BRISTOL,VA/TN -- Bristol's Rhythm & Roots Reunion has been named one of the Southeast's top tourism events.
On Thursday, the Southeast Tourism Society presented officials of the annual downtown music festival its 2010 Shining Example Award for events with less than 100,000 attendees. The award was presented at the society's fall meeting in Greenville, S.C.
"This is huge," festival Executive Director Leah Ross said. "It's a great recognition for all the hard work our board, our sponsors, our volunteers and everyone puts into this festival and the pride – and ownership they've taken of this event – is rewarded in things like this."
The festival was established in 2001 to celebrate the Twin City's musical heritage as the birthplace of commercial country music, for the famous 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings.
Funded by $50,000 in startup money from the two cities, the initial event had about 40 artists and attracted an estimated 7,500 fans. By comparison, last year's event had more than 160 performers and attracted about 32,000 fans – its largest crowd ever.
"We are the birthplace of country music and I truly believe once we decided that's what we were about and started celebrating it and promoting it, then it was only natural everybody else found it out," Ross said.
The 2010 festival is scheduled for Sept. 17-19 and includes headliners Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Doyle Lawson, Del McCoury, the Drive-By Truckers, Blue Highway, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and John Anderson.
The award covers events in 12 southeastern states from Louisiana and Arkansas to Florida, the Carolinas, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.
The society is comprised of convention and visitors bureaus, chambers of commerce, state tourism departments, attractions, hotels, national, state and local parks, travel media, fairs and festivals.
"It's an application process. They also do a top 20 event listing for every season of the year and I have applied for the last four years just to be in that top 20 event and have never been successful," Ross said. "This year, we decided to go after the bigger prize."
The Shining Example award typically features stiff competition, Ross said.
This marks the third straight year the festival has been recognized for tourism promotion. Last year, the Virginia Convention and Visitor's Bureau presented Rhythm & Roots its destination award for the entire state.
The festival also received a Pinnacle Award from the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association.
"The association said the judges were very impressed with our application. One of the things that has helped us to get recognition in the past couple years – even in the economic downturn when other festivals have had to cut back or cancel – we've continued growing," Ross said. "Our sponsor giving is up about 15 percent this year and our online ticket sales were up 400 percent above last year in July."
Ross said she thinks much of that increase means people are purchasing advance tickets, and are not necessarily new attendees.