After missing Bristol last year, Black Betty and I were happy to be able to attend again this year. Especially after hearing that Railroad Earth would be back.
We were joined by our friends Marie, Sam, Michael, and Melanie at the super sweet Sugar Hollow Campground. This is a beautiful 300 acre wooded campground owned by the City of Bristol Dept. of Parks and Recreation. It has lots of shade, flush toilets, showers, electricity, and sites not big enough for the RV crowd. Sites are $12.00 a night (reserve early summer by phone and check) and a shuttle bus runs the few miles to the music venues on State Street.
Friday evening, we arrived in time to catch our first glance of the David Mayfield Parade at the Piedmont Stage. We were instantly hooked and stood transfixed throughout his performance. All I can say is check him out for yourself. You'll see what I mean.
Next, we caught the young Americana super-star, Justin Townes Earle followed by one of our favorites, Railroad Earth. As always, RRE jammed it out to the delight of the crowd. The mystery group billed as the "High Country Allstars" playing at midnight turned out to be the Infamous Stringdusters! How cool is that?
Saturday, we battled the insane State Street crowds to catch several great shows. We managed to see performances by 18 South, The Everybodyfields, Jim Lauderdale, Robert Randolph Band, and Folk Soul Revival.
The much anticipated reunion of the Everybodyfields had to be the highlight of the whole weekend for me. It was really good to see Sam and Jill back on stage together. I don't know that it will last, but the thousands of fans massed at the Piedmont stage singing the songs were evidence that I am not alone in my admiration for this group. We'll see.
So this is the deal, Bristol:
- Twenty two stages and over 150 bands? I say it's too much. We've gone to this festival several times over the years and it really has gotten too big, too fast.
- There is not enough room on State Street to accommodate the crowds. At least, the Belle Chere Festival in Asheville manages to spread it out in the downtown area where there is room to disperse the crowds somewhat.
- And 150 bands? Why? Too many of the groups are playing in horrible little venues with terrible sounds. I can remember several years ago The Everybodyfields trying to play upstairs at the State Line while a rock band was playing downstairs. Needless to say.....
- Did I mention that they still smoke in the bars in Bristol?
- This year we ended up leaving to eat dinner on Saturday. We could not even find a place that we could get into without an incredibly long wait with total chaos reigning. If you don't choose street food, you may have to get in your car and leave to find a place to sit down and eat. That's what we did.
I understand that I'm not in charge of it and have no say in it. I'm sure that there are scores of people who would disagree with me about the organization of the festival.
Black Betty and I both said that we would have to re-evaluate how we participate in it in the future. Maybe we'll just go during the night and not try to do a daytime thing.
I'll let you know how it goes next year!