Johnson City Sessions celebrated this weekend

The Johnson City Sessions 1928-1929: Can You Sing or Play Old-Time Music?While the 1927 Bristol Sessions, in which the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and other early country music acts recorded some of their first songs, is well-known as the “Big Bang of Country Music,” it certainly wasn’t the only early country music recording session to leave a lasting impact on traditional music.

It wasn’t even the only one in upper East Tennessee. With the release of a new box set, The Johnson City Sessions 1928-1929: Can You Sing or Play Old-Time Music?, Bear Family Records has commemorated a lesser-known, yet still important, milestone in country music history.

Fifty-three different musical acts recorded for Columbia Records during two different sessions in 1928 and 1929. October 15 marks the 85th anniversary of the first day of the 1928 sessions, and Johnson City will be remembering the occasion all weekend with concerts, radio shows, and the official release of the box set on Saturday, October 19.

The Johnson City Sessions box set contains all of the existing recordings from those sessions – 100 songs – on four CDs, and features several well-known old-time musicians, including Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Charlie Bowman (both of whom had an impact on bluegrass music – Ashley through his recording of traditional numbers like The Cuckoo and later collaborations with Doc Watson, and Bowman through his composition of now-standard tune Roll On Buddy). The box set will also include a 136-page booklet offering information about the sessions co-authored by Dr. Ted Olson, a professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University, and Tony Russell, a British historian whose work focuses on American music. Olson and Russell previously worked together on the Grammy-nominated The Bristol Sessions: The Big Bang of Country Music.

Columbia ad run in Johnson City papers to recruit artists for their sessions

ETSU and the Birthplace of County Music will present a Johnson City Sessions Weekend October 17-20, with events taking place in and around downtown Johnson City (the location of the original recordings). Events will include the album’s official release party on October 19 at the Down Home, and a recording of the Mountain Stage radio show at ETSU featuring Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien, Sarah Jarosz, and the ETSU Old Time Pride Band.

For more information on the Johnson City Sessions Weekend and the new box set, visit the Birthplace of Country Music’s website at

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About the Author

John Curtis Goad

John Goad is a graduate of the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass, Old Time & Country Music program, with a Masters degree in both History and Appalachian Studies from ETSU.