Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion 2023 Reviewed
Our Take – Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion 2023
Part Of Our USA GrassRoots Music Tour 2023
By Rob Dickens
Let’s see, This must be my fifth visit to Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee and my fourth Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion stretching up to 2019.
Without much doubt, the wettest festival in those times but in an intermittent, temporary sort-of-way. No steady prolonged downpour but enough to cause a few delays, adroitly managed by festival organisers (the non-profit Birthplace of Country Music Museum).
I have written a number of times about the importance of the town of Bristol and the backdrop and layout of this event. If you are so inclined, you can find our takes of Reunions past in 2016, 2018 and 2019, as well as the fascinating story behind the town regaled as the Birthplace of Country Music.
Frankly, it was an indescribable thrill to be back after a certain bummer global event.
The headliners in 2023 were (in official poster order) Nickel Creek, Margo Price, Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, Watchhouse, The Mavericks, 49 Winchester, Larkin Poe, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Allison Russell, Sierra Hull, Darrell Scott’s Electrifying Band and Amythyst Kiah.
All up, ninety acts filled over fourteen venues (indoor and out) across the three days in downtown Bristol.
This time I tended not to revisit some of the headliners that I had seen a few times before (with a couple of irresistible and notable exceptions). Controversial? Maybe. But I was rewarded thoroughly multiple times by foraging around the middle and bottom sections of the line-up poster.
Let me say this, the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion is best of its type. Superb line-up, easy, flat walking around an historic town, no sound bleed anywhere, a perfect mix of indoor and outdoor stages, food is delicious, vendors colourful and plentiful and, last but best, you are constantly reminded of whose footsteps have graced this beautiful town. Next year’s Reunion will be 13 to 15 September. Do everything you can to get here!
So here are my highlights and observations.
Goldpine – heartfelt and arrow-straight story-tellers, Nashville-based Ben And Kassie Wilson seduced the bountiful crowd at the Paramount Theatre, on the very day that their second full-length album Two was released. Their lyrics are infused with humour and tough, real experiences – the bedrock for their delicious harmonies, which were never more evident in their performance of the US National Anthem (they are opening a football match soon).
49 Winchester – a young, traditional country rock band on the inevitable rise, so much so that they were chosen to do the close-out show with many special guests on Sunday evening. Based in Russell County, Virginia, this year saw the band’s fourth album (and first major label – New West) issued (Fortune Favours The Bold) and I have been mightily impressed by their work to date. From humble beginnings, their trajectory is indomitable, led by the towering vocalist and lead guitarist Isaac Gibson.
Dave Eggar – luck’s a fortune. The rain was coming, so I headed into the Paramount Theatre for some shelter and beat the human stampede when the heavens opened up. I sat in the front row while the eleven-piece accompaniment took the sound check and was fascinated by what I saw. When it was set time, a whole new musical world opened up. Eggar is a seven-time Grammy nominee who, via his virtuoso cello, led an intense and intrepid adventure, the air filled with hammered dulcimer, electric guitar, drums, mandolin, 3 vocalists, electric bass, tap dancer and the superb vocals of American Idol winner Lee De Wyze. Leave your genres at the door. Mind blowing in its audacity and musicianship.
The Mavericks – hard to keep up the glowing adjectives for this glorious outfit which uniquely melds crooning, rock, latin, Tex-Mex, norte
Orchestra Appalachia – performed early on Saturday at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum Theatre. It is a member-fluid collection of students from the Ferrum College in Virginia who celebrate old-time, gospel and bluegrass music from the region. This version of the band has only been together for one month and they took us through a repertoire of classic tunes. As the bassist said with passion (I’m paraphrasing) ‘you don’t have to over analyse old-time music. Just know these songs are from the heart, steeped in culture and history, having been sung by so many famous (or obscure) people over the generations’. The students were engaged, adept and played with a joy that rubbed off like gold dust. And this from an act on the bottom row of the liner poster. Bravo.
TK and the Holy Know Nothings – Taylor Kingman is the driving force behind this Portland, Oregon band whose groove-riddled multi-instrumentalist bar band vibe is engaging. Their set at Radio Bristol’s Farm and Fun Time got off to not a great start, with a delayed set up during the live broadcast and broken strings. But soon enough, they made an indelible mark. Their new album The Incredible Heart Machine will be out October 15 and should be a beauty.
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives – The band has used all my superlatives! A consumate set fused with classic country, trippy desert instrumentals and jangly surf guitar music. A master class. Can a band be so good that they can’t get any better?
More Music Adventures Await!
Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion 2023 Reviewed