Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion by Heather Robin
Bristol is an amazing city filled with an immense musical history. Bristol was the setting for the 1927 Bristol Recording Sessions and many historians have labeled them the Big Bang Of Country Music and several years ago Bristol was recognized as the Birthplace of Country Music by the U.S. Congress. Out of interest it is also home to the burger joint that was the last place Hank Williams was seen alive. He stopped there en route to a concert he was to scheduled to perform in Ohio the next day. He never made it. He died of a heart attack in the back of his Cadillac before he reached Ohio.
Another feature of Bristol that fascinated me was State Street, the main street of the cities. The center road markings down State Street serve as the border between Tennessee and Virginia and has little plaques on the center markings indicating which side is which. This also means that there is a police presence from the two different states on either side of the Street. It was a novelty to be able to step from one state to another.
Over all my experience in Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion was awesome and I have utmost respect for all the hardworking committee and volunteers that help make the festival happen every year. It’s a massive festival with 20 stages operating throughout the 3 days the festival runs. I was made aware of the festival and subsequently invited to broadcast from the festival by Mr Larry Gorley, who has been involved with the BRRR since its inception 9 years ago. He was kind enough to let me interview him regarding the festival via the internet.
The following is a transcript of an excerpt of that interview, which I include here to give a little insight to the beginnings and future direction of this great festival.
Heather: Larry what position do you currently serve within BRRR?
Larry: I serve on the Board of Directors and I also am the Co-Chair of the Music Committee for the year 2009.
Heather: what was the original vision for BRRR and why Bristol?
Larry: We wanted to promote our region’s rich musical heritage, and the part it has played in musical history both in country and bluegrass music through the recordings made in Bristol in 1927. The influence from the artists that particiapated in those 1927 sessions with Ralph Peer, has influenced all genres of music. Those sessions were called the Bristol Sessions and many historians have labeled them the Big Bang Of Country Music several years ago Bristol was recogonized as the Birthplace of Country Music by the U.S. Congress.
Heather: So is an influence from those recordings made in Bristol in 1927 a prerequisite to being able to be booked at the festival as a performer?
Larry: We like to keep it along those lines but the 1927 sessions featured many different styles of music so that gives us a broader spectrum to look at for band selections.
Heather: And where could one hear the original 1927 session recordings?
Larry: Just google Bristol Sessions and it will give you sources, Rounder Records, I believe has an issue of those sessions.
Heather: How many stages operated during the 9th annual BRRR festival this year?
Larry: 20 I believe, counting indoors, last year we had over 32,000 folks to attend.
Heather: And approximately how many artists?
Larry: We had over 150 artists I believe from major acts to local acts.
Heather: Some of the headline acts I saw while attending this years festival included John Cowan, Peter Rowan, Tim O’Brien, Dan Tyminski, Dale Ann Bradley, Sierra Hull, The SteelDrivers who else was featured?
Larry: Patty Loveless, Darrell Scott, Dailey & Vincent, Dr. Dawg Gene Watson and more.
Heather: Now this is a pretty amazing festival, how is it possible that the admission charge is only $40?
Larry: Thru the help of sponsorship from local business owners and companies.
Heather: That’s some mighty fine sponsorship work. You must have an amazing dedicated crew of volunteers.
Larry: We have a good reputation and a hard working sponsorship committee, there are a little over 20 folks on our board of directors and 100’s of volunteers.
Heather: What were some of the hurdles you had to face to bring BRRR to the standard of festival it is now?
Larry: To get folks to see what this meant to Bristol and the surrounding region and thankfully we have great support and co-operation.
Heather: Now you said earlier many types of music was influenced by the Bristol Sessions, what kind of musical diversity was featured at this year’s festival?
Larry: We covered blues, country, bluegrass, Celtic, old time and others including roots rock, some jazz influenced music, alt country and Americana.
Heather: You would have had the chance to have met many, many great artists over the last 9 years what has been the highlight or highlights for you?
Larry: Several: Gillian Welch & David Rawlings performing with Old Crow Medicine Show, Seldom Scene, Doc Watson, David Holt, Darrell Scott Trio among some. Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent singing together also interviewing Wayne Henderson on stage talking about making a guitar for Eric Clapton and how he told him (Eric) he’d have to wait a while for it. Wayne was behind in orders. I think it took him 10 years to get it to him, there’s a book called Clapton’s Guitar that tells the story.
Heather: What can we expect for next year and when is the next year’s festival?
Larry: Next year’s festival, as always, is the third weekend of September. As for what you can expect, we’re going to be asking acts from the first nine years of the festival back to perform. A real reunion of sorts and we’ve had some great acts in those nine years.
Heather: Well Larry, thank you so much for your time and your insight into this great historical festival.
More information about Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion here.