Wednesday October 8 2014
Another deliberately spread-out and easy day today. I’m enjoying the slower pace before gearing for my last two festivals, one in Charleston and the other in New Orleans. Bristol is helping me out too, it’s the ideal place to chill out, while always having music opportunities at the ready.
The first order of business is to head to Hiltons, almost an hour away, to find The Carter Family Music Centre, a key feature on The Crooked Road Heritage Music Trail and an homage to “The First Family of Country Music”. There’s a live performance every Saturday but I’m not too sure it opens any other time. My only chance was today, so I was heading there regardless, at least to see it from the outside if nothing else.
The road quickly narrowed and it was a beautiful Crooked Road indeed, pretty quiet traffic-wise and the scenery was again beautiful. Mown meadows, trees on the turn, well-kept churches, pumpkin patches, ladies sitting on front porches rocking away. There were some beautiful sights to behold.
I was low on gas (didn’t see a station on the way) but when I hit Hiltons itself I was able to fill up and check directions. “You Can’t Miss It Darling!!” was ringing in my ears I strode to the car.
Well, I did miss it. A tricky u-turn on the narrow, winding A.P Carter Highway and finally I arrived. Luckily, the cleaner was there and I was able to go into the performance space, The Carter Family Fold. Erected in 1976, the Fold hosts shows every Saturday, where by all reports you can hear some of the best old-time and bluegrass music around – all acoustic. A surprisingly large structure, it stretches naturally up the hillside, and seats 850.
The Fold’s stage has been graced by Johnny and June Carter Cash, Waylon Jennings, Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs, Tom T. Hall, John Paul Jones, Larry Campbell, Ralph Stanley and Doc Watson. The shows take place year-round beginning at 7.30. There’s a festival the first weekend of August, on the second weekend in June the Fold hosts the Clinch Mountain Music Festival, a gospel concert is also held annually to honor Janette Carter, founder of the Music Centre.
Also at this site are the Carter Family Museum and the A.P. Carter birthplace cabin, which open on Saturday evenings. It sure would be a treat to be here during a live show.
The drive back to Bristol was uneventful. I was in need of a coffee by this time.
Blackbird Bakery in downtown Bristol is just a block away from The Birthplace of Country Music Museum and a short stroll off State Street. It’s open 24 hours a day and has a delicious array of cakes, pastries and sweets. My banana muffin was really good. The place is airy and spacious, friendly service, good coffee and, of course Wi-Fi. If you are near Bristol, I suggest you stop by there.
It was a perfect day. Hot sun, cotton-wool clouds and a cooling breeze. The air was clean. I decided to have a better look up State Street (last time, it was raining). I found the site of The Bristol Sessions, the restored railway station (unfortunately closed today) and had a closer inspection of the shops and the areas where the annual Rhythm and Roots Reunion Festival is held.
Back to the motel for a rest, before heading back to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum by 6.30pm. As I later found out, this was the first concert in the Museum’s performance space. It was a fund-raiser with Dan Hicks and his band doing an intimate concert in front of 100 people. There was finger food and a bar for an hour before show time, and I was really taken aback by the friendliness of the folk there. Many people came up and introduced themselves and I was able to find out quite a bit about the town, its Historical Society, the annual Roots and Rhythm Reunion festival and the deep music heritage of Bristol and surrounds.
Dan Hicks was performing tonight with The Lickettes (Daria and Roberta Donnay on percussion and backing vocals) and The Lick Men (Paul Robinson on guitar and Benito Cortez on violin). Hicks has been at it since 1968 continuously (‘except for my spell in jail’) and is unique, musically and humour wise.
Tonight, he played two sets, the gypsy jazz of “Topsy”, the wry “Canned Music”, “Along Came The Viper” (‘Jackson Browne meets Bo Diddley’),”Waiting For The 103″, “I Scare Myself”, Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”, a wonderfully off-beat “That Ain’t Right” (he said at the start – ‘we have not rehearsed the end of this – good luck everybody!’), the inexplicable jump swing of “The Buzzard Was Their Friend”, a wacky take on Johnny Mercer’s “I’m An Old Cowhand”. Out of respect for the venue, he performed a Jimmie Rodgers song (complete with yodeling) and a Carter Family tune.
The Lickettes were colourful (a delightful tambourine ‘drum solo’) and Robinson and Cortez were excellent. Hicks in the middle was hugely entertaining and very funny throughout – the band were laughing at some of his banter like they’d never heard some of the one-liners and anecdotes before, and the musicianship was made to look playful.
A terrific show, in a landmark venue. Thanks to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum for having me for the evening.
On the drive home, Steve Earle was talking about his experiences at this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival on his show Hardcore Troubadour on Outlaw Country radio. A nice way to finish another great day in Bristol TN/VA.