For three standout Americana acts and one certified country legend, the road to Bristol, Virginia will include an early stop in Richmond. On Thursday, July 20, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery will play host to a first-of-its-kind event: Road to Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion 2023.
Each September, the Birthplace of Country Music organization throws a shindig of epic proportions, bringing a who’s who of regional and national roots-oriented acts together in commemoration of the famed 1927 Bristol Sessions — the “big bang” of country that resulted in some of the genre’s foundational early recordings. “There’s always something going on,” Virginia Tourism Corporation Director of Communications Andrew Cothern says of the three-day Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion festival. “You can walk from one end of State Street to the other and catch a different act depending on what you’re into. They’ve got everything from old time country music to bluegrass to up-and-coming artists.”
This year’s lineup lists heavy-hitters Nickel Creek, Margo Price and Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers and several dozen supporting acts, including three Richmond-based groups that will rev their engines by performing at next week’s preview event at Hardywood. “We’ve got these two big music cities — Richmond and Bristol — and we want to connect the two,” says Cothern, who will act as emcee.
Holy Roller, Mackenzie Roark and Woody Woodworth and The Piners will be the ones to hold up the eastern end of that intrastate connection. “These three have been making huge waves in the Richmond music scene,” Cothern says. “There’s a phenomenal amount of talent right there, and we’re excited for people going to Bristol Rhythm and Roots to experience that.”
The preview event, organized by Virginia Is for Music Lovers, will also include raffles and reunion weekend pass giveaways — not to mention a special opening set from one of the biggest names in Americana music.
The country-rockers who comprise Holy Roller are certainly on a roll. They just helped close out the 2023 Friday Cheers season by performing for a packed Brown’s Island crowd ahead of a headlining set by Florida indie group Flipturn. Shortly thereafter, they kept their tour van rolling with a run of shows in North Carolina. Worth noting: This upcoming event is the last in-town show the group has scheduled until the fall.
Essential road trip listening: Recent social media posts suggest new studio recordings are on the way, but their song “Oh, Virginia” seems particularly fitting for a drive from Richmond to Bristol, and the live version captured by the rvatrack team remains a classic.
Woody Woodworth and The Piners
Woody Woodworth’s alt-country ensemble was founded in the mid-2010s with the intent of searching for something undefined that he was pining for creatively and emotionally — hence his band’s name. In the years since, he’s found some serious momentum onstage, in Richmond and elsewhere. In 2020 he released the “Live at Richmond Music Hall” album, and he’s turned the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion into a second home; 2023 will be his group’s third consecutive year appearing at the festival.
Essential road trip listening: The ode to the commonwealth that Woodworth sings is as sweeping and cinematic as a roadside stop to look out across the Blue Ridge Mountains. In “Virginia,” Woodworth asks: “Can you hear that old time music blowing on the wind?” If you’re heading to the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, the answer will soon be a resounding yes.
Mackenzie Roark is part of the closely collaborative community that’s formed around upstart Richmond label Vocal Rest Records. Holy Roller vocalist Brady Heck is as well, incidentally, making the Bristol concert a mini-Vocal Rest fest of sorts. Roark’s work has been an early highlight for the label, as her 2022 album “Rollin’ High, Feelin’ Low” earned her a place on the most recent Newlin Music Prize shortlist alongside hometown favorites like Butcher Brown and No BS! Brass Band.
Essential road trip listening: As you’re heading west on I-64, getting ready to hang a left onto I-81, keep your momentum going by queuing up the opening track from “Rollin’ High, Feelin’ Low” titled “Highway I've Been On,” in which Roark reckons with hard living: “The devil knows I’d be lying / If I said I really was trying / To get off of this highway I’ve been on.”
- Jim Lauderdale has played with a who's who of country music greats.
Special guest: Jim Lauderdale
There may not be a keener eye for emerging Americana acts than Jim Lauderdale, the Grammy-winning singer, guitarist, songwriter and Americana Music Association Wagonmaster Award honoree. Lauderdale hosted the Americana Music Honors and Awards for more than 15 years and has released more than twice that many albums while racking up a list of collaborators that reads like a hall of fame induction list: Ralph Stanley, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello and Lucinda Williams, among many others.
Essential road trip listening: Bluegrass may be the perfect road trip music, given its fast-picking energy and frequent allusions to rambling, and Jim Lauderdale released a single in early 2023 alongside East Tennessee picking outfit The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys entitled “Last Resort.”
Road to Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion 2023 will run from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, July 20 at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s Richmond location. Admission is free. The event is 21 and over. This year’s reunion will run from Friday, Sept. 8 to Sunday, Sept. 10. For tickets and more information, visit birthplaceofcountrymusic.org/festival.