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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

'Rhythm & Roots' Achieves Record Attendence

The Drive-By Truckers on the State Street Stage (2010) (Photo Courtesy: Jake Hentnik|
The Drive-By Truckers on the State Street Stage (2010) (Photo Courtesy: Jake Hentnik|

Bristol Music Festival.....


*** Published Oct. 12 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

BRISTOL, Va-Tenn. — This year's Rhythm & Roots Reunion shattered all previous attendance records, attracting some 45,000 music lovers to downtown Bristol.

Organizers attribute the 38 percent increase over 2009 to a star-studded lineup of musicians, the event's growing worldwide reputation among music fans and perfect weather.

"Any increase you have, especially in the tough economic times we have, is encouraging, but it's very exciting when you've worked on a festival all year long to see the response. It was our 10th anniversary and, I would have to say, it has far exceeded our expectations," Executive Director Leah Ross said Monday.

About 180 artists performed at the festival, including Ricky Scaggs, a Grammy Award winner, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Del McCoury, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, John Anderson, Blue Highway and The Infamous Stringdusters.

The mid-September event has attracted about 32,000 fans for each of the past two years.

"It was spectacular," said Bristol Tennessee Vice Mayor David Shumaker, chairman of this year's event.

"Our attendance climbed for eight years and then leveled off last year I think because of the economy and this year it shot up again big time," Shumaker said.

Attendance rose on all three days of the event, compared to 2009, with Saturday marking the largest single day in festival history and Sunday ticket sales doubling that day from 2009, Ross said.

"Our online advance ticket sales were up 53 percent overall, so we felt like our numbers would be up, but we weren't sure if people were just buying early," Ross said. "The price of our three-day ticket went up July 1, so we saw a big spike at that time."

The festival attracted visitors from 36 states and eight foreign countries, Ross said. Vendors and a majority of downtown merchants reported increased sales throughout the weekend, while hotels and convenience stores also saw gains.

Feedback from fans has largely been positive, Ross said, but organizers are already discussing ways to address concerns about overcrowding.

"The crowd is a concern because you just have so much real estate downtown. So we're already talking about ways that we can better prepare and manage that crowd," Ross said. "From maybe moving some stages back, to staggering some of our vendors to using more of the side streets. We hope next year to move the Piedmont stage back, because that seems to be where a bottleneck occurs. But one of the things that makes our festival special is because we are downtown."

Organizers are also revisiting the idea of establishing a food court area away from the middle of State Street to reduce some overcrowding between the State Street and Piedmont stages.

"The only negative thing we've heard is it was getting too crowded," Shumaker said. "We can probably tweak it for one more year but, if we keep growing, we'll have to handle it after that. That might mean limiting the total number of tickets sold and when they're sold, that's it. I don't know if that number would be, 45,000 or 50,000 or something else."

Ross said two other recurring complaints involved access to some restaurants and bars and smoking in performance areas.

"One of our big complaints is [people] couldn't get into some of our smaller venues to see an artist. You can't enlarge that venue, so one of the ways to do that is have some artists here on multiple days and multiple sets, so if you don't catch them one place you can see them in another," Ross said.

Rhythm & Roots doesn't currently have a smoking policy for its outdoor venues, but organizers plan to review the guidelines of similar music festivals, Ross said.

She was uncertain if Tennessee's law that bans smoking in outdoor sports facilities like Bristol Motor Speedway and Neyland Stadium would apply. Among the outdoor venues, only the stage at the country music mural and half of the seating area of the State Street stage are in Tennessee.

The only other problem, Ross said, was that a number of people failed to observe the festival's ban on pets, other than service dogs.