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Birthplace of Country Music Museum Opens in August

Imagine what the Bristol Sessions were like.

Western Electric microphone_Jessica TurnerIn July 1927, musicians started arriving in Bristol in automobiles, by train, or perhaps even by foot to play for record producer Ralph Peer.

They dusted off their guitars and mandolins to play sweet mountain music in front of a newfangled Western Electric microphone.

There were performers like the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, whose names have lived on, but also dozens of since- forgotten acts like the Blue Ridge Corn Shuckers or the Bull Mountain Moonshiners.

Though surely the talk of the town for Bristol at the time, the sessions seem fairly humble today. Yet no less a music legend than the late Johnny Cash called the Bristol Sessions “the single most important event in the history of country music.”

BCMM_Neil StaplesOn  Aug. 1, The Birthplace of Country Music Museum opens in Bristol, and the story of those famed sessions will be vividly told.

A big grand opening weekend with a free kickoff concert at 3 p.m. Aug. 2 featuring top acts like Dr. Ralph Stanley and Carlene Carter.

Up-and-coming musicians are in on the fun as a national search is underway for a new band to perform the last track on the “Orthophonic Joy” recording project, produced by multi-Grammy Award-winner Carl Jackson.

“Orthophonic Joy: The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited” will be released in October and features entertainment legend Dolly Parton, as well as country music stars Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Marty Stuart, Steve Martin, the Steep Canyon Rangers and Ashley Monroe. The recording project includes 16 of the original songs from the Bristol Sessions.

The museum has been in the works since 2003 when the Goodpasture Building was donated to house it. Restoration work began in 2012 and now the building has been transformed into 24,000 square feet of music history. It includes 10 exhibition areas, two auditoriums, and a rotating exhibition gallery.

Visitors will be able to hear people who were there in 1927, like Mother Maybelle Carter and Ralph Peer, explain what the sessions were like; check out musical instruments like those used in the sessions; and sit in on listening sessions in which recordings by contemporary musicians like Joan Baez and Nirvana perform versions of some of the classic Bristol songs. The career of Bristol favorite son Tennessee Ernie Ford, who became a multimedia star, will be on display.

BCMM10_Jay PhyferArtworks including a foyer sculpture honoring “hillybilly music” and a quilt based on A.P. Carter’s “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” will be on display.

The museum features plenty of glass windows, colorful displays, and tall open rooms that make this a lively place where the music isn’t so much a part of the past but a sound just as vibrant today.

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is one of 160 museums affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. Once it’s open the museum will have hours of 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday.

Also coming up in Bristol will be the annual Rhythm & Roots Reunion on Sept. 19-21. Emmylou Harris, Red Molly, Dale Watson and Ray Wylie Hubbard are among the performers scheduled to appear.

Credits for these great pictures go to Amelia Spooner, Jay Phyfer, Neil Staples and Jessica Turner.

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Hi! I’m Linda Lange. As a travel writer living in Knoxville, I fully appreciate barbecue, bluegrass and Dollywood. My story...Read on

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