East Hampton Celebrates Country Music’s 90th Birthday

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Tennessee Walt. Courtesy of the East Hampton Library.

Johnny Cash once called the Bristol Sessions, which took place in Bristol, Tennessee, between July 25 and August 5, 1927 “the single most important event in the history of country music,” and they’ve subsequently become known as “the Big Bang of Country Music.”  To mark the 90th anniversary of that pivotal event, Tennessee Walt is offering an all-new show, “Bristol & Beyond: The Birth of Country Music” at the East Hampton Library on April 8 at 1 p.m.

“This isn’t what people may think of when they hear the words ‘country music,’” Gayden Wren, the musical-theater veteran who performs as Tennessee Walt said.  “It’s voice and piano, not fiddles and steel guitars, and I won’t be yodeling. And this isn’t the country of Toby Keith or Carrie Underwood — it’s the older, purer country music that inspired them and everybody from Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley to Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr. Anyone who comes to this show will learn some things they never knew about 20th century American music, not to mention hearing some of the funniest, most moving and most musically engaging songs ever written,” Mr. Wren added.

The show features songs by Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, both of whom were “discovered” at the sessions, as well as songs by other artists who recorded at Bristol and such subsequent heirs to the Bristol legacy as Roy Acuff, Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams arranged for voice and piano. It’s an intriguing, fact-filled look into the origins of country music and its most prominent descendant, rock ‘n’ roll with lots of the most memorable American songs ever written.

“The Bristol Sessions represent the origin of today’s country music, the commercial art form that has fostered everyone from Hank Williams and Johnny Cash to Willie Nelson and Taylor Swift,” Mr. Wren said. “The songs in this show span the period from 1927 to the present day, and I think they make a good case for country as America’s music. There was a time when country was dismissed as ‘hillbilly music,’ but in the past 10 or 20 years I think we’ve come to realize that the songs of Hank Williams, Kris Kristofferson and Loretta Lynn are as classically American as any written by Irving Berlin, the Gershwins or Rodgers & Hammerstein.”

The East Hampton Library is located at 159 Main Street in East Hampton. For more information, call (631) 324-0222, or visit easthamptonlibrary.org or tennesseewalt.com.

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