Bristol and Abingdon – a nice escapade

My wife and I ventured to the southwestern Virginia highlands for a few days. We took in the fall foiliage, but also wanted to visit the museum in Bristol (Virginia and Tennessee) honoring the birthplace of country music. More on that later.

We stayed in a Bed and Breakfast in a nearby quaint town of Abingdon, VA. We love B&Bs as they afford opportunity to meet people, both guests and hosts. Abingdon has a charmlng and walkable downtown, with more than a few excellent restaurants, the Barter Theatre and access to a biking and hiking trail along pulled up railway lines called the Creeper Trail.

Bristol straddles the two states with its main street aptly called State Street (with one side in Tennessee and the other side in Virginia). It is filled with many shoppes and businesses. The museum is part of the Smithsonian. And, it exceeded our expectations.

Having seen Ken Burns’ excellent documentary series on “Country Music,” the birth place of recorded country music is in Bristol. The “Bristol Sessions” were the creation of a recording producer in a relative new industry in the second half of the 1920s. Ralph Peer of Victor Talking Machines traveled to Bristol with a state of the art portable recording system and two engineers. He had published in the newspapers an invitation to any musical individuals and groups who wish to be recorded.

They recorded 67 songs with 19 groups, including the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and Ernest Stoneman, who Peer had recorded earlier. He paid the artists $50 a song and set up a royalty system. The sessions produced recordings that were gobbled up by a welcoming public. In an introductory video narrated by John Carter Cash, whose grandmother was Maybelle Carter, it was noted listening to recorded music was egalitarian and broadened its interest and influence.

The museum is interactive with many listening stations throughout to supplement various videos and sidebar exhibits. A favorite sidebar was a video with four misicians discussing the musicality of the initial recordings. You can even record a short song after rehearsing how it goes, which we did.

As I have written before, we love going to small towns. This was a wonderful experience, even though we are not huge country music fans. We ate at a locally owned mom and pop restaurant actually run by the parents and family. We stumbled on the best laid out antique store run by a 67 year-old eccentric southern gentleman. Each area was a splurge of colors which rivaled the fall leaves.

So, do yourself a favor and take a day trip or long weekend. It is an easy way to invigorate yourself. Ours ended on a high note, as we met our daughter for lunch in another quaint, but much more vibrant, college town across the border in Boone, NC.

12 thoughts on “Bristol and Abingdon – a nice escapade

  1. Note to Readers: Two quick history tidbits. Boone, NC is 51 miles south of Abingdon, VA. Boone is named after Daniel Boone and he found an easier way to get through the mountains. Abindon is where a pack of wolves attacked the Boone group.

    As for Bristol, the lack of wisdom of leadership is telling at times. Since neither VA or TN leaders could navigate their own bureaucracies, people had to disembark a train ending at the Bristol, VA depot and walk over to a train awaiting at a Bristol, TN depot. Now, think of having to do that with merchandise and mateials. Get in a room and figure it out, leaders.

  2. I LOVED Ken Burns’ country music documentary. We’re supposed to visit that area this weekend to run the Virginia Creeper, but the weather isn’t looking too ideal for a long run.

    • Nika, we did as well. There were two couples at our B&B that rode the Creeper Trail. They said on the weekend, the biker traffic is heavier. So, beware. We walked only a short bit after dinner. You can pick up the trail 1/4 mile from Main Street in Abingdon. The museum in Bristol is cool. The antique store on State Street is called Wes Taylor’s on the Tennessee side. We ate a place called Eatz, but there is a Delta Blues restaurant and an interesting place called the Burger Bar. The restaurants in Abingdon are excellent. Our favorite was 128 Pecan. Plus, there is a dessert place called Anthony’s owned by a Cordon-Bleu chef. Enjoy. Keith

      • The weather turned out to be perfect and the leaves were gorgeous. The rain from the day before must have scared off several of the bikers, because we had the trail almost to ourselves and what bikers we saw were very courteous. We ran from Whitetop Mountain to Damascus. Didn’t get to see Abingdon this go-around, but I fell in love with the area and plan to return soon. I am planning on going to Bristol Rhythm and Roots festival next year. Thanks for the tips!

      • Nika, that is great. How far a run is that? Apparently, the music scene in Bristol is robust. Thanks for sharing, Keith

  3. Note to Readers II: I mentioned John Carter Cash as the grandson of Maybelle Carter, but it should be emphasized he is the son of Johnny Cash and June Carter. Maybelle was quite the musician and used a guitar picking technique which became known as the Carter Scratch, where she played melody and rhythm at the same time. It should be notec Duane Allman, one of the finest guitarists in the world taught his daughter the Carter Scratch.

  4. You were just a few miles from where I lived from 1985 until 1990 … Kingsport, Tennessee! And still, I learned much about Bristol from you just now that I didn’t know! Glad you were able to get away for a break and it sounds like you had a good time!

    • Jill, I was unaware of your time in Kingsport. I was unaware of Bristol’s role in the birth of country music until I saw Ken Burn’s documentary. One thing is for certain, it is hard to find a non-country radio station in that area. Keith

      • Though I lived in that area, I was also unaware of Bristol’s role in the birth of country music! It’s rather like having lived in D.C. and never been to most of the things that tourists typically visit! Yes, that area is mostly country music. I loved it when I lived there, but don’t think I could be happy there now. I did my graduate work at University of Tennessee in Knoxville, commuting from Kingsport two nights a week, while working in first public, then manufacturing accounting. In 1990, I was offered a job with Honda, just north of Columbus, and left Tennessee.

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