This weekend, I got to experience the grand opening of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Va. While I was never the biggest country music fan, there’s no denying the impact old time country and bluegrass had on the genre over the decades. And with this new museum opening, I learned much about the origins of country music.
In 1927, record producer Ralph Peer traveled to Bristol and set up a recording studio in an old building. Over the course of two weeks, Peer recorded 76 songs by 19 different acts, including Ernest V. Stoneman, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rogers. These recordings were met with great success and as country music evolved, the 1927 Bristol Sessions are considered one of the most significant recording events of all time.
The new Smithsonian-afiliated Birthplace of Country Music Museum tells the history of these recordings in a truly incredible way through films, sound recordings, interactive stations and educational displays. There are sections where you can mix your own version of the classic songs, record your own versions in the sing along station or sit and watch films that cover not only the history of the sessions but also how they affected the country recording artists of today. The grand opening event was filled with special guest including performances by country music legends Jesse McReynolds and Dr. Ralph Stanley as well as an appearance by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.
As an added trip, I got to travel to the Carter Family Fold, a musical performance venue in nearby Hiltons, Virginia. The venue is dedicated to the preservation and performance of old time country and bluegrass music and to honor the legacy of the famous Carter Family. The area, which is nestled in the beautiful mountainside features a different performer every weekend. People dance all night, sit in the stands and enjoy the music or wander to the very nearby Carter Family Museum as fiddle players are sitting outside playing the songs of yesterday. The act of the night, Folk Soul Revival kept everyone dancing and even did an amazing country version of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” The Carter Family Fold a perfect way of spending the night under the stars.
Music fans, take a long weekend and head out to Bristol and get a good history lesson.