Since its debut on WCYB in 1946, Farm and Fun Time is a name that has become synonymous with country music in Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia. Farm and Fun Time was not only a lunchtime companion to countless listeners throughout the region, but it also served as a launching ground for many soon-to-be country music legends including Mac Wiseman, The Stanley Brothers, Jim and Jesse, Flatt and Scruggs, Curly King, and many more. Since well before Radio Bristol’s launch in 2016, the station team has been working to bring back this historic program by creating a contemporary version of the classic that speaks to today’s audiences yet honors and celebrates the tradition of live regional country music radio.
Flash forward one year and all that hard work has made Radio Bristol’s Farm and Fun Time not only a reality but also a huge success. The program, held in the museum’s Performance Theater, features many top-notch regional and national performers of roots music, and the show also celebrates the culture of Central Appalachia through a variety of segments including “The ASD Farm Report” presented by Appalachian Sustainable Development, a video segment profiling regional farms and farming practices, as well as the “Heirloom Recipe,” a storytelling segment centered upon a family recipe – this part of the show is followed by a related jingle performed by Bill and the Belles, the wildly popular and insanely rich and famous Farm and Fun Time house band. Lighthearted jingles are found throughout the program and have quickly become a crowd favorite.
In April 2017 Radio Bristol celebrated its one-year anniversary of the revival of this storied program to a sold-out theater featuring the music of The Malpass Brothers, The Price Sisters, Corbin Hayslett, and Bill and the Belles. Bill and the Belles kicked the show off with their lush harmonies and spirited string band sounds. The “Heirloom Recipe” was presented by collard green historian Ed Davis, followed by a jingle titled “Stinkin’ Greens” celebrating the unique fragrance of greens slowly cooking. Heavily influenced by the sounds of early bluegrass, The Price Sisters took the stage for the next segment of the show. From the state of Ohio, Lauren and Leanna Price perform – as does most of their backing band – with Morehead State University’s Mountain Music Ambassadors; they also have an EP released on Rebel Records.
April’s “ASD Farm Report” profiled Walnut Ridge Llama Farm, a Chuckey, Tennessee, farm specializing in raising llamas and the cultivation of llama products. For the final portion of the show, honky tonk heroes The Malpass Brothers – Chris and Taylor – performed their brand of classic country music. Having shared the stage with the likes of Merle Haggard, Ray Price, and Don Helms, these boys know a thing or two about country music, and it shined through in this performance. Chris’s quality Elvis impersonation including signature pelvic gyrations brought the house down. The evening’s performance was a wonderful conclusion to the first season of Farm and Fun Time.
Our kick off to season two was equally engaging. Airing just this past week, May’s Farm and Fun Time showcased the diversity of sounds found within contemporary old-time music with performances by the Down Hill Strugglers and the Piedmont Melody Makers featuring folk singer Alice Gerrard. Tim Pharis, Park Ranger at Rocky Fork State Park and founder of the Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention in Flag Pond, Tennessee, delivered our “Heirloom Recipe,” a special segment highlighting the wonders and blunders of the ramp, a pungent wild onion. I wrote a song titled “Ramp Diggin’ Daddy,” dedicated to Tim, who just days before dug a few thousand ramps for the Ramp Festival in Flag Pond. Fortunately he didn’t carry the odor with him into the theater!
The Down Hill Strugglers had a wonderful performance capturing the feeling of the golden era of recorded music. Comprised of Jackson Lynch, Eli Smith, and Walker Shepard, the band has a new album titled Lone Prairie out on Jalopy Records. Keeping with the Farm and Fun Time tradition of hosting legendary performers alongside rising stars, Grammy-nominated songwriter and folk icon Alice Gerrard appeared with the Piedmont Melody Makers. Alice and the Melody Makers performed a number of gorgeous four-part songs including an inspired rendition of the Carter Family tune “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” Corbin took us to Aunt Willie’s Wildflowers, a wildflower farm in Blountville, Tennessee, for “The ASD Farm Report.” This was followed by Corbin and Bill and the Belles singing a song together – one done to the tune of the old Flatt and Scruggs Martha White Flour theme and with the words replaced with praise for Aunt Willies Flowers. All in all it was quite a way to start our second season.
We have lots going on and lots of plans in the works, and with the popularity of the show just continuing to grow, it’s always smart to get your tickets good and early! So look ahead to June’s Farm and Fun Time with Third Man Records artist Lillie Mae (who you may have caught on Conan on CBS This Morning last week) and the rambunctious rockabilly trio the Royal Hounds. For more information and tickets for next month’s show, click here.
Kris Truelsen is the Producer at Radio Bristol and a member of Farm and Fun Time house band Bill and the Belles.