Monday, September 28, 2009

2009 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion: Friday

We started our trip to the 2009 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion mid morning Friday the 18th - driving from just outside Washington D.C. to Bristol Virginia\Tennessee. We had planned a leisurely drive with a 6:00 PM arrival time in order to see Jason Isbell. The goal wasn't difficult to meet and we arrived in time to hear the last few songs from Bristol's own April Taylor. She was good, backed by a rockin' band, and with a nice pedigree - her great grandfather wrote songs with the Carter Family. Afterward we headed straight to the Cameo Theater to hear an accoustic set by Jason Isbell and Browan Lollar. Over the years we had come to admire Isbell from his days with The Drive By Truckers - both as a guitarist and songwriter. In fact the two songs he penned on Decoration Day are our favorite of the CD. There was a general understanding with the band, that his stint would be temporary and a few years later left to form Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit. This was our first chance to hear him live, solo and acoustic. The Theater was a great venue - perfect sound - and Isbell played a collection of songs he has written over the years. They included "Outfit" and an interesting "I Love the TVA" - a song inspired by family history. The two have nice chemistry - another great start for the trip.

We have mentioned in previous posts that one of the beauties of the Bristol Rhythm Roots Reunion is the non conformity of the venues. We say April Taylor at a traditional bandstand and Jason Isbell at a theater. We now headed into a bar - State Line Bar & Grille - to catch the rockabilly of Old Line Skiffle Combo. The pub was packed and there was only room to grab a beer as the band tour into Johnny Cash, Elvis, and even made the Beatles a bit rockabilly. We reconnoitered the upstairs section and heard Chris Kinght's "Its Not Easy Being Me" and it enticed upstairs. The song was being sung by Randy Hixson. He's from neighboring Johnson City and played several other covers that had the smaller upstairs crowd singing along. After eating, we headed to another theater, The Paramount Center for the Arts, to see Tim O'Brien; but was quickly disappointed - the venue was filled to capacity. We had lingered listening to Hixson for too long. We thus ducked into Kp Duty where the Elkville String Band was entertaining an older audience and were quickly invited to share a table with a several other attendees. This was one of our favorite occasions - talking to locals about the city's history, hearing a veteran's tales of 60 years in the armed forces, and of course, listening to good music.

We didn't want to be shut out again, so after leaving Kp Duty we headed to Machiavelli's in order to hear one of our favorite alt-country bands: Yarn. Another great venue, $2 PBR's and Yarn 20 feet in front of us. The band allows visitors to their website to download previous shows - which we do often - and so we were able to sing along most of their performance. Blake Christiana gets most of the attention, but Andrew Hendryx on mandolin and guitar is sure fun to watch.

After Yarn's set, we had a half hour to spare before the main event, Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit on the Piedmont stage. We walked around listening a little to The New Familiars and then Peter Rowan. What talent within a short walk. But it was Isbell who we really wanted to see this night. And the band rocked. We knew Isbell could play guitar, but so can his band: Jimbo Hart - bass, vocals; Browan Lollar - guitar, vocals; Derry deBorja - keys; and Chad Gamble - drums. Justin Townes Earle even joined in, appearing onstage to add harmonies on a couple songs. It makes no sense comparing these guys to the DBT, in their own right, they are a fun band to watch. Unfortunately before their set was through we were wiped, too much driving and beer. Fortunately we just had to walk a short distance to grab the free shuttle back to our hotel. We left tired, but eagerly anticipating what the next day would bring.....

More photos are available at the MyJoog Gallery.

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