This year — in fact, this week — marks the 95e anniversary of the famous Bristol Sessions, when record producer Ralph Peer spent 12 days on the third floor of the Taylor-Christian Hat and Glove Co. on State Street, recording 76 songs by 19 different performers.
These sessions were later considered “the Big Bang” of country music, as they introduced artists such as Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter family to a wider audience.
Fate – in the form of a radio station with a strong 50,000 watt signal that reached much of the South and Midwest with a program called the Grand Ole Opry – made Nashville the nation’s music capital. country. But Bristol lays claim to being the birthplace of country music and does everything in its power to place itself on the national music map: there’s the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, there’s the annual Bristol Rhythm and Roots, there is the Crooked Road Musical Heritage Trail. . And now there is the Bristol Casino.
A lot of attention has been paid to the economic development aspects of a casino, but not enough, I believe, to the entertainment aspects. Across the country, casinos are not simply gambling facilities (the industry prefers the term “gaming”), but places of entertainment. Once Bristol Casino is fully built – what exists now is a temporary facility, the more formal Hard Rock Casino will arrive in 2024 – we are likely to see Bristol’s profile on the gig circuit rise much more. The same goes for Danville once its Caesars casino opens in 2024 as well.
Don’t take my word for it. Instead, let’s look at other casinos’ bills. To simplify things, let’s just look at other Hard Rock and Caesars casinos. Also, let’s just look at Hard Rock and Caesars locations that aren’t in exotic locations like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but are in more “normal” locations.
At Hard Rock Biloxi, heavy metal band Quiet Riot debuts on August 4th. Cheap Trick takes the stage on September 16. Country singer Tracy Lawrence will be there Oct. 14; classic rockers Grand Funk Railroad on December 16th.
You’ll notice something right away: this lineup is loaded with – how to put it mildly – rockers who were more famous in the 70s and 80s than they are now. Keep in mind the target audience here. There probably aren’t too many indie rock hipsters frequenting the casinos. (Perhaps one day, instead of blackjack, dealers will shuffle MAGIC: The Gathering cards.) On the other hand, country singers playing in the casino circuit are generally much more current, and some are more rising stars than declining stars.
At Hard Rock Cincinnati, the band Kansas plays on July 30, Boyz II Men on August 20, Clint Black on September 17 and Dwight Yoakam on September 23. Now, these last two are real hats. (Translation for those unfamiliar with the jargon: a “hat” is a male country singer, as tradition apparently dictates that they all wear cowboy hats. That’s how you know they’re a country singer.)
Hard Rock Sioux City has more country programming. Little Big Town played there last week, with Jo Dee Messina on July 29. For you rockers, former Runaway Lita Ford is on stage on August 6th.
The recently opened Hard Rock Northern Indiana in Gary, Indiana, has a less famous lineup that relies more on regional artists, such as Chicago bluesman Smiley Tillmon and Detroit-based Laura Rain & the Caesars. Nothing wrong with regional acts. If the casino circuit introduces these acts to a wider audience, it’s a boost for local acts.
Now let’s move on to the Caesars. Its closest property is Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in North Carolina. Once again we see a similar type of older rockers: Sevendust on September 10, Three Doors Down on September 24, and Earth, Wind & Fire on September 30. (The website says previous acts have included Dolly Parton and Alicia Keys.)
At Caesars Southern Indiana, across the Ohio River from Louisville, the lineup includes pop rockers Hanson on August 5, classic rockers Three Dog Night on August 12, and Engelbert Humperdinck — yes, the real Engelbert Humperdinck — on August 16. september.
Now you don’t need to like any of the acts. I don’t even know how many of these classic acts feature the original lineups or anything close. Of the three original singers of Three Dog Night, only one is still in the band. But that’s not really the point. The thing is, Bristol and Danville are likely to find themselves on the gig circuit in a way that they currently aren’t. After all, a place whose corporate logo is a giant guitar better have music.
It seems to me that Bristol, in particular, has an opportunity to capitalize on its country music heritage – and its proximity to Nashville. It doesn’t take much of the imagination to imagine the birthplace of country music becoming an even more important gestation point in a burgeoning country music singer’s early career than it is now. . Here’s my proof: It’s about four and a half hours from Nashville and we already know that a town about seven hours from Nashville has become a regular stopover for rising country stars – and Bristol is about to have a more regular place for the fans. In music promotion lingo, that’s easy money – plus a short bus ride.
That last town I referred to is, of course, Roanoke. Sidewinders, a downtown country music nightclub, often hosts a lot of up-and-coming Nashville artists. Years ago, I walked down Campbell Avenue one afternoon and heard that night’s act go through its bluesey sound check. I had no idea who Lindsay Ell was at the time; I know now. She has won or been nominated for numerous awards – from the CMT Music Awards, from the Country Music Association, as well as a Juno last year (the Canadian version of the Grammys) in her native Canada. I could have seen her back then for a cheap cover at Sidewinders; now I have to pay $45 to $125 to see her – at the Hard Rock Sioux City.