Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion (BRRR) is a celebration of music, history, community, and plain ole good times. The annual 3-day festival takes place in Bristol, which is an unusual town, in that it straddles the state line of Tennessee and Virginia. At any time walking down State Street, you could have one foot in Tennessee and one in Virginia. Bristol also is unusual – notable is more like it – because it is the birthplace of country music. According to Johnny Cash, the single most important event in the history of country music occurred in Bristol. What he was referring to is the Bristol Sessions of 1927. That’s when record executive Ralph Peer gathered musicians and singers in Bristol to record some “hillbilly” music. Being a fan of such music – specifically Americana, roots rock, alt-country, and bluegrass – a visit to Bristol was somewhat of a pilgrimage for me.
My family and I attended BRRR each of the three days, taking in as many live acts as possible. This year, there were 20 stages and more than 120 artists scheduled. I was in heaven just being surrounded by all that music and talent and we succeeded at putting together our own diverse viewing schedule. We experienced traditional bluegrass by the likes of Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper; foot-stompin’ country by Lance Stinson; magical melodies by The Church Sisters; and, the main headliner, Steve Earle & The Dukes. In addition to the music, festival goers can shop until they drop at the traditional storefront businesses, vendor stalls, and artist booths.
I’ve attended a fair number of music festivals in my time and I can say with all honesty that Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion is one of the most organized and laid-back of the lot. My husband and I felt completely comfortable attending the festival with our two young children and they had a blast, too! Here is some additional information that we found useful and will help make your festival experience even more enjoyable:
Kid-focused activities and events. Organizers want the festival to be fun for everyone in the family, including the tykes. There is face painting, inflatable slides and jump-houses, a youth music competition, and even a specially-designated “Children’s Day” (this year it took place on Saturday of the weekend festival).
BRRR mobile app. Available for iPhone and Android, it’s free to download and contains maps, artist line-ups, and other festival information like parking.
Shuttle. A complimentary shuttle runs continuously between festival grounds and area hotels. While parking (both free and paid) is plentiful, the shuttle is a safe (think: no designated driver needed) and convenient way to get to and from the festival. You can also check the app for specific shuttle information.
Booze. Speaking of designated driver… Shortly after arriving at the festival on Friday night, The Working Dad and I were intent on finding a beer vendor. We didn’t locate one and it took some time for us to realize that no one else was walking around the festival with a beer or cocktail in hand. Then it hit me: the festival technically occurs in two states at once (Tennessee and Virginia), each state having its own liquor laws, making sales and consumption a bit tricky. So, if you’d like to enjoy a sophisticated adult beverage, it must be done within a licensed establishment. Many of Bristol’s bars and restaurants set up tents and patios right outside their doors. We didn’t feel comfortable sitting in a beer tent with our two young kids, one of whom was in a stroller, so we limited our alcohol consumption to meal times. Not the end of the world.
Where to stay. There are a number of hotel chains operating around Bristol. We were lucky to be guests at the fairly new Hilton Garden Inn Bristol on the Virginia side. The hotel sits up on a hill so this flatlander definitely appreciated the views from up there. I especially loved the way the lobby is decorated: modern and classy with subtle touches of luxury. My family was quite comfortable at the Hilton Garden Inn. The kids loved the indoor pool and thought the complimentary jugs of ice water (infused with fresh basil and lemon slices) in the lobby was the coolest thing ever.
Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion was well worth the drive down to northeast Tennessee/southwest Virginia, and the town of Bristol far exceeded my expectations. The friendly folks, fantastic music, and scenic landscape are enough to make us want to go back. Watch this video to see just how much fun was had.
My family and I were guests of the Bristol CVB and its partners. I’d be saying the same about Bristol and the festival even if we traveled there on our own dime. All thoughts, photos, videos, and opinions are my own.