It’s a known fact in Middle Tennessee that Nashville is Music City – now it has blossomed into more than the country music capital and is a haven for artists of all genres.
With its roots deep in country music, it can’t take all the credit and it’s important to recognize where it is due.
And when it comes to country music, or the country music that most knew as a kid, the credit leans toward Bristol, Tenn.
Nestled in the far most corner of Tennessee and cool enough to share Virginia too, the city is even more than a motor speedway which many know.
It is home to one of the most bustling roots music scenes in the nation.
The city’s annual celebration, Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, has been going strong for years now and showcases the region’s deep tradition while taking steps forward at the same time.
Dating back to 1927, the city was made famous when Ralph Peer from Victor Talking Machine Company came to Bristol to collect songs for commercial sale.
He put an ad in a newspaper and musicians from all over the mountains were recorded, including Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family.
From this, the Bristol sessions ignited the “big bang” of country music and were a prominent foundation for the commercial industry that is around today.
“We’re here to promote the music, the cradle where it was born. We’re a lot of things. We’re country, we’re Americana, we’re bluegrass,” Rhythm and Roots Marketing Director Charlene Tipton Baker said.
The city is also doing a stellar job at promoting itself as a live music destination for tourists.
In August, the Gentlemen of the Road Tour will hold a stopover in Bristol as one of its choice cities.
The tour consists of a concert and local gatherings for each date lead by Mumford and Sons and featuring artists Dawes, Justin Townes Earle, JEFF the Brotherhood, The Very Best, Apache Relay Simone Felice and Haim.
This tour will be a strong appetizer to its annual event in September, which has gained much momentum in recent years as it has acquired acts such as Drive-By Truckers, The Avett Brothers, Jason Isbell, Del McCoury, Marty Stuart, The Everybodyfields, Trampled by Turtles, and Murfreesboro’s Those Darlins.
“Our music committee keeps their ear to the ground. You have to appeal to different kinds of people. It’s the roots and the branches that we look toward,” Baker said about mixing established artists with the new blood.
This year is no exception as it lays claim to a lineup with Robert Earl Keen, City and Colour, Sam Bush, Dr. Dog, Delta Spirit, Billy Joe Shaver, David Mayfield, The Black Lillies, The Deep Dark Woods and many more.
It’s a safe bet to say the music committee brings its “A” game when it comes to booking.
In the past, bands like Carolina Chocolate Drops and The Avett Brothers performed at the festival during their early days.
“It’s awesome. It’s the best thing in the world. I love to see artists come back and tell us about playing here,” Baker said.
It’s this synergy and community among artists, committee and fans and that keep the festival vibrant and balanced.
When people or artists attend the festival, their word of mouth speaks wonders.
Over the years, the festival has attracted fans from as far away as Sweden, Japan, The Philippines and Australia, and one year had 34 states represented.
Rhythm and Roots successes can also be contributed to its price point on ticketing.
For a mere $60 or less with the early bird tickets, fans can take in three days of music for one of the lowest festival prices across the board. Until Aug. 31, attendees can purchase a weekend pass for $40. The price will increase to $50 from Sep. 1 - 13 while they will be $60 at the gate.
“We’re a nonprofit event, but were dedicated to keeping those prices low. We’re supported by both cities, apply for grants, and rely heavily on volunteers and our board,” Baker noted.
This year’s festival is set for Sept. 14-16 and will sure be another chapter in the city’s rich heritage.
“Being in Bristol and the birthplace of country music, it’s a different experience. It’s a one of a kind ticket. You can’t replicate it,” Baker said.
For more information on the festival and ticket information, visit bristolrhythm.com.