Bristol Rhythm and Roots Festival (Bristol TN/VA)   3 comments

BRRF beyond the State Street StageI’ve wanted to see Delbert McClinton for years (he was on the same shortlist with John Prine); but, he tours exclusively in North America and often in remote and fairly small venues and it just never seemed to happen. So, when Jackie suggested we should see who was playing a short distance from Chattanooga I went the other route and looked to see if he was playing within an American sized driving distance during our stay.

BRRF Delbert McClinton from the beer garden

we could see but we were there to hear

we could see but we were there to hear


Bristol might have still been too far had it only been Delbert’s show. But, on the same day he was scheduled at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Fest Steve Earle was also booked. We’ve both had Steve on the must-see shortlist for the last 20 years and have simply squandered opportunities to make it happen in England, Germany, the Netherlands, and in Athens and Atlanta, Georgia. That was it…we booked tickets and a room and headed up.

BRRF Jim White vs Packway Handle Band

We chose the hotel, a Day’s Inn, because it was on the Tennessee side of the border (which is marked by brass plaques along the centre line of State Street, where the festival was taking place); our rental car had to stay within states bordering Georgia lest we lose our free mileage. The place was packed with folks there for the festival and the night we stayed most of them were up partying all night. There was a vending machine for headache and nausea medications on the wall of the outside corridor toward the lobby so I think this might be a regular occurrence.

The festival itself is a marvel. The ticket for the entire weekend costs less than a day pass to most British music fest which feature fewer acts over a weekend than Bristol has on the shortest day. Beer is at normal bar pricing (or just go into a bar) and the food is just regular price (with a bunch of restaurants open…or, bring a picnic, or you can go out of the fest and get something nearby then come back). There are 20 stages within 5 minutes walk of each other and once the music starts about 2/3 of them are active at any one time. Spoilt for choice doesn’t begin to describe it.

BRRF one of the shows in a bar stage

I guess I really won’t begin to describe it, either. We stood near enough to Steve Earle that had he fallen off stage we would have caught him; he put on one of the best performances I’ve seen in the last couple of years. Delbert McClinton’s voice sounds as fresh and pure as ever (you can almost imagine how it must have sounded to John Lennon as Delbert taught him the harmonica riff that found its way onto “Love Me Do”). And, every act we saw (even the buskers along State Street) was worth half the price of admission.


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