Heaven is Music Everywhere: Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion

I grew up in music.  It’s how my family communicates, celebrates, mourns, and loves.


I lived my childhood in an area of the country famous for its country music history.  I’m as formed by music and mountains as I am by the cells that build my body.  Music is in my blood.  My soul was nurtured by the sounds of guitars and drum sets and fiddles and banjos.  What I’m getting at here is that the one thing that makes me who I am, more than anything else in my life, is music.  My roots run deep and firm and, well, musical, in the brushy, misty mountains of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.

As they say, it’s Bristol, baby.  Or, more aptly for this post, it’s (all about) Bristol, baby.

You might have been to music festivals, but you’ve never been to a festival quite like Bristol’s Rhythm and Roots Reunion.  Bristol cemented its place in music history in 1927 with the Bristol Sessions, essentially the founding of modern country music.  Since then (and even before), Bristol and the surrounding area has been a gathering place for musicians and music lovers to come together, collaborate, and celebrate.  That’s what Rhythm and Roots is all about.


Once a year, Bristol, a city that spans Virginia and Tennessee, closes State Street and its side streets for several blocks.  It sets up stages, brings in vendors for arts, crafts, and food, and invites musicians from all over the country to play for a three-day celebration of music and mountain culture.

There’s music everywhere.  There are stages and musicians tucked into every corner.  There’s a band in almost every bar and restaurant.  From Friday through Sunday, once a year, Bristol becomes a little piece of melodious, lyrical, pickin’ and strummin’ Heaven.  And it’s not just country music.  You’ll find Americana, folk, classic rock, rockabilly, alt rock, bluegrass, jazz and ragtime, and even some Celtic flare.  Music is a universal language, and Rhythm and Roots offers something for everyone.


Ed Young of Ed Young and Friends, a three-person band featuring guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and upright bass, and Ed’s bluesy, deep baritone.


Randi Denton, lead singer of Indighost, a rock band with a sound reminiscent of 1960s psychedelia.


Blair Crimmins, front man of Blair Crimmins and the Hookers, an energetic Dixieland, jazz, and ragtime band.

I love Rhythm and Roots because it captures the spark that makes music what it is.  Music is more than just sound waves.  Music is important.  Music is culture.  Music is identity.  Music is home, and as long as you never lose the music, you’ll always carry your home with you.

I’ve done cartwheels across State Street that carried me from Virginia to Tennessee, and I’ve stood many times in two places at once.  I’ve spent some of my most memorable days in the green room and on the stage of Bristol’s impeccably restored Paramount theatre.


I’ve lived in Northern Virginia for seven years.  I’ve done my time in fast-paced, competitive jobs.  I’ve commuted three hours each day.  I think I fit in well enough here, now.  But it’s not home.

Home is where the heart is, and my heart’s tucked safely away in the mountains where I grew up.  I might have left them, but they’ve never left me.  Every time I go to Rhythm and Roots, I’m grateful all over again that I grew up in the land of biscuits and gravy, Johnny Wood and fishing, flatfooting, porch sitting, moonshine, and music.



*Some links, for anyone who’d like to learn more about the festival or the bands I’ve mentioned here: Bristol Rhythm and Roots ReunionIndighostBlair Crimmins and the Hookers

An Apple (Wine) a Day

It’s the last day of summer.  I’m not really a summer person (summer is just an invitation for sunburns), so I’m pretty excited.  Graham’s the opposite.  He loves summer (side effect of growing up at the beach, I suspect), and late summer is his favorite part of the year.  My point is, either way you look at it, we should be drinking wine tonight – me, to celebrate, and Graham, to say goodbye – and so we are.  And to welcome the harvest season, we’re drinking apple wine.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, before I go any further:  I don’t like fruit wines.  I do like ciders, but not fruit wines.  I do like this one.

Moving on, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve passed right by Cana Vineyards and Winery of Middleburg.  A couple of weeks ago, we finally stopped for a tasting.


Cana has a nice tasting bar and a large seating area, as well as a commanding view of the mountains (really, the best part).  They’ve built an inviting facility that’s perfect for events, and the day we stopped in they were closing early for a wedding.  We walked in about thirty minutes before closing time as they were starting to set up, and were impressed with the courteous, friendly service we received.  We weren’t rushed, and we even got a glimpse of the barrel room while we chatted with one of their employees about Virginia wines.  The whole experience couldn’t have been more pleasant, and Cana would be a comfortable place to relax for an afternoon.  Since we couldn’t do that, we walked out with a few bottles.


The apples for this wine are sourced from Winchester, VA, only about 45 minutes away from Middleburg, which is so famous for its apples that it holds an apple festival every year.  I was expecting this wine to be sweet, since fruit wines usually are (which is why I don’t usually like them).  This one, though, is dry and crisp – a slightly floral nose of apples and honey, a little bit of citrus and almost an effervescent flavor mid-palate, and a finish with just a hint of black pepper.  It’s refreshing and light, and the flavor profile is definitely different than wine made from grapes.  But it’s got the complexity and subtlety that you’d expect from a good Virginia wine.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m so looking forward to cooler days and changing leaves.  Fall is my favorite season not just for the weather and the scenery, but also for the food and festivities.  Who doesn’t love pumpkin pie and hayrides?  But I will say, to all my pumpkin spice loving friends (of which I have a fair number), if you get tired of all pumpkin all the time, maybe give something apple a try.  I mean, you know what they say about apples and doctors, and I’m sure that still counts for apple wine, right?  Right??


P.S. – If you’d like to check out Cana Vineyards and Winery of Middleburg, here’s their Facebook page: Cana Facebook Page.

P.P.S. – Apple cider is superior to pumpkin spice lattes.  There.  I said it.

Three Years Married

My husband and I have been married for three years today.  Graham is my best friend, my partner, on occasion my therapist, and the love of my life.  If soul mates are for real, I’m certain he’s mine.

Our wedding was beautiful, every detail exactly what we wanted, and the perfect expression of our personalities and our love for each other.


But marriage is more than a pretty white dress and fond feelings.  Neither of us came into this thinking that we’d have a fairy tale ending.  Marriage is hard.  It’s a brutal, non-stop boot camp that teaches you how to love another person.  It’s not easy to share your life with another human being.  It’s not easy to be selfless when someone else’s goals need attention.  And don’t even get me started on money.  That’s ground we cover with our combat boots on.  Marriage takes work.  It takes commitment and effort.  Every. Single. Day.

And it’s worth it.  It’s worth it to have a partner who supports you, who laughs with you and cries with you and sings with you and drinks wine (only seldom to excess) with you.  It’s worth it to know we will always come home to each other, no matter how awful the day or how far the distance.


Graham and I are happy.  We might not be happy every minute of every day, but we’re happy with each other and happy with our life together.  We don’t get it right every time (who does?), but we always try, and every day we learn a little more about what makes our marriage work.

We talk.  About everything.  All the time.  We talk about politics and philosophy and photography and writing.  We talk about work and projects.  We talk about our insecurities, and we brag about our accomplishments and our talents.  We talk about our house, our pets, our cars (more about his, because it’s a piece of crap).  We end every argument with a long conversation about why we argued and how we can work together to move forward, and what we need from each other.  Ours is a verbose relationship, and that means that we don’t hold anything back.  We talk, and we trust.

We do stuff.  We dabble in our hobbies together.  I’m Graham’s photography assistant (I’m a glorified lens-holder).  He’s my sous chef (he’s basically the dishwasher and garbage man).  We make a point of exploring new places and seeing new things together.  We go adventuring together (he plans and I fret…it works).  We encourage each other to learn and grow and not get bored.  We engage each other not just as romantic partners, but as real people with real interests.  He’ll hold my hand while I see the tigers at the zoo, and I’ll hold his (but close my eyes) while he looks at the snakes.

We don’t fight fair.  Bear with me on this one.  Graham’s a logic machine – at his worst, he’s a pedantic, intellectual snob who will rip apart an argument for the sake of doing it.  I’m an emotional tyrant – at my worst, I always know the most hurtful thing to say, and I’ve got a temper that would frighten Donald Trump.  And it’s okay.  He’s smart, savvy, quick-thinking, and willing to stand up for himself when he knows he’s right.  I’m passionate, committed, and I won’t back down when I believe in something.  I’m fire and he’s ice.  We balance each other, and we understand that neither of us is perfect.  We know that we can’t love each other halfway.  If we always tiptoed around our differences, we really wouldn’t have much of a relationship.

We apologize.  I’m scary in an argument.  He’s detached.  We know this.  We really, really know this.  But we both know when to quit and say we’re sorry.  Admitting when we’re wrong and owning up to it isn’t always easy (it’s never easy).  But being together is more important than winning.  You can’t build a life together if you act like adversaries keeping score.  “I’m sorry,” said honestly, gracefully, and with conviction and respect, are the two most important, powerful words in a marriage.

We are grateful.  For the good times and the bad times, and the boring times, and the exciting times, and the arguments, and the apologies, and the adventures, and all of the times we’ve come through for each other when it matters.  Life throws curve balls.  Plans fall through.  Things don’t always work the way we’d planned.  We still have each other.  We never forget how important that is.

Growing up, I always said I’d never get married.  Marriage meant a lifetime with one person.  Marriage meant compromising myself and my dreams for someone else.  I just couldn’t imagine loving someone enough to make that kind of commitment.  Now, I can’t imagine my life without my husband in it.  Our marriage makes me stronger, kinder, braver, more patient, more ambitious, more motivated, and just better.

Graham is my North Star.  He’s the fixed foot of my compass, and his love will carry me through anything life throws at me.

I love you, Grahambler, every second of every day.  Thank you for going on this journey with me.


A Little Something Different (or, Our Visit to Otium Cellars)

Sometimes, you’re just in the mood for something different.

Before I say more, I should note that I am a creature of habit, almost to a fault.  I eat the same salad every day for lunch.  I do the laundry on Mondays and Fridays.  I drink Irish Breakfast Tea at least once a day.  I read every night before I go to sleep.  When these things don’t happen, I get a little…anxious.  Graham would say hard to deal with, but I’m giving myself a break.

I’m not quite so particular about wine.  I like trying different varietals from different places, and I don’t really have a wine-drinking schedule (does anyone?).  But I do have a level of comfort with the grapes that are commonly used at Virginia vineyards and wineries.  I’m all about a peppery Virginia Cabernet Franc.  I love the way smoky Virginia soil brings out the minerality in a Viognier.

But sometimes, like I said, you’re just in the mood for something different.  Which is why Graham and I found ourselves at Otium Cellars last weekend.


You can probably tell, but this place is picturesque.  Otium is a Latin word for leisure, peace, rest, and tranquility, and it fits the setting.  Rolling hills, silos, mature trees, and even horses, because, you know, Loudoun County.  It’s conveniently located right outside of the town of Purcellville, and a fun side trip on the way is a quick drive through the historic village of Lincoln, a little gem in the Loudoun County countryside.

We wanted to try Otium Cellars because of their reputation for German varietals, and particularly German reds.  Uncommon in Virginia, and executed very, very well at Otium.  Their tasting is well worth the cost, as it’s pretty extensive and the tasting room is a comfortable spot to relax on a weekend afternoon.  There wasn’t a single wine on the menu we wouldn’t have bought.  We ended up bringing home bottles of 2014 Blaufränkisch, 2014 Dornfelder (both reds), and 2015 Grüner Veltliner (a white).

We opened the Grüner Veltliner tonight.  We figured this would be one of the last 90 degrees days of the year (please, oh please, let it be so!), and so a cold white wine seemed like the most logical choice.


I’d never tried this varietal before.  This grape is grown primarily in Austria, and the grapes for this particular bottle were grown in Washington State.  It’s robust, for such a crisp wine – a light, bright nose of citrus, with hints of apples and stone fruits (and I think just a touch of honey), light acidity and a bit of spiciness on the palette, and a delicate finish of white pepper.  Lovely, and absolutely perfect for a hot day like today.

I’ll feature the two reds that we bought a little later in the year.  I’m excited to pair them with some classic fall flavors (sage, cinnamon, cloves…how long until Thanksgiving?).  For now, I’ll enjoy my cold white wine, dream of cooler days and changing leaves, and heartily recommend a visit to Otium Cellars.



*If you’d like to check out Otium Cellars, here’s their website:  Otium Cellars