Bristol Rhythm, Behind the Curtain: Can You Handle the Truth?

The Wizard of Oz has always been my favorite movie. It’s a love I now share with my 8-year-old daughter Callie who, by the way, has gone through dozens of pairs of red ruby slippers since before she could walk. One of the most compelling moments of the film—and the most frightening—is when terror-stricken Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion face the explosive Wizard. As a kid, it was such a relief when the plot twisted and the true identity of the sinister apparition was revealed to be a mere mortal, operating the specter from behind a silky green curtain.

via GIPHY “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” The Wizard of Oz (1939, Warner Bros.)

However, I often ponder a darker, alternative ending to The Wizard of Oz where the Wizard as a giant head stays in the picture. Either way, Dorothy’s gonna find her way home. I mean, she had the ruby slippers. Eventually Glinda would have swooped down in her bubble and tipped her off, no matter what, right?

Before you ask what any of this has to do with Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, I’ll tell you. The deal is, I was asked to write a blog explaining the inner-workings of planning the festival—in essence, taking you behind the curtain. But the question is: Can you handle the truth?

First off, I couldn’t possibly estimate the countless hours of committee meetings that take place over the course of the year—and contrary to what some may think, it does takes an entire year (or more) to plan Bristol Rhythm. There are meetings about port-o-potties and fencing placement, vendor space locations and available electrical outlets, and we have a giant map of downtown where we mark up the locations of every single fence, ticket booth, stage, golf cart route, and beverage garden.

via GIPHY “Follow the yellow brick road!” The Wizard of Oz (1939, Warner Bros.)

There are discussions over the exact number and placement of recycle bins and shift planning for volunteers to pick up those recyclables and deposit them…where? I don’t know! I’m not on the recycle committee, but I know it goes somewhere good and that it all gets recycled. Oh, and please don’t throw your turkey leg bones in the recycle bin. Our volunteers physically have to remove them, and it’s pretty gross.

We have meetings with sponsors, city officials, and downtown businesses, and then we have to call the guy about the tents. We have an esoteric group of crafty folks that make up the “Atmosphere” Committee. If it sounds fun, it’s because it is. This committee gets to dream up creative ways to dress up the festival with twinkle lights and pretty signs and dream catchers and, in essence, make everything more magical.

Meetings are held with police and EMS workers because safety is of the utmost importance. Security and emergency response is something we have very detailed plans for already. I will add that after the tragedy in Las Vegas, we—and every other event company in the world—will re-evaluate, scrutinize, and refine security measures to the very best of our ability.

Marketing is a veritable cyclone of activity year-round with deadline upon deadline: ads to create, graphics to design, tons of band bios to write, website and app updates, print projects, designing festival floor graphics for local hotel lobbies, emcee notes to draft, photographers and videographers to corral, rack cards to distribute, press releases to write, journalists to contact, e-blasts to send, giveaways and promotions to execute and media to coordinate – and that’s just what I can come up with on the fly!

via GIPHY “It’s a twister!” The Wizard of Oz (1939, Warner Bros.)

The sheer volume of musicians and the logistics of hosting over 120 bands requires careful scrutiny of each act and their contracted needs. Our host hotels are our greatest ally in the coordination of how many band members are in each group and how many rooms they will need and on which nights of the festival they will need them. And like the rest of us, bands need food. There are meetings where people figure out who will make the food and how much food we will order and how much food will cost and who has food allergies and who specifically asked for a pair of socks in his rider request (David Mayfield did, and we happily obliged because it’s hilarious and we love him!) and who needs a ride from the airport and who will pick them up and where the band will park their giant bus and how will we get the band and their equipment to the stage.

via GIPHY “Lions and tigers and bears! Oh, my!” The Wizard of Oz (1939, Warner Bros.)

We also have meetings about towels. Who will deliver clean, dry towels to the stages because you wouldn’t believe how many clean, dry towels bands need! And did you know that every band has a stage plot on which they list every single cable, amp, and microphone? Our amazing sound engineers rifle through each of these 120 stage plots in order to provide every act’s technical needs, then miraculously set it up between every single set at Bristol Rhythm. It’s crazy!

via GIPHY “Can you even dye my eyes to match my gown?” The Wizard of Oz (1939, Warner Bros.)

And then there are our incredible volunteers, those people who make everything come together, and Bristol Rhythm has a committee devoted to just that aspect of the festival. We recruit around 800 volunteers to work four-hour shifts throughout the 3-day weekend in dozens of areas. Scheduling and keeping track is a process, but running a festival takes a village, people!

All of these things, ya’ll. All of these logistical, micro-managy things are pondered, discussed, and executed over the course of a full year—and I haven’t come close to giving you the whole story because it would take a year to write and I’m on deadline.

Does reading the microscopic play-by-play of organizing a huge event like Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion increase your enjoyment of the festival? Would a manifesto of the entire year’s business of planning, marketing, and legwork make the music sound better? Is your attendance at the festival dependent on knowing that we have a committee for everything and that some committees have committees? (Don’t be a smarty-pants and just say “no.”)

© Birthplace of Country Music, photographer: Adam Martin

We work really hard on all those details so you can concentrate on listening to amazing music and having a good time with your family and friends. We want every single person attending Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion to feel just like they are coming home, and we’ve just tidied the house before you got here.

via GIPHY “There’s no place like home.” The Wizard of Oz (1939, Warner Bros.)

So mark your calendars and take some vacay time! Our 18th annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival is scheduled for September 21-23, 2018. Discount weekend passes go on sale Black Friday, November 24, 2017!

Charlene Tipton Baker is a Marketing Specialist at the Birthplace of Country Music.

Marketing Specialist at the Birthplace of Country Music


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