Historic Johnson City Sessions center of tribute concert

The Johnson City Sessions, a seminal series of recordings from October 1928 and October 1929, produced the earliest commercial releases of several country and old-time music standards and strongly influenced many musicians associated with the urban folk music revival of the 1960s, including Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia and Doc Watson.

To commemorate the Sessions’ 90th anniversary, a tribute concert will be held Saturday at the historic music venue, the Down Home, located at 300 W. Main St. The concert, held in conjunction with East Tennessee State University’s Homecoming celebration (Sept. 30-Oct. 7), will feature local artists Corbin Hayslett, Bill and the Belles and the Brother Boys, all of whom will perform songs from the Johnson City Sessions. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $8 for students. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the show starts at 8 p.m.

“While many people around the world have heard of the Bristol Sessions held in nearby Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia, relatively few – even locally – are familiar with the Johnson City Sessions,” said ETSU’s Dr. Ted Olson, a professor in the Department of Appalachian Studies, who co-produced the award-winning 2013 boxed set featuring the complete Johnson City Sessions recordings titled “The Johnson City Sessions, 1928-1929: Can You Sing or Play Old-Time Music?” Olson also co-authored the accompanying book. All four CDs and the book were published by the German company Bear Family Records.

“People everywhere who appreciate early recordings of country music will want to know more about the music made in Johnson City shortly before the Great Depression,” Olson said. “A few of the records produced in Johnson City are already acknowledged classics of old-time music, but many of the approximately 100 other records from Johnson City are exciting, one-of-a-kind recordings, and they deserve to be more widely known.”

The Johnson City Sessions were recorded under the direction of Columbia Records producer Frank Walker in downtown Johnson City during two separate weeklong segments. A now iconic newspaper advertisement brought musicians in from the surrounding mountains for four days of sessions in mid-October 1928. Because some of the records made during those sessions sold well, Walker returned to Johnson City in late October 1929 to conduct additional recording sessions for the Columbia label.

“The Johnson City Sessions were recorded during one of Johnson City’s boom periods, and it’s fitting for them to be recognized during another exciting time for growth downtown,” said Keisha Shoun, Johnson City’s director of Communications and Marketing. “Our city’s musical heritage is rich and deep, and we look forward to telling more people about how country, old-time and bluegrass music have been fostered here.”

For more information on the tribute concert, call the ETSU Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Studies office at 423-439-7072 or Down Home at 423-929-9822.