Bristol, Tennessee

Heading north from Asheville to Bristol, the border town claimed by Tennessee and Virginia, tune to 740 AM (WPAQ) on your radio. As you travel, listen to live music and dance at community venues. Along the border, The Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina parallel The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Plan ahead using The Crooked Road’s website or pick up a brochure at the Virginia Welcome Center at Bristol.

Bristol is essential to your music heritage pilgrimage. It was here in 1927 that talent scout Ralph Peer invited locals to record in his makeshift studio. The Bristol Sessions became known as the “big bang of country music,” making Bristol the genre’s birthplace.

Today, downtown Bristol is vibrant, especially in summer when buskers and outdoor events fill in amid retailers, galleries and restaurants occupying historic spaces. Follow this self-guided walking tour and listen for music on The Pickin’ Porch (Monday evenings), at Full Moon Jam (Thursday evenings, May through October) or at Border Bash (first and third Friday evenings, May through August). For a complete listing of live music in Bristol, check Pick Bristol.

What should you expect to hear around Bristol today? Bluegrass and country tunes, to be sure, but also indie, Americana, Southern rock and more. The variety is echoed from the national headliners to the smaller acts that the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion brings to town annually during the third weekend in September.

Bristol’s Birthplace of Country Music® Museum is now open. The 24,000 square-foot Smithsonian affiliate houses an array of permanent and traveling displays, a performance space and interactive experiences. In one exhibit, you’ll be able to select a song from the Bristol Sessions, mix it –perhaps add fiddle or drums - and play your cut.