Kicking off Saturday: The 90th Anniversary of the Bristol Sessions

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Jul 13, 2017 at 11:42 PM

Ninety years of county music is something to sing about.

That’s why the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and the Carter Family Fold are celebrating this month to honor the legacy of the early musicians who originated the art form.

The Bristol Sessions of 1927 brought 19 different country music artists together to record more than more than 70 songs between July 25 and August 5. During this period, iconic artists such as Jimmie Rogers, Ernest Stoneman, Henry Whitter and The Carter Family brought their music to the studio on the third floor of the Taylor-Christian Hat and Glove Company on State Street. 

Since then, Bristol has been considered the “Birthplace of Country Music.” The Sessions of 1927 are considered to be the “Big Bang” of country music, which was once called “hillbilly music.” The sessions ushered in a new era for the music industry due to their commercial success and the state-of-the-art technology used to record them.

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum will kick off its celebration Saturday at 2 p.m. with a symposium featuring Ralph Peer II, Wall Street Journal music journalist Barry Mazor, and the producers of the PBS documentary “American Epic.” The celebration will continue through the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival Sept. 15-17.

But another event commemorating this event later this month is a performance in honor of the 90th anniversary and the legacy of A.P. Carter in Hiltons, Virginia.

Charly Markwart will be performing at the Carter Family Fold, July 29, at 7:30 p.m.. Markwart said she will be performing a song called “A.P.’s Song,” which pays tribute to the founding member of the Carter Family, A.P. Carter, the Country Music Hall of Famer who participated in the Bristol Sessions.

“Even though he’s in the Country Music Hall of Fame, I still think A.P. Carter is underrated,” she said. “I wonder if today’s Nashville even realizes the importance of his contribution. When I wrote ‘A.P.’s Song,’ I was aiming to make a statement toward the legacy of country music’s most important pioneer.

“I have been drawn to traditional country music for as long as I can remember. What I love about this kind of music is that the songs have substance and meaning, and the lyrics are crafted to tell authentic stories about real life and the things that matter to us all. To me, that all started with A.P. Carter.”

Markwart has had a passion for country music as far back as she can remember. Soon after leaving her home in rural Michigan, she made a big decision to relocate to Southwest Virginia after high school. After leaving for Bluefield in 2005, she remained there until a few years ago, when she moved back to Michigan to be closer to family.

But Markwart has always had a soft spot for the Southwest Virginia/ East Tennessee region as a country musician and enthusiast. She considers the region surrounding Galax, Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport to be the “fertile traditional music ground” for the genre, which is why she often returns to the region to perform.

“I've always been passionate about the music as a listener, and when I relocated to southwest Virginia and began to learn to play myself, I carried that passion over into my own songwriting. It was important for me to try to honor the tradition and foundation that A.P. Carter laid in my own music,” she said. “With that tradition in mind, I strive to write my songs from the heart, and my hope is always that they might strike a chord with someone who can relate to what I was feeling or experiencing at the time.”

The region’s connections to The Carter Family, and the famous recording sessions in Bristol and Johnson City that caused the genre to spread beyond the mountains of southwest Virginia and East Tennessee, is one of the main reasons Markwart says she has such a strong connection to the region. She has traveled many times to Hilton, Virginia, where she has walked the same ground where A.P. Carter once lived and wrote music.

“To me, there in Poor Valley at Hiltons, there are grounds that have musical sacredness to them,” Markwart said. “That’s where some of the deepest footing of country music evolved from. When it comes to songwriting, it always inspires me to be there.”

It was these visits to the region that helped fuel her passion for the genre even more and inspired her to write the tribute song she will be performing at the Carter Family Fold. Other featured performers at the event include the Whitetop Mountain Band, who will play following Markwart’s performance.

“It will be an honor for me to sing that song at the Carter Fold,” Markwart said. “I’ve performed the song many times, but never will I feel more proud about it than on that stage at the Fold. With A.P.’s old general store and his log cabin just a few feet away – with A.P. Carter Highway just outside the door – with this summer being the 90th Anniversary of the Bristol Sessions, it will be special to sing the song on A.P. Carter’s home ground.”

For more information about Markwart, visit her website at charlymarkwart.com.

Other events scheduled to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Bristol Sessions:

— Friends of 1927 Concert. Saturday, July 29 at 6:30 p.m. This intimate concert experience features the respected talents of musician and Grammy Award-winning producer Carl Jackson, Kentucky Music Hall of Fame inductee Larry Cordle, and SESAC Country Music Songwriter of the Year Jerry Salley.

— Born in Bristol Film Premiere. Public screening dates: Aug. 4-6. Born in Bristol is a film highlighting this history and featuring some of country music’s most respected artists, including Dolly Parton, Eric Church, Marty Stuart, Vince Gill, and many more. Public screenings will take place at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, and the film is included with a museum admission ticket.

— 90th Anniversary Museum Promotion. Admission to the museum is only 90 cents, July 25-30. In honor of the 90th anniversary, patrons can visit the Birthplace of Country Music Museum to explore the history and music of the 1927 Bristol Sessions and experience the amazing impact of those recordings with a special admission price.

— Bristol Rhythm Tribute to the 90th, September 15-17. Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion will pay tribute to the 90th anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions with a once-in-a-lifetime special showcase featuring an array of festival artists yet to be announced. The tribute will take place on the final day of the festival.

Website: www.birthplaceofcountrymusic.org.

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