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.