Birthplace of Country Music® MuseumThe Birthplace of Country Music® Museum, in affiliation with the Smithsonian Institute, will tell the story of our musical heritage. From the Bristol Sessions and beyond, our region continues to influence music around the world. The museum will embody this accomplishment and promote Bristol as the Birthplace of Country Music®.
Project OverviewThe Birthplace of Country Music® Museum will provide the Birthplace of Country Music® (BCM) with a new, permanent facility to house its operations, including the museum, educational programs, and artistic programming, in furtherance of the organization’s mission to tell the story of the living musical heritage of the Appalachian mountains and the cultural traditions that sustain it. This center will be housed in a 24,000 square foot facility in downtown Bristol, Virginia which was recently donated to the organization. This center will serve as a major tourist destination for the region, drawing at least 75,000 visitors per year resulting in a direct economic impact of $5,411,625, and sustaining 162 jobs.
The music heritage of the region continues to thrive.To tell the story of the region’s living musical heritage the Birthplace of Country Music® will utilize a holistic approach to place the region’s music into the larger cultural context of Appalachian and American culture. One of the major interpretative themes will be to explain why the region historically has been — and continues today — to be a fertile breeding ground for traditional Appalachian music, including Old-Time String Band, Folk, Bluegrass, Americana, Gospel, Piedmont Blues, Country, and other musical genres. In explaining why the music of this region has continued to thrive over the years, the interpretive plan will cover other aspects of the region’s cultural heritage, including family, religion, other folk and traditional arts, work and occupation, the role of technology, and the diversity of the region. Together, all of these themes help to show how the region’s musical heritage is interconnected with the region’s — and the nation’s — cultural heritage and how significantly the music of the region has contributed to that broader cultural landscape. The programming at the new museum will consist of exhibits (both permanent and temporary), educational activities, live musical performances, and other outreach activities, such as lecture series, film series. It is envisioned that the new facility will incorporate state of the art technology to display the region’s traditional culture and heritage, allowing visitors to hear and see performances, both historic and contemporary, of our region’s living cultural heritage. By having technical and interactive exhibits, the museum will provide a quality visitor experience comparable to new music museums such as the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, the International Bluegrass Music Association Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky, and the River Music Museum in Davenport, Iowa. This new facility will allow the organization to take advantage of its status as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, with temporary exhibits and loans from the Smithsonian collections.
Visitors from all 50 states and 27 foreign countries visited the current museum in 2004. Based on estimates from LaPaglia and Associates and current museum attendance figures, the newly completed Birthplace of Country Music® Museum should attract a minimum of 75,000 visitors in the first year alone which represents a 131% increase over 2003 attendance of 32,416 visitors at the current museum site. In 2003, 53.5% of visitors to the current Birthplace of Country Music museum were non-local, representing 49 of the 50 United States, and 24 foreign countries. Projected visitation estimates are conservative, as the central downtown location can draw from other downtown attractions such as Food City Race Night (50,000+ visitors), Rhythm and Roots Reunion (30,000+ visitors), and activities at the “Birth of Country Music” mural/Downtown Center (120,000+ visitors/year). Visitation estimates also do not include visitors to other elements of the Cultural Heritage Center such as concerts, events, and other activities, currently (2003) totaling 18,000+ attendees. The BCM hopes to serve not only the residents of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee but also the heritage traveler – who spends more ($722 per trip vs. the national average of $603 (Pleasure travelers spend an average of $323 in Virginia). Heritage travelers also stay longer than pleasure travelers (4.7 nights vs. 3.4 nights), and participate in a wider range of activities. The larger facility will allow the organization to expand its educational outreach to better serve school age children within a 50-mile radius.
The new facility will be housed in a contributing structure to the Downtown Bristol Commercial Historical District. This new facility also comes at a fortuitous time for the organization, allowing it to take advantage of and building upon other developments in the community. The continued development of The Crooked Road: Southwest Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail will benefit the new facility through increased awareness and by linking it to other traditional music venues and cultural sites in Southwest Virginia. The proximity of the facility to the interstate highway and other major federal highways makes it a prime hub along “the Crooked Road,” which should make it major regional destination for heritage tourism. The center will benefit from other regional tourists initiatives such as the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association’s Tales and Trails campaign. Additionally, the building’s central location downtown makes it convenient to a variety of activities, as it is one block from the library, the renovated Train Station, and the proposed Science and Fire museums. This convenience also will help attract visitors to the facility, as well as encourage those visitors to circulate through downtown and taking advantage of opportunities to shop and dine. Finally, the building is also a contributing structure to the new Downtown Bristol Commercial Historic District and its adaptive reuse will help to preserve our community’s physical heritage.
This project complements the mission of the Birthplace of Country Music®, a grassroots, 501 (c) non-profit organization, “to tell the story of the musical and cultural heritage of the region, its role in the birth and development of country music, and its influence on music around the world.” The BCM carries out its mission primarily through three main avenues: the preservation and promotion of our region’s musical heritage, educational programs, and promotion and support of live music. Completion of the interpretive master plan will also help the organization achieve its major goals as outlined in its recent strategic plan adopted by the board of directors in December 2003.