Every country fan should visit the twin cities of Bristol, Tenn. and Bristol, Va. Part of the tri-cities region which also includes Kingsport, Elizabethton and Johnson City, Bristol is located on the Tennessee-Virginia state line in Tennessee's Sullivan County and Virginia's Washington County.
In 1998, Congress named Bristol as "the birthplace of country music." Back in 1927, music producer Ralph Peer started recording regional musicians in Bristol in an effort to capture the Appalachian folk traditions of the area. These Bristol Sessions became incredibly important in the history of country music because of the careers they launched. The Carter Family traveled from Virginia to audition for Peer, impacting the shape of folk, country and even rock music to come. Peer also recorded Jimmie Rodgers, setting him on a path to become one of country music's first solo stars.
The Bristol Sessions were recorded between July 25 and August 5, 1927 at the Taylor-Christian Hat and Glove Company on State Street. Commercial recordings promoted as country music had just started in 1922, but electric recording didn't launch until 1925. Peer and the record label he was affiliated with, Victor Records, created musical superstars out of Rodgers and the Carters as a result of these recordings. The session has widely been regarded as a "big bang" moment in the rise of country music.
Visitors to Bristol can visit the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, where you'll learn all about the musical heritage of the area and how the Bristol Sessions shaped country music into what we know and love today.
Another must see is the Country Music Mural in the downtown district, which honors the Bristol Sessions. Local musician and artist, Tim White, debuted the mural on May 2, 1986. The massive mural includes all the main players from the iconic sessions: Ralph Peer, The Carter Family, Ernest and Hattie Stoneman and Jimmie Rodgers.
"It became a part of the community," White told the Bristol Herald Courier. "It helped to educate people about the 1927 Sessions."
Each year, Bristol hosts the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, a music festival celebrating the city's country and roots music heritage.
Other notable attractions in historic downtown Bristol include the historic Bristol Train Station which dates back to 1856 and transported soldiers during the Civil War. You can also visit the legendary NASCAR short track at Bristol Motor Speedway in Sullivan County.
The Bristol Caverns are a fun outdoor adventure that take you through an ancient Underground River in case you want to explore a bit outside of town. The South Holston Lake is also a beautiful stop that offers relaxing fly fishing and beautiful views of the Tennessee region.
This story previously ran on Nov. 25, 2019.