By Charlene Tipton Baker, September 20, 2017
As another stellar Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion has now come to a close, the staff at the Birthplace of Country Music (BCM) is in mourning. Sleep deprived and squinting through bloodshot eyes, we were back in the office on Monday (later than usual; closing on Friday for a rest…) nursing our collective aches, pains, and fatigue while the remnants of the weekend’s events have all but vanished.
Within hours of the festival ending, the stages were down, the streets were clean, and as I drove to work on Monday morning, it was as if nothing had happened at all. Did we really just experience the experience we just experienced? Was it a dream? Our social media feeds validate that we lived it, but the weekend itself zipped by so fast that the general feeling of disorientation seems overwhelming. For those of us who spent more than a year planning for the 17th annual event, seeing it all end is very much like the passing of a dear friend. We’ll never get those moments back, but happily we still have our memories.
In order to hold onto those happy memories, we asked members of our staff and the festival committee to share their personal highlights from Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2017 so we could share it with all of you.
For me, personally, every vein was tapped over the course of the festival. I enjoyed some powerful performances by our festival artists throughout the weekend and often wished for a clone so I could have experienced more of them. However, my most memorable festival experiences may be my final ones. Ten minutes after breaking down into an ugly cry during “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” at the tribute to the 90th anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions on Sunday night, I was dancing on stage with Southern Culture on the Skids with my friend Sandra Harbison, throwing chicken and Little Debbie snacks like it was the 1990s and we were seeing them at The Casbah in Johnson City. The vast ranges of emotion that ebb and tide during Bristol Rhythm can be pretty extreme for me. I’m naturally a bit empathic, and my emotional state is highly exacerbated by exhaustion. But it’s common for festivarians to go from tears to exuberance in a matter of minutes, isn’t it?
Here are just a few of the reflections on Bristol Rhythm 2017 from some of our staff and committee members:
Leah Ross, BCM Executive Director
“Standing on the State Street Stage on Sunday singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with the artists who performed during the tribute show in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions was very special to me. Looking out on the crowd made me feel humbled and proud to be a small part of a festival that continues to perpetuate and celebrate the music of our region. Everywhere I went, smiling faces assured me that everyone was having a good time. We are blessed to have a wonderful staff, a giving community, and visitors who know just how special Bristol really is.”
Kris Truelsen, Radio Bristol Producer and Host of Farm and Fun Time
“Crowds flooded the Paramount to get a seat for this weekend’s special broadcast of Farm and Fun Time. From the first note played on the stage, there was something special in the air, and the crowd agreed with thunderous applause throughout the show. The combination of stellar artists – Earls of Leicester, Cactus Blossoms, Amythyst Kiah, and Bill and the Belles – and a lively crowd will no doubt go down in Farm and Fun Time history. It will forever be a fond memory for the Radio Bristol team.”
Brent Treash, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2017 Committee Chairman
“One of the most anticipated sets of the festival for me personally was that of Colter Wall. As the band wrapped up their sound check for the Saturday afternoon set in the Paramount, Colter stood in the wings by himself strumming his guitar as the stage manager rattled off some of the high words of praise that fellow musicians and print journalists around the world are saying about this rising star.
Colter slowly walked up to the microphone all by his lonesome. He spoke softly as he greeted the capacity crowd, but his Bristol debut struck a familiar chord as he paid homage to the Birthplace of Country Music. His baritone voice dug deep as he sang a classic Jimmie Rodgers tune. I wanted to ask him about it after the set, but I think I already understood why he did it. Ninety years after Jimmie Rodgers made his recording debut, Colter Wall took us back in time with his Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion debut.
I also have to admit, it made a tear come to my eye and it reminded me that those 1927 Sessions are still influencing talented musicians today – and they are still making powerful music in Bristol.”
Dave Stallard, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Music Committee Chairman
“There’s something magical about a kid meeting a musician. On Sunday, I noticed a young lady – maybe 10 years old – singing along to every word of The Whiskey Gentry’s final song at Cumberland Park. I conspired with a festival friend, Lisa, to get the young lady backstage. You could see her explode when she was invited back, and she virtually swallowed Lauren, the lead singer of the band, in a huge hug when she came off stage. She was all smiles and jitters, and it was the moment of a lifetime for both of us.
My own son, Ben, had two such moments this weekend. Over the last year and a half, Elliot Root has become one of his favorite bands. I was able to take Ben and a friend backstage to meet the band, and Ben got “hired” – momentarily and for no money – to do a little roadie work for them. On Sunday Ben also go the chance to shake hands with Tyler Childers, whose song “White House Road” has been on repeat in our house for the last six weeks.”
Jessica Turner, Director of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum
“There is so much to love as we come out of this year’s festival. It was great to hear lots of different music, some familiar and some not. It was great to see loads of musicians in the museum. It was great to see the energy around our Farm and Fun Time broadcast from the Paramount, from those who know and support this show to those who came for the Earls of Leicester and left as new fans. And it was amazing to see musicians from many styles come together to pay tribute to the 90th anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, a set of music old and new that celebrated the past and the present, the iconic and the eclectic.
But perhaps my favorite part of the festival was the programming for children that we do. Our annual Children’s Day on Saturday featured music for families, arts and crafts tables, balloons, snow cones, face painters, and hands-on activities. This special part of the festival is a space to celebrate the children in our community, host an event that is tailored to them, and be a place for families to gather and enjoy the festival with activities just for their children. It’s also free and open to the public – not just festivalgoers – drawing in kids throughout our community. This year we featured music for kids, but also music BY kids as we showcased Sullins Academy (performing a medley of Dwight Yoakam songs) and Kid Pan Alley, who had worked with all Bristol, Virginia 5th graders to write and perform songs of their own. Seven 5th-grade classes each wrote a song at the end of August, practiced this song as a class, and performed it on stage in a school assembly and at the festival. Fostering these youngsters to find their voice, show their creativity, and sing out loud was a rewarding and joyous process!”
Larry Gorley, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Music Committee Member
“On Saturday the Country Mural Stage area really started filling up about the time Front Country came on, and the crowd size only got better. With Melody Walker leading the vocals, the crowd was well entertained. Billy Strings was up next, and his set was great as he had an excellent band with him. By the time The SteelDrivers hit the stage, the Country Mural area was packed – it was wall-to-wall and almost across the street. And with new fill-in vocalist Adam Wakefield from NBC’s “The Voice,” it was party on! The band soon had the crowd singing along, and they knew the words and tempo to a lot of the band’s songs. Their set ended way too soon, but then Jerry Douglas & The Earls of Leicester came on. They took the crowd back to the days of Lester and Earl and the Foggy Mountain Boys, and they played and sung it like it is supposed to be – straight-up, high-octane bluegrass! And the crowd was enjoying every note. A great way to end Saturday night at the Country Mural!”
Hannah Holmes, BCM Graphic Designer
“If I’m being honest, the thing that stands out in my exhausted brain the most right now was the food! Oh, man, I ate horribly this weekend, and I don’t regret my decisions one bit. I honestly enjoyed every meal from our amazing food vendors.
Let’s take a moment to remember the pork barbecue-covered tots from Southern Craft, the immortal Island Noodles (worth every minute waiting in that crazy long line), cheesecake on a stick from Lil’ Delights, the heaping plate of veggie lovers nachos from Savory Sweet (who knew sweet potatoes and nachos made such a divine pairing?), and many, many more. May the festival food lineup always be as lengthy and talented as our music lineup.”
Erika Barker, BCM Sales & Business Development Manager
“This was my first Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival experience. I joined the Birthplace of Country Music staff just two months before the festival, and it has been amazing to watch and be a part of this huge event. It was wonderful to witness how much every single person in this organization, and all of the many volunteers, really, truly, and deeply care for this festival and what it represents to the community. Seeing the entire town transform for a weekend and come together to celebrate the musical heritage of this region was absolutely astonishing. I enjoyed every minute of it… As a new staff member, I got recommendations from many of my coworkers on the best things to do, see, or eat at the festival. I did my best to experience as many as I could, but I am sure I missed some. I will have to try again next year!”
Tracey Childress, BCM Administrative Assistant
“Reflecting back on this past weekend, all I can think is WOW. How do I pick a favorite when there wasn’t anything I didn’t love? Seeing old friends that I only see once a year and truly understanding the ‘reunion’ part of the festival’s name. Dancing along to all the different ‘rhythms’ of all the different genres we get to bring downtown and learning how much the history of the ‘roots’ music influenced these musicians. There is nothing better than watching so many people smiling and having the times of their lives and being grateful for the small part I have in making that happen.”
Kim Davis, BCM Director of Marketing
“One of my favorite memories was of watching the shows at Cumberland Square Park stage this year. The new lighting made all the shows magical and so memorable.”
Rene Rodgers, Curator of Exhibits and Publications at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum
“I am the staff liaison for the BRRR Green Team, the volunteers who spend the weekend clearing beer gardens of paper, plastic, and cans, digging through trash for recyclables, and generally promoting a greener festival. I love working with the Green Team committee – you couldn’t ask for a more dedicated, hardworking, and FUN group of people, and each year we get some great volunteers, new and old, who join us in our recycling mission. It’s a worthwhile, though dirty, job! On Saturday I was laughing hysterically with Green Team Chair Sarah Tollie as we tried to lift a heavy bag of cans into a big recycling container, beer and soda dripping down our arms, cans clinking ominously above our heads, bag slipping through our fingers. With two short people, this feat of strength was never going to be successful… Later that morning, we were carting several bags of recyclables down State Street in the back of our golf cart, hit a big bump, and bounced one of the bags straight off where it landed in front of Brett, our operations manager. Another mess but another bout of uncontrollable laughter. Despite the beer-soaked shoes and the desperate need for a shower at the end of festival weekend, it is all worth it to see our containers filled to the brim with recyclables instead of in the festival trash cans!”
Scotty Almany, Digital Resources Manager & Catalog Associate at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum
“I get this feeling sometimes, not often, but these times always involve live music. I could call it an epiphany, a moment of Zen or a religious experience, and everyone would have at least an idea of what I am describing. If I really think about it, I can make a connection with most of the times this has occurred – that connection is that this feeling is a break of serenity during times of excessive stress or worry. It’s always been prompted by the tone of an electric guitar, starts as a little chill down the back of my neck then a wave of complex emotions wash over me. It gives me a sense of triumph, safety, and comfort. This happened to me around 5:40pm on Sunday as I stood watching Son Volt beside one of my oldest and closest friends. The set and setting of being with her and seeing a band who I’d listened to first so many years ago made the moment seem timeless, like it could have happened anytime in the past 20 or more years. It really is wondrous to me to think about these combinations of abstract sounds and words and how they have meant so much to me. Songs have given me legitimate faith, courage, motivation, contentment, and so much more. Make no mistake my friends, music is magical.”
Becky Littleton, BCM Director of Finance & Human Resources
“One gal stopped me on 6th Street mid-afternoon on Sunday and said, ‘I’m crying because the weekend is over and I have to go home. I don’t want it to be over!’ And she was literally crying!”
It was a great festival for us, and we hope you’ll let us know your thoughts on the festival, too. Please share your comments, memories, and suggestions on our Facebook page.
Charlene Tipton Baker is a Marketing Specialist at the Birthplace of Country Music.