I spent a chunk of last summer toying with the idea of staging a country-music festival this summer to mark the 90th anniversary of the Bristol Sessions, aka the Big Bang of Country Music. Sadly, Country 90 NYC (as it was provisionally called) didn’t come together; we’ll just have to wait for 2027 and Country 100 NYC, which will be epic.
That leaves it up to me personally to mark the occasion, which represents a considerable reduction in scope, but it’s an occasion well worth celebrating, so here’s how we’re going to be doing that.
[If you don’t know what the Bristol Sessions are, probably you’re reading the wrong blog and/or visiting the wrong website. Just in case, though: The Bristol Sessions took place between July 25 and August 5, 1927, in Bristol, Tennessee. Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company was touring the South, looking for traditional music that might have commercial potential on records, and during that time he set up shop in Bristol and invited local musicians to come in and audition. Two of the 19 acts that turned up were Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, and the rest is history. Commercial country music as we know it today dates from Bristol, and no less an authority than Johnny Cash (who should know) called the Sessions “the single most important event in the history of country music.”]
[Want to learn more? There’s a whole museum about the Sessions, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, which is well worth a visit; you can check out their Website here.]
I’ve been celebrating the anniversary since April, when I debuted my new show Tennessee Walt’s Bristol & Beyond: The Birth of Country Music. That show, as its title suggests, is specifically about the Sessions and their impact on American music over the past 90 years, and it’s been well-received by Long Island audiences to date.
To kick off the actual anniversary fortnight, on Monday, July 24, at 7 p.m., I’m going to be doing a rare Manhattan appearance, playing Bristol & Beyond: The Birth of Country Music at the famed club Don’t Tell Mama, on West 46th Street. If you’re curious about the show and haven’t had the time to trek to Long Island or Westchester, this is an ideal opportunity to check it out—and this will be a one-of-a-kind show, with some extra songs, guest artists and more. It’s a great way to start the anniversary off.
Can’t make it into Manhattan? I’ll be doing Bristol & Beyond: The Birth of Country Music at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, July 28, at the Elmont Public Library, on Hempstead Turnpike in Elmont. This may be my favorite venue that I’ve played to date, a real, honest-to-God theater with comfortable seats, air conditioning, a grand piano and a fantastic sound system. We drew a tremendous crowd there last May, and I’m confident that this year will be even better.
But wait, there’s more! Even if you can’t get to either of those shows, watch this space for a daily blog posting about the Bristol Sessions, every day from July 25 through August 5. Some of them will be long and scholarly, some of them quirky and opinionated, but they should all be interesting to anyone who cares about this kind of music. I’ve learned a huge amount about the Sessions, and about the history of country music as a whole, in the course of preparing Bristol & Beyond: The Birth of Country Music, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with a virtual audience. Mark your calendar!
As if that weren’t enough, I’ll be running a special miniseries, 90 Years Ago in Bristol, on Facebook.com/TennesseeWalt, with each day bringing a new post about what happened on that date during the Sessions. There’ll be a new post every day, relatively short and to-the-point, so you won’t want to miss that either.
Follow the anniversary on Facebook, follow it on TennesseeWalt.com, come and see timely performances of Bristol & Beyond … or, if you really want to dig in, check out the Bear Family Records box set of all the music from the Sessions, with its vastly informative program notes. Or simply listen to some Jimmie Rodgers and Carter Family songs (before moving on to the great Alfred G. Karnes, Blind Alfred Reed and the Blue Ridge Corn Shuckers).
There’s no better way to mark the anniversary than by listening to the music!