At its core, music is all about emotion and storytelling. As Vince Gill puts it, “I just think it’s important to know your history. Period.” And the history of country music starts with the 1927 Bristol Sessions – “the Big Bang of Country Music,” if you will.
Orthophonic Joy: The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited is a project that brings well known veterans of country and bluegrass together with rising stars to deliver, in fact, orthophonic joy. That is, reproduced authentic sounds that deliver feelings of great pleasure and happiness.
The project of 16 re-recorded Bristol Sessions songs will be released in October, nicely dovetailing with the August 1 opening of the brand new Smithsonian Institution-affiliated Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol.
Recording artists include Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Marty Stuart, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers and Ashley Monroe. The project is produced by multi-Grammy Award-winner Carl Jackson.
Virginia’s musical legacy is as deep and wide as its rivers and valleys. In Southwest Virginia, the Carter Family and the Stonemans were two of the acts who helped popularize the rise of mountain music and were among the first to penetrate American households on radio and records.
Ralph Stanley (pictured right), from Clintwood, helped bring Bluegrass and Old Time music into the mainstream. His lengthy and distinguished career received widespread acclaim with the release of the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, featuring his songs O, Death and Angel Band. And while Man of Constant Sorrow, the unintentional O Brother theme song, wasn’t penned by Stanley, he resurrected the old ballad in 1951 when he recorded it with his brother Carter for Columbia Records. No one knows for sure exactly where the song originated.
The music of Southwest Virginia is more accessible than ever thanks in part to The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. The Crooked Road links together dozens of venues where live music can be heard each week. Heritage sites such as the Ralph Stanley Museum, the Blue Ridge Music Center and Heartwood help tell the stories of the music and musicians.
Music festivals draw tens of thousands of fans from around the world. The Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion fills the downtown area of the vibrant city with stages indoors and out. FloydFest is an eclectic celebration of music of nearly every description and is held adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival honors one of America’s top acoustic guitar makers and this year features Vince Gill as its headliner.
Divergent veins of music run throughout Virginia, producing famous names in a variety of genres. Legendary singers Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey both hailed from Newport News. Country Music Hall of Fame member Patsy Cline was born in Winchester. Las Vegas legend Wayne Newton was born in Norfolk, and country music superstar Roy Clark is from the small town of Meherrin. Williamsburg is home to native son Bruce Hornsby.
Dave Matthews grew up in Charlottesville and owns one of Virginia’s top wineries nearby. Pharrell Williams of Virginia Beach has made the world “Happy” with his smash single. He and his musical partner, Chad Hugo, from nearby Portsmouth, comprise The Neptunes and as performers and producers are one of the dominant forces in modern popular music.
Truly, Virginia’s music reverberates around the world today with new sounds and influences, yet still finds a home among the hills of Appalachia.
© Casey for Virginia’s Travel Blog, 2014