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How Bristol, a Small Town on the Tennessee-Virginia Border, Shaped the Future of Country Music

Every country fan should visit the cities of Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia. Part of the tri-cities region which also includes Kingsport and Johnson City, Bristol is located on the Tennessee-Virginia state line. The Bristol, Tennessee side has a Virginia twin city of the same name.

In 1998, U.S. Congress named Bristol as "the birthplace of country music." Back in 1927, music producer Ralph Peer started recording local musicians in Bristol in an effort to capture the natural "folk sound" of the area. These recordings have now become incredibly important in the history of country music because of the careers they launched. The Carter Family traveled from Virginia to audition for Peer, launching their musical beginnings as a group. Peer also recorded Jimmie Rodgers and turned him into a star.

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 of country music had just started in 1922 but electric recording didn't launch until 1925. Peer and his record label, Victor Records, created musical superstars out of Rodgers and the Carters as a result of these recordings. The session has widely been regarded as the most important event in country music history. 

Visitors to Bristol can visit the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, where you'll learn all about the musical heritage of the area, the historic Bristol sessions, and how it shaped country music into what we know and love today. 

Read More: 10 Historic Country Music Landmarks You Should Visit

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 recordings: 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 Bristol Motor Speedway in Sullivan County which hosts the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

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 River is also a beautiful stop that offers relaxing fly fishing and beautiful views of the Tennessee region.

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How Bristol, a Small Town on the Tennessee-Virginia Border, Shaped the Future of Country Music