Those with an interest in American music history will already be familiar with Bristol, TN/VA. It was in the Bristol area that the Carter Family got its start, along with Jimmy Rogers. That start came in 1927 with the historic Bristol Sessions. From the 1930’s through the 1950’s, local radio broadcasts featured performances by bluegrass legends Flatt and Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Mac Wiseman, Jimmy Martin and countless others. The musical heritage of the Bristol area is quite a story.
The Birthplace of Country Music Alliance (BCMA) is an organization dedicated to preserving and telling that story.
One new way of telling the story is a planned Cultural Heritage Center in downtown Bristol. In 2004 the BCMA came into possession of a 24,000 square foot historic structure at 520 Cumberland Street. Since that time, plans have been moving forward for restoration and renovation of the building.
The new facility will include temporary and permanent exhibits that trace the history, cultural influences, and development of country music through a sequence of audio-visual experiences which will allow visitors the opportunity to listen to the melodies and encounter the rich musical tradition first hand. The facility will also include space for educational initiatives through educational programming for all ages, live musical performances, lecture and film series, and other outreach activities.
Desiring to get area musicians more involved in the center, the BCMA has put together an Artistic Council comprised of artists and industry persons, for the purpose of supporting the center and its events, as well as serving in an advisory capacity.
Among the musicians involved are Tim Stafford and Ralph Stanley. I had a chance to visit briefly with Tim regarding the Artistic Council.
I’m honored to be part of the Artistic Council of the BCMA’s new Cultural Heritage Center. I’ve been involved with BCMA since its organizational meetings in the early 1990s and fully support its goal with the Cultural Heritage Center: bringing a destination/museum to the Tri-Cities so this region’s important place in the history of bluegrass and country music can be preserved and presented to the world.
I think Doyle is going to be involved too. It’s an Artistic Council made up of music folks with ties to the region and the Center, including Patty Loveless, Roni Stoneman, Bill Clifton, Ralph, Doyle, me, Larry Groce and Andy Ridenour of Mountain Stage, Dale Jett (grandson of A.P. Carter), Kevin Lamb of Peer International, Mick Buck of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Brad Paul of Rounder, Jeff Place of Smithsonian Folkways, Rick Rose of Barter Theater, Leah Ross of Bristol’s Rhyhm and Roots Reunion, Mike Seeger, and Jimmy Neil Smith of the International Storytelling Center.
We’ll attend meetings, events and announcements, all the things Advisory Councils do. Largely ceremonial, but there for support.
The president of the BCMA is Fred McClellan who gives credit to Dr. Stanley for his own involvement with the organization.
Tim and Ralph have been actively involved since our creation in 1994. Tim served as a member of the board of directors in the early formative years. Ralph attended the organizational meetings and encouraged our formation and efforts. He has since given performance to every milestone and major accomplishment we have had since. Personally, I credit him for my involvement in this music because of promotional work we have done together since 1982.
I asked Fred to share the genesis of the idea for the Cultural Center.
After we returned from Washington DC in July of 2003, where we were the lead organization in Appalachia: Heritage and Harmony as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival participating with Scotland and Mali, we held a strategic planning session. The highest priority was set to be the creation of a physical presence in downtown Bristol that would serve as a destination point celebrating the history of our music and culture, while encouraging this living tradition to be passed on to future generations.
A project of this size is not inexpensive. The cost of renovation and exhibits is expected to total between $9-12 million. The University of Virginia recently conducted an economic impact study to gauge the center’s potential impact on jobs and economy in the area. According to the study’s findings, the center is expected to attract over 75,000 visitors annually and have an economic impact of over $43 million in its first five years. More importantly, the center will continue to preserve and educate about rich musical and cultural heritage of this region of Appalachia.
Visit the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance online and see all that they are doing toward this goal.