There is something fundamentally comfortable settling into a hotel that understands its unique combination of revitalized history and the setting in which it is located. And the Sessions Hotel in Bristol, Virginia has nailed it.
A little about the history will truly help visitors appreciate the unique and significant blend of modern comfort and the rich musical heritage of Bristol. Let’s start with the name. “The Sessions” refers to musician Ralph Peer’s 1927 trip to Bristol that would change his life and those of musicians of the era and beyond. It was at this time that several founders of country music were discovered and recorded – the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, the Stoneman family, and many others. The Bristol Sessions of 1927 played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of American music. They captured the essence of rural Southern music and laid the foundation for the country music industry that we know today.
To celebrate both their name and the musicality of the town, The Sessions Hotel has a music-themed décor. There are locally commissioned artworks celebrating the recording sessions, hospitality centers designed to look like old radio cabinets and delightful bed pillows replicating original flour bags from the mill. We especially loved the microphone light fixtures and the Victrola record player with LPs in the room to truly embrace the ambiance of the city straddling two states.
Another important aspect of the unique appreciation for history at the Sessions Hotel is the beautifully restored buildings originally a grocery, candy factory and a mill now housing the hotel and adjacent restaurant. It’s a timeless elegance of old brick walls, industrial elements and 1920’s era tiles in the bathrooms. Their designers have seamlessly blended the original with modern for well-appointed rooms and suites and even created a rooftop bar to overlook the skyline of Bristol between squeezing in the music of the region.
And speaking of the music, the lobby features a giant chalk board detailing where one can find live music every day of the year. On an off -season Thursday evening we had three choices within walking distance after dinner and settled on the super fine styling of local legend Jason Lloyd at Delta Blues’ backyard a block from the hotel.
There’s all the regular requisites of meeting and conference space, ample parking, a delightful gift shop in the lobby and even Snowbelle, the house cat who happily snuggles up for a scratch or two. We’ll write next time about the delightful Southern Craft Restaurant and Bar offering fine Southern cuisine but rest assured you will be very comfortable with the entire package.
But it is Bristol that draws one in the instant you walk out the door. The hotel is located immediately on the western end of State Street dividing Virginia and Tennessee. Shopping, dining, and entertainment spill out as one walks from the giant cowboy hat at one end to the iconic arched sign at the other. It was a lovely place to begin a stroll and celebrate the quirky charm of a city that has embraced history and modern.
We can’t finish without a true appreciation for the outstanding Birthplace of Country Music Museum, again within easy walking distance of The Sessions. The Museum is a joint project with the Smithsonian Institution focused entirely on the impact of the 1927 recording sessions conducted on behalf of Victor RCA who was trying to expand their offerings across the country. Ralph Peer commissioned special portable microphones to be able to move out of the big cities and hit Bristol just as a strong Appalachian music scene was developing. Displays include the ability to listen and even sing along to the original recordings, while learning about the people who heard about the project and descended on the City with mostly the promise of earning $5 per recording. Modern country experts were recorded explaining the intricate musicianship of the recorded artists and trying to recreate by ear the slap, slide, and picking styles as well as a detailed discussion of tuning pitches long before standards were developed. Musical geeks, including myself, will love it!
Rest assured. The Sessions Hotel in Bristol is an outstanding boutique experience embracing the legendary status of this city. Just be sure to check availability well in advance if you’re headed there for the large-scale events like NASCAR or Reunion weekend that have become a major draw for the region. Or, hot tip, book super early and revel in landing right in the middle of the action. You won’t be disappointed.