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Bristol, VA: The Birthplace of Country Music

Experience living history through the iconic sounds of country music in southern Appalachia

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Looking at through the decades that have shaped America’s history, what’s more iconic and telling than music? Country music in particular has been shaped by regional influences and varies greatly across towns and states – even reaching other corners of the globe.The mountains of southern Appalachia have played a key role in shaping the musical styles that we hear today. Early settlers to the region brought with them both instruments and traditions that created a melting pot of sounds and styles, and from this came the birth of country, blues and folk, just to name a few.

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You may be surprised to learn that the small town of Bristol, Virginia has taken the accolade as the “Birthplace of Country Music,” but upon a visit to this proud city, you’ll see just how this style of music came to be. From the humble beginnings of the 1927 Bristol auditions that brought about the likes of the Carter Family, known as “The First Family of Country Music,” and “The Father of Country Music,” Jimmie Rodgers, the foundation was laid and the boom of country music had only just begun. The Library of Congress has ranked the 1927 Bristol Sessions among the 50 most significant sound recording events of all time. In 1998 Congress officially recognized Bristol as the Birthplace of Country Music.

So what better place to experience a living history lesson than in the town of Bristol? With a museum, radio station and plenty of educational experiences to explore, you can easily plan an outing that transports students through time and brings out the flavor of Appalachia.

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum

For anyone interested in learning about the region’s musical heritage, this museum is not to be missed. As an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, it is well thought out and covers all the bases while being both educational and entertaining. Beginning with the early history of the 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings, visitors are invited to explore how evolving sound technology shaped their success and jumpstarted the growth of the country music industry. The museum, through a combination of text, artifacts, theater experiences, interactive displays and performances, makes the history of Bristol come alive. WBCM Radio Bristol broadcasts live from the museum.

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In addition to the museum itself, there are also plenty of field trips offered for K-12 and college students. These programs aim to teach students about the impact of country music from 1920 to the present day, the development of Appalachia and the role of technology. Customize your students’ experience by choosing from the Music, Technology or History program options to suit any curriculum needs and ensure that a trip to Bristol is a trip not soon to be forgotten.
Check out these field trip offerings:

  • Music – take a look at how the earliest recordings of the 1920s and the musicianship of the Bristol Sessions impacted country music, and how this style, along with many others, continues to grow.
  • History – Bristol’s history dates back decades prior to the 1920s. This tour highlights the importance that regional music and the 1927 Bristol Sessions had on the economic development of Appalachia, while pointing out key events throughout the past 100+ years.
  • Technology – Much has changed since the 1920s when the Bristol Sessions made their debut, and this tour explores the developments in recording and sound technology and how they continue to influence country music. Students will enjoy learning about how technology they enjoy today has come to be, and how it has evolved so quickly over the years.

The museum is happy to coordinate programs for students as early as kindergarten and up through college. No matter your focus, Bristol’s position as a pinnacle for country music offers a unique look into country music and how it has shaped America’s history and culture.

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Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion

by OfficialBRRR (photo of the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion)

by OfficialBRRR (photo of the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion)

Another highlight of Bristol’s music scene is September’s Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, an acclaimed festival that attracts more than 45,000 people. It has hosted musicians such as Ralph Stanley, the Avett Brothers, John Cowan and Del McCoury. With so many country music lovers in one four-block festival area and four main stages to enjoy, it’s always been a good time and continues to grow bigger and better each year. So if you’re in town as the school year kicks off, be sure to check out a festival with some of the best names in country music – and what better place to see them live than the Birthplace of Country Music.

Plan your next outing to Bristol, Virginia

Whether your students are interested in music, history or technology, there is so much to be learned in this small but culturally rich town. From the settlers sharing music in the 1850s to the historic 1927 Bristol Sessions and the present-day claim to fame that Bristol now enjoys, country music has shaped this region and the region has in turn shaped country music. See for yourself with a group trip to the beautiful mountains of southern Appalachia.

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Bristol, VA: The Birthplace of Country Music
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Bristol, VA: The Birthplace of Country Music
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Experience living history through the iconic sounds of country music in southern Appalachia
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