(Editor's note: This is just a small outtake from Joe's fantastic article that will be in the newest issue of Blue Ridge Country - our music issue! - out on newsstands October 23rd!)
BY JOE TENNIS
Lively musicians jammed on State Street with open guitar cases, collecting dollar-bills - and even some 5's and 10's - from passersby. Hundreds more musicians - with band names like Red June, Milk Carton Kids, Calico Moon and Dr. Dog - graced stages that ranged from amphitheater-quality to the front window of a coffee shop.
All came together along the Tennessee-Virginia border as the 12th annual Rhythm & Roots Reunion attracted thousands of folks, young and old, to Bristol on Sept. 14-16, 2012.
Wild fans flocked on Saturday night to hear Robert Earl Keen sing how, “The road goes on forever, and the party never ends" with a southern rock-style guitar jam. Just a few blocks away, hometown hero Doyle Lawson, of Bristol, Tenn., pulled in more, following a show by Steep Canyon Rangers, which attracted a standing ovation for its tasty and talented bluegrass chops.
Annually, the Rhythm & Roots Reunion just keeps growing like a bluegrass field in this town known for its famous State Street - with Tennessee on one side and Virginia on the other.
Here, on blocked-off blocks, vendors offer art, popcorn and even hand-carved Santa Claus figurines, as banjo pickers – and funky souls like “Can-Joe John,” playing his one-string instrument – stroll the streets, sharing their talents, even if they’re not on a stage.
All this music unites - from bands that play punkish, electrified folk-rock to the old-time acts at the center of what started this all in 2001.
Happily, too, college-age kids dance in the streets as seniors stroll by, pushing grandbabies in strollers.
It’s a multi-faced, multi-generational party. And, blessed with perfect weather over the past two years, Rhythm & Roots Reunion remains a resounding success, luring music fans from across the globe to this twin city: a place where both Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family made their first recordings in 1927, thereby creating what music historians have noted as “the big bang of country music.”