Bristol Rhythm: The Roots & Branches

“Bristol is the absolute bedrock upon which the entire empire of country music and many tributaries therein are built.” ~ Marty Stuart

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion began as a community bluegrass, old-time, and gospel music festival. Acts like Ralph Blizard and Reeltime Travelers led the lineup, and there was even a soup bean and cornbread dinner. In 2003 we really began to examine what it meant to honor the 1927 Bristol Sessions in addition to the influences those recordings have had on other genres of music.

2001 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival program, an insert in the Bristol Herald Courier.
2001 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival program, an insert in the Bristol Herald Courier.

A conscious decision was made to expand the lineup to include more progressive acts like Leftover Salmon, Old Crow Medicine Show, Corey Harris, and Donna the Buffalo. This changed the entire landscape of our festival. Younger audiences were drawn to the music like never before and the energy downtown became absolutely electric.

In the second edition of our mini docu-series, we talk about how our expansion paved a wider path on that “road home” to Bristol’s music legacy by exploring its roots and far-reaching branches.

Sidebar: I get a little misty watching these videos. I think I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries that I began serving as a volunteer for the festival in 2002, prior to our third annual event. To hear country music icons like Marty Stuart and Jim Lauderdale speak so passionately about my hometown and Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion is life goals for me and many others who have worked so hard and truly believed in the magic we were creating.

“Within tradition there is always innovation and pushing forward.”~Amythyst Kiah

Amythyst Kiah at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2019.
© Birthplace of Country Music; Photographer: Eli Johnson

I am especially proud that our event plays a role in the success and evolution of so many artists, including my good friend Amythyst Kiah (also featured in the series) who just received her first Grammy nomination. Artists like Amythyst are true innovators, taking bits and pieces of what they’ve learned from the past and folding it into their work – making something completely new and relevant and exciting. Knowing what an important role Bristol has played in the art and careers of Amythyst – and so many others – is extremely satisfying.

In those early days I used to say we were the “little festival that could,” charging slowly and determinedly up that steep hill, struggling to reach our destination. Have we arrived? In many ways we have, but we continue to refine and grow each year. To everyone who has believed in Bristol Rhythm and helped push us along these past 20 years, we are eternally grateful. It’s been one heckuva ride!

Marketing Specialist at the Birthplace of Country Music

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