2018 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion – photo by Teresa Gereaux
Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion celebrated its 18th year, September 21-23. Rhythm and Roots takes over downtown Bristol with four major outdoor stages, one on State Street, where half the band literally plays across the Virginia/Tennessee state line. Several other big outdoor stages are located around the downtown area and nearly every restaurant, brewery, and music hall serves as a festival stage.
Rhythm and Roots serves up a wide variety of country music, Americana, bluegrass, alt-country, folk, and plenty of bluegrass. The Country Mural Stage hosts many of the bluegrass groups. The permanent mural there depicts the Big Bang of Country Music — the Bristol Sessions — with Jimmy Rodgers and The Carter Family. Many artists and groups note the historic nature of the city. Carter Family and Jimmy Rodgers songs were played by several bands to honor the heritage of the music created in this place.
Several artists had connections to the Bristol area. Most notably, Doyle Lawson, who lives in Bristol and grew up in the area. He drew a large crowd to close out the Country Mural Stage on Sunday evening. Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver gave the hometown crowd a strong, tight set of bluegrass with some beautiful harmonies on the a capella Gospel numbers. Doyle is surely one of the sharpest dressers too!
Other groups mentioned regional family connections. Sierra Hull said her husband, Justin Moses’ grandmother lives in the area, and Larry Keel said his mother is from Clintwood. This all brings a family feel to the festival. Everyone shares a connection of some note.
Molly Tuttle was the big bluegrass draw on Friday night at the Mural stage. She was fresh off the big win of Americana Instrumentalist of the Year. Everyone wanted to see what she was all about and she delivered a tight and confident show. Her set included John Hartford’s Gentle on My Mind, as well as traditional songs she learned from groups like The Dillards or The Johnson Mountain Boys. Her set included two numbers co-written with Sarah Siskind: The High Road and Take the Journey. She also shared Sit Back and Watch It Roll and A Million Miles, two songs that will be on her upcoming album. She also did White Freightliner Blues and Cold Rain and Snow.
Missy Raines and the New Hip gave a great show to the big crowd at the Country Mural Stage. Hers is a strong band and the crowd appreciated their brand of bluegrass.
Also delighting audiences at the Mural stage were Balsam Range, Carson Peters, and Blue Highway.
Sierra Hull’s beautiful voice and amazing musicianship were on full display over the weekend. She played and shared stories with the appreciative audience, many who have been fans of hers from the start.
The Cumberland Square Park stage hosted several fine bands. Larry Keel Experience gave an energetic and hot set of progressive bluegrass. His show was a mix of all sorts of music. “I like to mix Carter Family with Jimi Hendrix and Bill Monroe,” Keel said. “They’ve all got good points in there.” He dedicated I’m No Doctor to his mother. His set also include a great collaboration with Steve and Bryon McMurray from Acoustic Syndicate.
Acoustic Syndicate played the Cumberland stage next and they gave the crowd a fantastic, tight mix of bluegrass and Americana with some rock covers. It was a fantastic show.
The Cleverly’s held a crowd at the Cumberland Square Park despite a strong downpour. Their set combines bluegrass and humorous stories about the band’s history and adventures.
Jams and busking are a definite part of the festival. Buskers dotted State Street to lend some tunes to those shopping the vendor booths.
Maybe it was planned that way or maybe it was the sun and humidity, but somehow the Possum Creek Playboy reunion ended up in the shade under a small bridge beside the stage. This reunion of several old time bluegrass bands was a fun and spirited jam session.
Tony Williamson is a North Carolina Heritage Award winner, one of the many awards he’s received over his long career. He shared his love of music with the fans at the Near Moore Stage. We loved the stage area which was decorated with vinyl album flowers.
The Steeldrivers headlined the Piedmont Stage on Saturday night. Fiddle player and singer Tammy Rogers is from Rogersville, Tennessee so the show was a bit of a homecoming for her. The ‘Drivers sounded strong and they has a great connection with the crowd.
Festival headliners included blues legend Taj Mahal Trio and Railroad Earth on Friday night. Saturday night’s headliners included the Marcus King Band and Old Crow Medicine Show.
Sunday was a Texas honky tonking swing kind of day with Dale Watson followed by Asleep at the Wheel, led by the amazing Ray Benson.
Rhythm and Roots is a great mix of national and local bands. It’s a fine reminder that you can find someone playing bluegrass, country, Americana, swing, blues, or something just about any night in Bristol. Many of the festival stages and venues host music all year long. Stop by sometime and check them out!
Birthplace of Country Music Museum was open to guests throughout the weekend, and Radio Bristol hosted a roundup of festival acts for the Farm and Fun Time radio broadcast.
The museum presented several screenings of the documentary, Born in Bristol: The Untold Story of the Birth of Country Music. Unfortunately, we missed that but heard from several people that it was wonderful.
Rhythm and Roots closed out with a 50th anniversary tribute to Folsom Prison Blues, hosted by the New Familiars.