Friday's Bristol Rhythm & Roots draws thousands

Zach Vance • Sep 16, 2016 at 9:24 PM

BRISTOL — Good food, good music and good company.

Friday’s kickoff to the 16th annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival furnished it all.

Beginning at 5 p.m. and lasting into early Saturday morning, the festival’s first day provided more than 60 musical performances on 20 stages scattered around downtown Bristol.

Early in the afternoon, Elizabethton resident Joe Novak sat patiently at the Cumberland Park stage awaiting a performance by the Josh Daniel-Mark Schimick Project.

When asked who he came to see this year, Novak pulled out a folded brochure from his back pocket and showed at least 10 musicians he circled on the schedule.

“(The musicians) all kind of overlap. The thing is you have to run. You really don’t get to see a whole set of somebody because there is usually somebody else playing that you want to see,” said Novak, an eight-year veteran of the festival.

“This really is quite the place ... For what you get price-wise and the amount of music you see, you can’t beat this.”

For this year’s festival, Novak brought along his wife and sister-in-law, who came to Bristol from Illinois just for the Rhythm & Roots festival.

But she wasn’t the only non-resident visiting Bristol just for Rhythm & Roots.

Charlene Baker, communications manager for the festival, said this year’s festival drew in people from all across the United States and even the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

“We’ve had visitors from all over the world, and our economic impact study last year revealed that most of the visitors were from outside the area,” Baker said.

“Our local people support us, but more and more people are attracted to Bristol because of the history of the Birthplace of Country Music and because we offer a very reasonable ticket price for the weekend of music compared to other music festivals.”

By the time the opening performances began, each side of State Street brimmed with countless art and food vendors. It wasn’t long before the smell of freshly-fried funnel cakes drifted among the ever-growing crowd.

“I mean when you have 50,000 people, you’ve got to feed them and feed them well,” Baker said.

“We’re very fortunate to have wonderful downtown restaurants with excellent service, but we also have to bring in more food because they can’t serve every single person. So we usually bring in vendors you wouldn’t normally see in the area. We try to achieve some items that are a little exotic.”

Baker said the total attendance of this year’s Rhythm & Roots wouldn’t be known until the festival finished on Sunday, but early ticket sales looked promising.

Last year’s economic impact study showed the three-day Bristol Rhythm & Roots festival accumulated $16.1 million for the region.

Baker estimated between 700 and 800 volunteers would have a hand in working this year’s festival.

“This festival wouldn’t be possible without our volunteers,” Baker said. “It actually began 16 years ago as a volunteer festival.

Bristol Rhythm & Roots will continue on Saturday with musical performances beginning at 12:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $50 for Saturday and $45 for Sunday.

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP

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