Thursday, May 11, 2017

Birthplace of Country Music Museum - Bristol VA/TN



The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is located in an unprepossessing industrial building in the midst of a rapidly redeveloping area in downtown Bristol VA/TN. What has come to be known as the "Big Bang" of country music took place only a few blocks away in a building that no longer exists. It's fitting, however, for this wonderful small museum be placed where it is, as it becomes a magnet for those interested in experiencing where the music they love originated, who the people involved in this explosion of music were, and how an industry developed on the talents of some country people, widely called "Hillbillies" at the time, who appeared in response to some newspaper adds run by Ralph Peer for a recording session that took place in Bristol from July 25 - August 5, 1927.

Ralph Peer

During this brief period in 1927, dozens of artists, responding to what they heard and read about Peer's recording sessions and the previous successes experienced by Earnest V. (Pops) Stoneman, who had gone to New York to record some songs, descended on Bristol from the surrounding hills and hollers in Virginia and Tennessee to record and get paid for recording their music to provide Peer with content for the burgeoning popularity of the Victrola, for which he was seeking to find new markets. The Carter Family, from nearby Maces, VA and Jimmy Rodgers, who became the "Singing Brakeman," kicked off what became two strands within the larger world of country music: country and bluegrass. 

Jimmie Rodgers with the Carter Family

The Carter Family Sings
Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow Tree
August 1, 1927



Jimmy Rodgers
 The Soldier's Sweetheart
August 4, 1927


In a delightful interactive setting, The Birthplace of Country Music Museum tells the story of the origins and spread of traditional music as well as its development into commercial areas that have since become concentrated in Nashville and other centers. As a major stop on the Crooked Road, however, it stands as a venue that tells where country and traditional music came from while suggesting where it might be going. Along the way it showcases, through films, recordings, and artifacts the fascinating story of how peoples' love of their music and the commercial needs of the growing recording industry met and expanded to the country and the world. 

Interactive Table Explores Early Recordings


Film of Ralph Stanley Recorded at the Museum

Space for Special Exhibits

Visually Attractive Exhibit

Museum Director: Dr. Jessica R. Turner

Bristol has become a bustling center for the celebration of country music. Three areas of activity focus the city's centrality and maintain its relevance. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum explores the story of the development of country music in this city and region. Radio Bristol, located physically and emotionally within the museum, broadcasts locally and world-wide on three channels covering all the country music bases. Bristol Rhythm and Roots, held each September, is a large, eclectic music festival drawing thousands to the streets of Bristol.

Kris Truelsen - Producer of Bristol Radio

Bristol Radio broadcasts on three separate channels, streaming worldwide on an Americana, a Classic, and on local radio and streaming at WBCM 100.1 FM with an "eclectic mix of American roots music and live performances. The Museum contains a small (approximately 100 seats) live performance auditorium where ticketed live events are presented, including a monthly recreation of the 1950's WBCM radio program "Farm and Fun Time" broadcast live on the third Thursday of every month. A monthly calendar of ongoing and special live events can be found here. Watch Bill & the Belles recreate the Eastman Credit Union commercial for Farm and Fun Time below:



Museums not only put exhibits out for public display, they collect, preserve, archive, and prepare for exhibit huge amounts of collected material. These archives, maintained by specialists in such activities contain a treasure trove of materials for scholars to study closely and for potential display to the public. Sometimes, archives take up more space than the display areas of major museums and collections. An enlarged archival space is currently under construction to increase the available storage and restoration spaces of the Museum. We spent a few minutes in an archival area with Curator of Collections Emily Robinson:

Emily Robinson

An Early Electronic Microphone

Various Primitive Instruments Including Bones 
and a Jaws Harp

Harp Guitar

The collection also includes old audio tapes, recordings, and sheet music. The Museum is always glad to consider relevant contributions to its ever-widening archives. Such contributions are tax deductible, for anyone interested. 

What Is Genre?

The placard above takes up little space in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, but suggests one of the major emphases represented there. Beginning with simple country people appearing at a recording session to share their music, country music, along with blues, has influenced music around the world. Once separated into distinctive radio genres, the barriers between varieties of music are being erased by wide availability of all kinds of music. An engrossing film shown in a small space in the museum shows performers from the Carter Family through Johnny Cash to contemporary roots bands, showing how the idea and the song dominates. Bristol Rhythm & Roots Festival in September raises and, perhaps, answers the same question.

Bristol Rhythm & Roots

The Bristol Rhythm & Roots festival takes place this year on September 15 -17, 2017 in downtown Bristol. A street festival, almost every inch of the downtown area is filled with musicians performing on the streets and in a variety of venues. The music ranges from primitive mountain music to far out progressive country. Are their connections to be found? Sure! Can individuals reject much or all of what they see? Certainly! Is it an exciting happening? Definitely! With over a hundred bands ranging from The Earls of Leicester, twice IBMA Entertainer of the Year, a Flatt & Scruggs cover band and Carl Shifflett & the Big Country Show to The Infamous Stringdusters and Dead Man Winter, the full range of what's become known as Americana Music is available.

How to Get to the 
Birthplace of Country Music Museum
Place Your Current Location in the O and Click


Admission to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum ranges from $13.65 for adults, $11.55 for seniors, children, military and groups, and free to children under 5. The Museum is a Blue Star Museum free to military personnel from Labor Day to Memorial Day. 

Our visit took place early on a weekday morning, when few people were in town and fewer still at the Museum. During the high season, which lasts from mid-May through late October, you can expect to see many more people at the Museum. However, museum spaces are well-designed to separate crowds and increase movement through them. Depending on how thoroughly you wish to explore this deeply involving museum, you should plan to visit for a minimum of a full day. Check the events schedule for special events and ticketed ones. The museum programs and opportunities are more widespread than what's been covered here. Take a good, careful look at its web site.