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Birthplace of Country Music Museum celebrates 90th anniversary of the Bristol Sessions

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Jul 15, 2017 at 11:22 PM

Ralph Peer carried his new-fangled recording equipment to Bristol in the summer of 1927.

Setting up in an old hat factory across the street — and the state line — from the city train station, he recorded songs from an assortment of country music artists in late July and early August.

“Where we are today is because of that,” said Leah Ross, executive director of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

“That” was the Bristol Sessions of 1927, which led to Bristol’s earning the title “Birthplace of Country Music” and sparking the spread of the genre.

The museum, city and country music are marking the Sessions’ 90th anniversary with a series of events, including a Saturday symposium with Ralph Peer II and others at the museum.

After all, Ross said, the Sessions changed everything.

Descendants of some of the 19 artists who recorded at the Sessions were at the museum to celebrate the “Big Bang” of country music and listen to the speakers who talked about how the Sessions shaped the culture of the region.

“We’re going to have a lot of family members of the people who recorded here at the Bristol Sessions,” Ross said. “There will be people from Jimmie Rogers’ family, the Phipps family, the Stoneman family – all coming to celebrate the importance of the recordings that happened here.”

Also on hand were the producers of the PBS documentary “American Epic,” and Barry Mazor, a Wall Street Journal music journalist who has written extensively on the artists of the Bristol Sessions.

Ross said Peer and those artists helped share the music culture of the region with the world.

“I think it showed the rich music heritage that was in this region– it introduced the music in a much broader way, and it helped bring that music to the world,” Ross said. “And from that, there’s many genres that have spawned from that.”

Kurt Cobain from Nirvana even recorded a song from the 1927 Bristol Session recordings.

“Where Did you Sleep Last Night?” was his remake of Lead Belly’s rendition of a song the Tenneva Ramblers sang for Peer, “The Longest Train I Ever Saw.” 

“There’s just so much of that sound that people look for today.” Ross said.

To help mark the 90th anniversary, Ross said the museum will allow visitors to come visit for 90 cents from July 25-30.

From August 4-6, the museum will be showing the film, “Born in Bristol,” highlighting the history and featuring some of country music’s most respected artists, including Dolly Parton, Eric Church, Marty Stuart, Vince Gill and more. Public screenings will take place at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. The film is included with a museum admission ticket.

Jimmie Rogers, Ernest Stoneman, Henry Whitter and The Carter Family were among the artists who took their music to the studio on the third floor of the Taylor-Christian Hat and Glove Company on State Street. Peer recorded more than 70 songs between July 25 and Aug. 5, 1927.

For more information on the events schedule at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, visit their website at www.birthplaceofcountrymusic.org.

Other events in the region commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Bristol Sessions include:

• 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.

• 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.

• A performance by Charly Markwart and the Whitetop Mountain Band at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia, July 29, at 7:30 p.m.

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