Shortly before the 2011 Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, I received a Facebook message from Charles Fontaine, the manager of Folk Soul Revival.

His message was an invitation to perform with one of the most popular regional bands in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Folk Soul Revival has been building a fan base for a couple of years now. In fact, at the time of this writing, they’re probably one of the most promising acts to sign a record contract and break out of the Tri-Cities with their original and memorable music.

Last year, the band released their first full-length CD titled ‘Words Off A Tongue” – a remarkable collection of songs recorded in 2010 with Allun Cormier. Unfortunately, the launch of this project also coincided with the Allun’s tragic death in a house fire shortly before the New Year.

When I received Charles email, I was excited to perform with these guys on the State Street stage during the opening concert of the festival that draws over 50,000 each year.

A week before our first rehearsal, my home was echoing with the songs from this new record. Allun’s voice was warm and welcome under my roof. The music became even more enduring as I found my way through the chords and Cormier’s lyrics.

Charles had a little trouble trying to find a rehearsal space before the show, but Doug Beatty and the folks at the Bus Pit were there to help us out.

It was a Thursday night when I drove up under a overcast sky. My old friend Kevin Jackson met me in the parking lot. We met a few years back when he was playing fiddle with Reagan Boggs and any visit with Kevin is full of laughter, funny stories and his latest jokes.

The rest of Folk Soul Revival were carpooling since most of the band are scattered between Southwest Virginia, Johnson City and Bristol, TN. They piled out of their SUVs like a music video –sandwiched between their gear.

Daniel Davis is a talented songwriter with a easy-going presence. Underneath a baseball cap and a denim jacket, he’s one of the principal songwriters and lead vocalist for the group. Together with Justin Venable (“Vinnie”), who shares writing and fronting the band, these two guys are the orbiting force that the band builds it personality around. On the one side is Daniel with enduring original songs and the other pole, a sandy–haired young Vinnie is the free spirit that gives the band their edge.

Backing up the two are Brandon Sturgill and Jordan Bledsoe who are original members of the band and newcomers Daniel Vanover on guitar and Aaron Faust on drums. Vanover replaces Cormier this past year and is an amazing new addition that brings a versatile talent to the band as he’s a seasoned percussionist who knows more about technique and dynamic than most who sit behind a drum kit.

All of the guys deliver their voice for rich and rowdy harmonies when the band is delivering their choruses.

The guys had been playing a busy schedule for the past few weeks and while we talked about the upcoming show and moved our instruments to the stage, Charles was passing out money from the weekend’s gigs. It wasn’t long before he opened a bag of tall-boy Pabst Blue Ribbon (one of the bands favorite elixirs) to relax the mood with the new players – me and Kevin joining the party.

Earlier in the week, I’d been practicing their latest album, but was surprised to experience several new songs they wanted to play for the upcoming gig – including a tune called ‘Jaw Bone.’ The song ushers a more modern Americana flavor and was complimented by Vanover’s slide guitar. Other new tunes including a memorial for Allun called ‘Here Now’ and another tune untitled work which has become “Queen City” written by Venable.

Folk Soul Revival was seven members strong that night and we worked through the set list quickly with Charles listening in front of the stage contemplating song choices and giving feedback on the music.

It would be a oversight for me not mention the importance of Charles Fontaine too. He’s probably one of the most effective and dedicated managers I’ve ever met in my lingering memory of the local music scene. I’m certain the guys would agree he’s an important influence in the success of the band.

The rehearsal lasted well into the night and we agreed to meet one more time before the show the following Friday.

Over the weekend, I practiced the new music and met again with the band at Daniel’s house in Bristol on Monday.

He’s got a storybook home in the country with a new baby to boot. On the next night, his charming wife was offering us hot dogs as we invaded their den. We had a great rehearsal too as the mood and excitement for the festival seemed to build.

I had a busy next few days flying out to Phoenix for a conference and returned late Thursday night just ahead of the start of the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion.

After a good night sleep and a day at the office, I made it to the streets of Bristol around 3pm. The weather was overcast and cool with temperatures in the mid-sixties with a cold north wind.

The crowds began to gather around 4pm and I joined the band at the Bristol Train Station where the artists were gathering their credentials. We had a relaxed time mingling with regional musicians which is one of the most important aspects of this festivals. It seems every year, I spend more time reconnecting with players in the area and watching major artists walk the streets of Bristol. We were even more excited to hang out with John Oates as he and several artists appearing for the first time at this annual music festival.

The band met behind the stage around 5.30 preparing for the 6.30 show on the State Street stage.

Kevin and I were the old guys who arrived early and Daniel and Vinnie were there shortly after tuning up their instruments. Later, Aaron pulled up in his car with a brand new kick drum with a stylized “F.S.R.” on the drum heads. He had literally put together a brand new drum set for this show and before long, we had our gear unpacked and were ready to take the stage.

It’s a funny thing about performing. Time seems to fly when you’re focused on plugging in cables, getting a sound check and watching everyone prepare. I had a few moments though to stare West into the street and notice one of the largest crowds I’d performed for in long time. This was going to be something special too – on the front of the stage – a huge banner commemorating the performance to the memory of Allun Cormier.

The emcee introduced the band, the lights came up and Justin introduced the band with Jaw Bone. The crowd responded with a wild welcome as we began to play the music we had been rehearsing for the past week.

Perhaps for as long as I live, I’ll always remember the way this band’s music touched the audience in attendance on State Street. “The Congregation” as they are called know every lyric and unlike many performances I’ve experienced over the years, these souls were hardly a group to park in a chair. In fact, they were ready to dance and sing–along from the first song to the last in our 45-minute set. The band played great too and seemed even more animated during the performance and the applause was immediate following every ending.

The most important memory happened during ‘Chinatown.’ This was one of Allun Cormier’s powerful songs and midway through the chorus, we all stopped playing our instruments to let the crowd sing the lyrics and the response was overwhelming. It’s one thing for a band to have a great performance, but it’s another experience altogether when you hear fans lost in the melody and the chorus – few musicians ever witness this on stage and I’m one of the lucky ones to share this with the guys.

It was a terrific show and several videos are etched into the YouTube playlist including a complete performance from the State Street stage. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get the chance to play with the guys again, but it was surely an unforgettable and proud moment.

Thanks again to Charles and the band for a truly amazing experience at Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion.