© Jeremy Gaunt

Travels With Music: The Birthplace Of Country

A landmark recording session across the Virginia-Tennessee border kicked it all off

Claiming that your town is the birthplace of a genre of music as big as country seems a bit risky. But the U.S. town of Bristol (in Virginia/Tennessee, explanation later) does have some justification.

In 1927, Ralph Peer of The Victor Recording Machine Company showed up with a mobile unit, invited locals from the area into town, and recorded them in what is now known as The Bristol Sessions. It marked the public debut of The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, among others.

© Jeremy Gaunt

When I rolled up in Bristol for a family wedding a few years ago, I managed an hour at The Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Well worth it. It is a small, well-appointed museum that explains it all.
There is a very good orientation film, a lot of musical instruments, photographs, a working radio station (WCBM 100.1 FM MHz) and a fabulous little gift shop for music geeks (I bought some guitar picks and an LP of the soundtrack to Ken Burns’ “Country Music” series and fled before I spent more).

© Jeremy Gaunt

I did not have time, but the town itself has a lot of music venues as well as the annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Festival, which this year (COVID allowing) is due in September featuring Jason Isbell, Tanya Tucker, and Yola, among others.

The quirky thing about Bristol, meanwhile, is that it straddles the state line between Virginia and Tennessee. State Street is the border, with markers running along it where the yellow lines are (see below).

Peer made his recordings at the Taylor-Christian Hat and Glove Company, which was at 412 State Street, on the Tennessee side. The museum is in Virginia.

So while Bristol is the birthplace, there is plenty of scope for debate about which state is. I would have to say Tennessee probably gets the nod.

© Jeremy Gaunt

Music writer, historian, reviewer and broadcaster

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