Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2009 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

Our first impressions of the Rhythm & Roots Reunion are basically that it is one of the best music festivals we have attended, but also one of the most frustrating. Frustrating in that, with so many talented artists scheduled, there was always a conflict of interest. Do we see Justin Townes Earle or Yarn or Tim O'Brien or Corey Harris. Scythian or The Belleville Outfit or Holy Ghost Tent Revival or Trent Wagler and the Steel Wheels or Michelle Malone or Junior League. A series of fortunate - but never ending decisions. Yea, these conflicts result from overbooking quality talent - but there were other factors that will make the Rhythm & Roots Reunion an annual visit. First, the festival's location is rather unique - along State Street in Downtown Bristol - equally divided between Tennessee and Virginia. Why are all the bars in the Tennessee side? Then, there's the fact that Bristol exudes history - being the birthplace of country music, ties to the Carter family, and a stop on the Crooked Road. Also, with a downtown location, festival goers are not held hostage to a campground or park - forced to listen to music at temporary stages. Yes, the Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival has a few portable stages, but most of the venues are businesses located on State Street. Want to hear music in a cozy coffeehouse - try Java J's Downtown. You want a theater setting - look no further than The Paramount Center for the Arts or the Cameo Theater. How about listening to music while dining - try Machiavelli's, Kp Duty, Troutdale Bistro, or Eatz on Moore. Want Chinese with your music - go to Shang Hai. Interested in a traditional bar scene - Borderline Billiards, State Line Bar & Grille, O' Mainnin's. Our favorite venue was actually an antique shop - temporarily quartered by the Virginia Folklife Society - and providing a living room feel with their artist conversations. For those who attended with children, the organizers designated Saturday as Kids Day and provided moon bounces, slides, rock climbing walls, characters, and much more to humor the youngsters. For adults, there was plenty of beer available - and with shuttles provided to local hotels - no concerns about driving home. Yea...

As for the music, we were able to watch several acts we have written about previously: Justin Townes Earle, The Belleville Outfit, Bearfoot, Yarn, and Scythian. Funny how the last two times we have scene Scythian is after driving 6 hours even though the band members live in a 20 mile radius from us. One of the highlights occurred Friday when we were able to finally see Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, not once, but twice - the first time since leaving The Drive By Truckers. Other highlights were seeing bluegrass legends Tim O'Brien, The Dan Tyminski Band, and Peter Rowan, Sierra Hull and Highway 111, Jim Lauderdale and Reverend Frank Newsome together; David Mayfield of Cadillac Sky disco dancing onstage with Bearfoot; as well as seeing several acts for the first time. The Smart Brothers are a must see as are The Morning Pages. We loved the roots sound of Brian McGee and the Hollow Speed; Trent Wagler and the Steel Wheels; and The New Familiars. Dale Ann Bradley, what more can you say. Susan Brown and Friends were really good. Same with the Hackensaw Boys. And after listening to Ed Snodderly we immediately purchased a CD. Over the next several days we will be posting our experience for each day of the festival. Pictures will be available at the MyJoog Photo Gallery.

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