I grew up in music. It’s how my family communicates, celebrates, mourns, loves, and just passes the time.
I spent 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 long 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 Reunion; Indighost; Blair Crimmins and the Hookers