Bristol Performer BadgeA couple of years ago, I remember setting up for a performance with the Reagan Boggs Band at Bristol Rhythm and Roots as Hurricane Katrina passed through the Tri-Cities. The weekend before last, Hurricane Humberto

brought rain again to the first day of the festival, but by the time the first band went on stage, the sun scorched a tunnel through the clouds and a burning orange sunset lit up three days of original talent and a shared community experience that continues to gain momentum each year.

The Birthplace of Country Music has its crossroads in the mountains of East Tennessee and each September, musicians and bands from all over the country meet for a weekend downtown at the border of two states (Bristol, TN and Bristol, VA) for the annual music festival – The Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion.

It’s taken me a week or so to gather all the memories from this event including photos and video and a rather verbose roundup, but there’s several stories to tell as we shut down the Clear band with this final performance, but we weren’t alone. Far from it…ticket sales were up 55%.

Pictures from FridayPictures from Saturday

This is my fourth year performing at Bristol Rhythm and Roots held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, September 14th-16th. It’s exciting to watch this event grow every year and as a musician, there’s no better celebration of music in East Tennessee. Sure, there’s Bonnoaroo and a host of other hippie festivals in the Carolinas, but Bristol truly turns the spotlight on the music and the musicians as more than 500 gather over the weekend. There’s plenty of food and drink, outdoor vendors and even the downtown merchants support a weekend of entertainment on 14 stages scattered about the city. A fan from Roanoke mentioned Merlefest and Smilefest too, but the thing he likes about Bristol – “it’s easy on your billfold.”

This year, Carson Waugh joined me for the festival and I’m glad he did. His love of music and the friends he introduced me made this year all the more interesting. We both agreed to float the festival this year and catch as much as we could at this years festival.

Carson is a student at ETSU, works part-time at Best Buy, plans to be a child psychologist and he’s changing the world around him and a young artist who can accomplish anything he wants. He’s never met anyone whom he didn’t inspire and unlike me – he’s not afraid to dance. Not only was he a great sidekick, he took plenty of photos and video along the way too.

We met Greg Smith on Shelby Street and grabbed our performer credentials and wasted no time heading in where the music was echoing down the streets from the new outdoor patio at Omainans. Remodeled over the summer, this venue had three stages for Rhythm and Roots and hosted some of the most interesting new acts over the the weekend.

Bombadi was on stage as a light drizzle gave way to a golden sunset. These young players had an epic acoustic style with a guitar, bass and keyboard and their songs were anthem-like and a refreshingly modern. Duty Free was playing in the front of the bar and I got a few pictures of Kevin Jackson on fiddle with his signature smile.

Josh Green was in town for the weekend following up his recent CD release in Los Angeles. He’s a local talent from Kingsport who’s close to the big producers and he always enjoys coming home for the festival. We left Omanians and caught up with Josh at the Orchid Bistro right down the street. This is one of Bristol’s newest restaurants and Josh was just beginning a set with his friend Megan. We wanted to watch the show, but the place was so small they required we order from the menu, but we had other places to go. Josh sounded like his songs are becoming better all the time though and it was good to see him back home.

I met two of Carson’s friends as we returned to Omanians to hear Alvaretto Jones. Clay Pruett who performs regularly with Carson at Lake View Marina and we just saw him earlier in the week at a solo gig for Bristol Rhythm sponsors. Clay had on a Pabst Blue Ribbon baseball cap, a white tshirt and loose blue jeans. Together with a banjo, mandolin and a striking fiddle player dressed like a mountain fairy, Alvaredo Jones turned up the heat tonight and it was good to hear fresh talent. Stephanie Muncey is from Blountville and I was impressed with this young ladies music and the way she delivered several old bluegrass songs like she was singing at the fair. She also performs with Celtic Aire and explained later that this band was breaking up after this show and leaving here to consider new options in the coming year.

It was well after dark now and walking down the streets was unusual Friday night as the crowd seemed to be a bit younger than the day crowd. The rain from earlier in the day may have influenced the turnout, but there was no shortage of great performances.

The everybodyfields were playing a set on the Piedmont Stage just across the street in Virginia. Sam Quinn and Jill Andrew were performing a sweet set of their original music that has turned a lot of heads in the past few years. Sam is credited as being a next generation Jimmie Rogers and he has a humble spirit that swells in their music. They had a steel guitarist playing with the band too before a large crowd of mesmorized fans. Later in the weekend, their set at The State Line was lined out the door upstairs and for good reason – they’re blended harmonies and song structure are spellbinding and I’m always happy to hear them perform their sophisticated melancholy songbook.

We walked up the street and smell of the food vendors was alluring, but we made our way past the Paramount to listen to Lightning Charlie at Java J’s. This is a small coffee shop on the corner of State and fifth. I was completely surprised to listen as this local legend dressed to the nines with cowboy hat and playing the piano. Lightning Charlie is usually on the Fender guitar and singing the blues, but tonight to my surprise he was playing Gospel to a thick crowd. One of the funniest photos from this period in time was the picture of Richard Porter (Classic Recording Studios) with his African grey parrot.

After a few moments at Java J’s, we made our way back down the street to Borderline Billiards. This is the stage where our band Clear was to perform and Christabel and the Jons were playing an early set. I was looking forward to listening to this act from Knoxville and fell in love with Christabel. She has a precious honesty about her voice and her music is graceful and elegant. Dressed in vintage dress and white hat (I love hats on women), she performed her original music on several instruments and seemed really relaxed with the audience. Her backup players were dressed in hats and suits and were highly focused behind her memorable folk songs that blend acoustic bluegrass across lines of folk music and a 1920’s romantic style.

One of the many favorite moments of the night was talking with Ann Carter from WCYB. She always stops the moment for a while and it had been several months since I saw her last. She enjoys live music and we shared a few thoughts together listening to Christabel before I had to go unload my gear.

I was lucky to have a few friends with me who made the long walk back to Shelby Street more enjoyable and certainly easier on my back. Dan, Scott, Evan and Carson made my trip back up to State Street a snap. Thanks guys!

It didn’t take long to setup our stage at Borderline Billards and before long, our set was underway. It would be the last formal performance for this band and we were all excited about the gig. We all agreed to have a good time and I don’t think that was ever an issue. Our set was late as we started around 11pm and we played till about 1.00. I remember a few shots of tequila, a boomy room sound and a hug from Leah Ross who came up during one of the songs in our set list.

Gary Wolfe was the sound man for this show and although he did a pretty good job helping us with the gear, I was bit bothered by his actions. Sound engineers usually work with the band, but this guy seemed to be no more than a guy with a loud stereo. We had a few issues with feedback and our friends said it was loud. Reagan Bogs played on Saturday and she was loud too. As I stood ourside Saturday night watching Acoustic Syndicate, Wolfe was standing in the crowd. We started talking about the weekend and in particular Reagan’s performance. He was bragging about the “kick drum sound.”

“Yea, the told me to turn down the kick drum, but I didn’t listen to them, I turned it up instead” Gary told me with a wink of pride. I hope we never have to work together again.

It was nice to play our last set among friends and we have a pretty good picture of the guys together. Carson robbed my cameras and caught a few images from the show. My greatest surprise was what happened when I got my gear packed up.

Just outside Borderline Billiards, the streets were quiet now. The vendors had pulled white tarpalians over their tents and a few delivery people were moving kegs and on dollies. The traffic lights blinked in unison on State Street and someone yelled at me that the mayor of Bristol wanted to help.

Much to my surprise David Shumacher, mayor of Bristol, TN was in a golf cart right outside Borderline Billiards and my friends had packed all my keyboards in the back. He offered me a seat and drove me to my Jeep to end a terrific night. I thanked him for his help and was humbled to have such great friends to assist me and for the mayor to see me to the truck.

After a restful night of sleep, I got up early Saturday and left for the second day of the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion.

Reagan Boggs was performing on the State Street stage at noon and I was a bit frustrated running late trying to find a parking spot. My good fortune from the night before played out again in the parking lot right behind Irseon’s. I was ready to pay the $5 fee when the guy noticed me from the sponsors event a few nights before, ushered me in without paying and I had one of the best parking spots for the rest of the weekend.

Walking quickly up State Street with my cameras, I rushed up under a tree to capture video of Reagan’s performance. I hadn’t seen her in several months now and was glad to catch her new song, ‘Right Now’ from her second album.

Tony Maggard must have saw me too wrestling with all my gadgets and we caught up on the side of the street as Reagan played her set before a good sized crowd under bright blue skies and a gentle breeze left over from the front that passed through the day before.

Keith Smith was behind the sound console and he had a great stage to work on. Jeff Cates from Cates Music Center told me later on State Street that he and another investor had recently bought this new stage located this year, right under the famous Bristol, VA/TN sign. Last year, the stage blocked off the street closer to Java J’s and this new location opened up a great place to watch great acts that later included Rhonda Vincent and the Rage as well as Donna and the Buffalo.

The weather was gorgeous Saturday – one of those perfect September days where the sun shines with a golden color, long shadows and deep lapis colored skies. After Reagan’s show, I made my way back down to the Piedmont stage where I heard the Al Caldwell band. It was unusual to hear a backup track playing at Rhythm and Roots, but I was even more surprised to see a sax man blowing hard on Stage Street and he was absolutely incredible. Not sure who he was, but I saw him later on the street and thanked him for blowing a great set of stellar solo work that echoed down the streets.

One of my favorite bands over the weekend was playing Saturday afternoon back on the Omainans patio. Mad Tea Party was exciting and when I saw the siren in the red dress with white polka dots, boots, tube socks and a ukelele – I was in love. Greg Smith bought everyone a round of cold beers and we listened intently as this ecletic trio delivered up-tempo original songs that blended a bit of vaudeville, hillbilly and surfer music into a package that had us all smiling.

Vocalist Ami Worthen is a great entertainer. She makes a ukelele look sexy too and she was backed up by great players too with Jason Krekel on an old Silvertone guitar and Jo Edel on upright bass. Both of these guys sang background vocals and played part of a drum kit with their spare feet. They had a suprisingly big sound too as Krekel kicked a snare drum while playing a wild rock-a-billy guitar and Edel pumped the upright bass and bass drum on opposite beats against a background of uptempo music that drew a delightful response from this crowd beneath the sunshine.

Late in the afternoon, I had a late lunch at the Burger Bar. This is a historic landmark in Bristol and they serve up a burger and fries in an old diner that barely has enough room for 20 people. I had a chili burger and listened to the static radio in the corner window announce the beginning of the Tennessee/Florida game and despite its weak signal, it had the attention of most everyone in the diner and outside the windows, the street was thick with music fans watching the stage performances.

On my way back up State Street, I met up with Reagan Boggs, her mother Nina and husband Tony as they were wrapping up lunch. I was glad to hear they had a new home together and were doing well. Not long after that, I met up with Carson, Clay Pruett and Danny and Tracy Strickler. They joined me at the Rhonda Vincent Stage and we made our way back down State Street to share other great performances. We ultimately made our way back to Omainans to join up for Rob Russell and The Sore Losers.

This was Rob’s first performance at Rhythm and Roots and I was eager to hear the band in Bristol. I got there a little early and separated from my friends a bit to hear a cover band called ‘Montage.’ They had a keyboard player with a full rig Hammond organ on this little small stage, but I was more amused at the Two Gentlemen Band – two guys with a vaudeville act with banjos, kazoos and witty songs.

The outdoor patio was packed by the time Rob got started out back. Jared and Vanessa Bentley joined the crowd as we listened to Rob start off an enthusistic set with ‘Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet.” We had a few beers and enjoyed watching the sun go down on this hyped up crowd.

One of the many improvements of this years’ festival was the relocation of two of the main stages. The State Street Stage was moved back underneath the Bristol sign and the Murial Stage moved from the wall to an angled view that made a better performance area for the artists and dramatically improved the sound. I caught up with Danny and Tracy again and we listened as Tony Trishka performed his set with a group of talented young acoustic players right into the sunset.

You can’t help but get caught up in the street corner sessions that play out all weekend long at Bristol Rhythm and Roots. I’ve always found these fascinating ever since my first first festival at the Smithville Old Time Fiddler’s Reunion when I was a kid in Smithville, TN.

Earlier in the day, I caught a couple of great video moments on the street as a couple of players from Kentucky played on guitar and banjo and then a host of players underneath a shade tree. When were walking back in the night air, a small crowd had gathered to hear a young lad named Adam Lackey. Adam is a friend of the Stricklers and at 10 years old, he certainly worth watching. His fiddle was a bit too big for him, but he had no problem yelling out bluegrass songs and holding his instrument under his chin keeping up with all the adults around him.

I hung out a bit more with Clay and Carson and helped them get ready for the Alvaredo Jones set at Ireson’s. On the way back up State Street, someone jumped out of the Special Ed and the Short Bus Van dressed in a tight purple leotard and a white captain’s hat. I couldn’t help myself but reintroduce myself as we had crossed paths at the Garage with Reagan Boggs some year ago.

Aaron Lewis is the front man for Special Ed and the Shortbus and I had to tell him that I bought their latest disc and the best I could do to describe their music as “Bluegrass Porn.”

I bought a copy of Special Ed’s disc after watching there crazy set at the Garage in Winston Salem. At the time, they had about ten people in the band and layered traditional bluegrass toe-tappers in a jug band style sprinkled with comedic porn. I love watching the faces of those who are lulled by the tradition and amused by the oblivion that goes by most listeners. Later in the evening, it was standing room only at The State Line Bar and Grill as these boys had them til late in the evening.

Waling back to Ireson’s Pub, Carson and I settled in at the front of the stage for Alvaredo Jones. We had our cameras in hand and the audience was a bit rowdy tonight. When they finally got there set under way the small room was moving as a thick crowd of young 20something fans danced to a collection of memorable old time music. We got plenty of great pictures and pretty nice video to chronicle the moment.

Later that night, the temperature turned a bit cool and most of the girls were opting for their guys to take them home. The food vendors were closing shop too around 10.00 and the only crowds remained for the headliner acts of Donna and The Buffalo and Acoustic Syndicate. I made my way to one of the successful businesses of the weekend (Sidetrack Tobacco) and bought a cigar and headed up the street to see Donna and the Buffalo. This is my third time to listen to this band and I’m still oblivious. I just don’t get it. A noticed a few people blogging about their performance who summed it up best when they described their act as ‘unrehearsed.’

Acoustic Syndicate has never been one of my favorite acts either. Never sat through a complete set, but I have to say these guys impressed me with their pinpoint vocal harmonies and extraordinary skill on their instruments. I wasn’t sure what I was hearing as they played in the cold night air, but it sounded a lot like the harmonies of Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Neither of their vocalists were great singers, but together, they did bring down the house.

I was talking with Dave Williams who was running sound and I described how amazing the guitar player was on stage, but I still didn’t get it. In a few moments, their banjo player was playing some strange doodling noise and suddenly the guys were dishing up an incredible rendition of Baba O Riley by The Who and I was in awe of what they created on stage. They had plenty of fans bobbing up and down well past midnight, even my friend Carson found a warm soul up front to dance with.

Greg Smith was watching the band too and it’s safe to say he was celebrating. We played the night before with Clear and closed the door on this chapter of our lives and today, he had also played the last performance with the Reagan Boggs Band. He said, “Two bands got killed off this weekend.” He was right too, but the only thing constant that I know of is change, so we shared a few more moments of Bristol Rhythm and Roots and it wasn’t long before I was headed back to the house.

I didn’t make it back up for the Sunday show. I had walked so much and heard all the music I could for the weekend. My feet truly felt like I had been to Knoxville and back, but what a great weekend it is! With my new friends, we took in way more than ever at Bristol Rhythm and Roots. We rejoined musicians and friends for a weekend to celebrate the music in our lives and it’s proud to be a part of this annual tradition in Bristol. Although I don’t know where I’m going yet as a musician, I certainly look forward to coming back to the Birthplace of Country Music and Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion.