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ETSU plans ‘Johnson City Sessions’ celebration

October 13th, 2013 2:00 pm by Staff Report

ETSU plans ‘Johnson City Sessions’ celebration

Tom McCarroll, son of Uncle Jimmy McCarroll, who led Johnson City Sessions stars the Roane County Ramblers, pictured above, will be on hand at the reception. Photo courtesy of ETSU.

East Tennessee State University and the Birthplace of Country Music will host Johnson City Sessions Weekend, Oct. 17-20, an event-packed celebration of the release of the “Johnson City Sessions 1928-1929: Can you Sing or Play Old-Time Music?” CD box set, re-mastered by Germany’s Bear Family Records.

“The release of the Johnson City Sessions has the potential to do for Johnson City what the Bristol Sessions did for us,” said Leah Ross, Birthplace of Country Music executive director. “It is our sincerest hope that Johnson City Sessions Weekend will showcase all the valuable programming ETSU has to offer.”

The Johnson City Sessions, conducted by Columbia Records producer Frank B. Walker in October 1928 and October 1929 in Johnson City are generally viewed as the second-most important field recording sessions ever conducted in Appalachia (the most influential being the Bristol Sessions of July and August 1927). Collectively, the 1928 and 1929 Johnson City Sessions recordings for Columbia Records are deemed by today’s scholars and record collectors as constituting a strong, distinctive, cross-section of old-time Appalachian music at the cusp of the Great Depression.

“The legacy of the music that came from the surrounding area is an important part of our regional heritage,” said Anita DeAngelis, director of East Tennessee State University’s Mary B. Martin School of the Arts. “ETSU’s programs in Appalachian Studies and in Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Studies play an important role in the continuation of that heritage. We are pleased to be part of the celebration of the Johnson City Sessions and the performance with Mountain Stage.”

The forthcoming Bear Family Records box set marks the first time that the 1928 and 1929 Johnson City Sessions recordings have been compiled in any form.

ETSU will participate in the worldwide release of Bear Family Records’ box set “The Johnson City Sessions 1928-1929: Can You Sing or Play Old-Time Music?” with a reception next week at the Reece Museum. During the reception, set for 4:30-6 p.m., Oct. 17, Dr. Ted Olson, an ETSU faculty member in Appalachian Studies, will introduce Tony Russell, his collaborator on both “The Johnson City Sessions” and “The Bristol Sessions” CD box sets. Olson and Russell received a Grammy nomination in 2011 for Best Album Notes for their co-authorship of the book accompanying “The Bristol Sessions.” That box set also received a Grammy nomination in 2011 for Best Historical Recording.

Russell is a British historian of American vernacular music and a prolific writer on the subject. He will relate how he became involved in researching American music and will share details of his experiences in what he calls “old-time music archaeology.”

The ETSU Old Time Pride Band, led by Assistant Professor Roy Andrade, will perform a sampler of music from the “Johnson City Sessions” recordings. Also attending will be Tom McCarroll, son of Uncle Jimmy McCarroll, who led Sessions stars The Roane County Ramblers. The reception is free and open to the public. For more information, call 439-4392.

Other events being held in conjunction with the release of the CD include an appearance by Russell and Olson, as well as Richard Weize of Bear Family Records, on the “Studio One” live radio show on WETS-FM (89.5 FM), ETSU’s public radio affiliate, at 1 p.m., Oct. 19. The ETSU Old Time Pride Band will perform selections from the Johnson City Sessions on the show.

At 7 p.m., Oct. 19, a Johnson City Sessions Box Set Release Party will be held at the Down Home in Johnson city, with performances of 1920s-era Appalachian music by Hello Stranger, the Corklickers, the ETSU Old Time Pride Band and the ETSU Blues Band. Tickets for the event are $20.

At 5 p.m., Oct. 20, there will be a special V.I.P. gala event at The Venue in Johnson City. The “Boots, Blues & BBQ” gala will feature a gathering of family members of the original Johnson City Sessions musicians. This event is open to the public and will feature music by the Bowman Family and the ETSU Blues Band. Tickets are $30.

At 7 p.m., Oct. 20, a recording of the syndicated “Mountain Stage” radio show will be held in the Martha Street Culp auditorium in ETSU’s D.P. Culp University Center. Featured performers will include Tim O’Brien, Darrell Scott, Sarah Jarosz, Old Man Luedecke, The Deadly Gentlemen and the ETSU Old Time Pride Band. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door and $25 for students. Call 439-8587 for ticket information for both of the Sunday events.

For more information, call ETSU at 439-8587 or the Birthplace of Country Music at 573-1927. For a complete list of Johnson City Weekend Events, visit

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