Immerse yourself in country music's roots this weekend

J. H. Osborne • Updated Sep 20, 2019 at 12:55 PM

The 19th annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion begins today, and the Ken Burns eight-part documentary “Country Music” picks back up Sunday on PBS television. I’ve been enthralled with the first four nights of the latter (you can catch up on missed episodes online at pbs.org. Each episode is about two hours long. Burns film in its entirety traces the roots of country music from its beginnings to 1996. I’ve been especially entertained by the third and forth episodes — “The Hillbilly Shakespeare” (1945 – 1953), which highlights Hank Williams, and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” (1953 – 1963), which highlights Patsy Cline.

Although Williams had been dead nearly nine years when I was born in 1962, his songs — especially “Hey Good Lookin’ “ — bring back memories of childhood. As for Cline, who died before I turned one year old, “Walkin’ After Midnight” was my introduction to good, classic country when I was about 17 years old. My favorite Cline hit, of course, is “Sweet Dreams.” And I’ve long had her version of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” on my funeral playlist.

I’m glad there’s a break from “Country Music” on PBS tonight and tomorrow night because I’m looking forward to Rhythm & Roots, which features scores of artists on 20 stages throughout downtown Bristol from this afternoon until Sunday evening. Headliners in this year’s lineup include: Wynonna and The Big Noise; St. Paul and The Broken Bones; Patty Griffin; Marty Stuart; and Sam Bush. For a complete list online, including a schedule  of each day’s performances and stage locations, visit www.birthplaceofcountrymusic.org and click on “festival.”

I love the music at Rhythm & Roots. But my favorite thing to do is people watch. 

What kind of music will you find at Rhythm & Roots? “The very best in Americana, classic country, folk-rock, country, bluegrass, old-time, Piedmont blues, Celtic and progressive Appalachian music. You gotta have roots,” according to the “frequently asked questions” section of the festival website.

Also from that list:

Q: Where exactly is it?

A: Bristol Rhythm happens on the 400 through 800 blocks of State Street, on Cumberland Square Park, and Anderson Park in Historic Downtown Bristol between Martin Luther King Boulevard and Commonwealth Avenue/Volunteer Parkway. We shut down the streets and fill it with music all weekend long!

Q: What time do festival gates open each day?

A: Friday, 1 p.m; Saturday, 9 a.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. 

Q: Where can I purchase passes to Bristol Rhythm?

A: On the website, at The Museum Store at Birthplace of Country Music Museum, and at the festival gates. Bristol, Virginia admission tax and processing fee applies to all walk-up sales.

Q: Can I buy a Weekend Pass on Saturday of the festival?

A: No. Friday of the festival is the last day to purchase Weekend Passes. You must purchase a Single Day pass at the gate on Saturday and Sunday if you have not purchased a Weekend Pass before Saturday.


Gate price for a three-day weekend pass is $125, including taxes and fees. Daily ticket prices are: Friday, $50; Saturday $70; and Sunday, $45.

Q: Do kids get in free?

A: Children 12 and under are welcome at no cost.

Gate price for a three-day weekend pass is $125, including taxes and fees. Daily ticket prices are: Friday, $50; Saturday $70; and Sunday, $45.


Space is limited in downtown and multiple organizations offer paid parking lots in the area, with various rates and largely on a first-come basis. There’s also a shuttle service ($15 lets you ride all weekend) that runs between several hotels and from the Bristol Mall parking lot.

Shuttle Times

Friday 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. 

Saturday 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. 

Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Sunday’s episode of “Country Music” on PBS is “The Sons and Daughters of America (1964-1968),” and the promo describes it thus: “Country music artists like Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Charley Pride reflect a changing America as they appeal to wide audiences.”




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