage to behold. I promise there will be something you will dig hearing! For more information, head to www.bristolrhythm.com.
If you would like to come, take a shot at winning a pair of weekend passes by answering the trivia question below. Email your answer to [email protected]. A winner of the two passes will be chosen from all correct answers received by noon tomorrow – Thursday, September 18th.
Question – What 2013 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion performer is the grandson of A.P. Carter, who participated in the famed 1927 Bristol Sessions?